Have you ever been in a packed stadium full of cheering fans, heard the deafening roar when the ball flies out and felt the blood rush to your face? A collective roar connects us all in a fundamental way that no amount of conversation can. Something like that happened Sunday evening. An eerie silence all through the day culminated at 5 pm with millions across the country, clapping, banging thalis, bells and dongs to say 'Thank you', and also, I think, to say we are in this together.
These are strange times. A few weeks ago, it was unimaginable that we would all be confined to our homes, trying to work, while obsessively washing our hands, and stocking up the fridge. But lives and routines are changing for billions of people around the globe, and for good reason.
The numbers can be frightening. The virus has now spread to 155 countries.
There were 134,000 registered infections outside China by March 18. That is an increase of almost 90,000 cases and 43 new countries in just a week. India is at the cusp, Stage 2. Will we be able to ride it out, get lucky, and are we prepared? Nobody is sure.
The future is uncertain. Locked in our homes, disconnected from friends, co-workers, barred from our daily activities, and flooded by a barrage of information on Covid-19, some true and much false, we can feel confused, angry, bored and alone. We’ve been told that social distancing is the only way to ‘flatten the curve’, but spread over days, and potentially weeks, or even months, it can be hard. That is why collective displays like the one on Sunday evening are important for our mental health and well-being.
Sound can have a very powerful effect. A single clap is disruptive, a sharp interruption to a normal flow of time, but when we do it together, it converges, forming a distinct mass of volume that brings us all into one cohesive auditory unit. Sound waves are one of the most important and effective ways we communicate with one another. It does not necessarily need to be a dialogue or a piece of music. Sometimes just a discordant banging of plates and spoons can help us connect. Clapping to each other from our balconies in densely packed housing societies, standing at the door of our house and imagining the rest of India joining in, and receiving endless WhatsApp forwards and TikTok videos on ‘what we did at 5’ can link us all.
This sounds like a simplistic view. Well, it is. We all know that making noise for a few minutes is not going to solve the problem. It is a momentary distraction from all the morbid forecasts. But distractions are needed.
Social distancing is a containment strategy. It will come with its own economic and social costs. We are already talking about the fallout, but what we will probably increasingly realise is the personal costs that it will extract over a period of time.
There are practical fears of losing jobs or the availability of supplies. There will also be an emotional cost of being cut off socially. We are vulnerable to loneliness as our quality of life degrades. Feeling isolated can trigger anxiety and increase the chances of depression, high blood pressure and other diseases, leading to a serious health risk. It will get difficult.
The human need is to share this feeling of gratitude, and helplessness and fear and optimism. Doing it all alone is not easy. We evolved over thousands of years to feel safer in groups. We hope the pandemic will end, but no one knows when. We need to remind ourselves, that we are in this together, even if it through mindlessly banging pots and pans, blowing conch shells and clapping for five whole minutes. So what if the applause was not spontaneous, like after Virat Kohli’s sixer, but it still means something.
(Ekta Kumar is a writer, columnist, artist and works closely with the European Union on gender and civil rights-related issues.)