Covid-19 and human relationshipsThe greatest toll that the pandemic is taking is on the very power of human interactions.
The topic in question is discussed worldwide today because it evokes personal as well as impersonal modes of human relationships. The pandemic, very strangely and sometimes uncannily, juxtaposes the lonely helpless individual with the mighty power holders, money makers and ruthless administrators. Such juxtapositions take place in all spheres of life. To see how our own modes of personal relationships have been working in Nepal and South Asia, we have to see the conditions that influence our lifestyle, the attitudes of the rulers, methods of the political parties and the actions of wise people, sadhus, thugs, poets and musicians and painters. In this short essay, I want to present some pictures of human relationships I have studied about, experienced and seen working around me. This is a complex yet inviting subject to contemplate upon at this moment.
Relationships grow in time. The energy needed for that comes from the great within. It rises as loneliness from inside and searches for a place in the great without. The process of relationships thereafter takes interpersonal and social courses to become a reality—a basis of existence. Much has been written about it. At such difficult times, however, we search for stable human relationships. But because of the closures, the precautions that we have to take, we are condemned to hide half of what we are. That affects relationships. The mask that one wears, metaphorically, eclipses half of the self. Each one of us has become half of what we were before this moment of crisis.
As a literary writer, I value human relationships as the greatest source of strength. But never before had I realised that human relationships are also a search in the wilderness. I have discovered that more during these moments of a lockdown, when social meetings and networking opportunities are limited. I have always taken human relationships as a stable force, a source of creative interactions. On one occasion not long ago, I met a very dear person who I have worked with on a number of creative projects, shared experiences and helped academically. But hardly had I realised that the familiar mode of relationship with this person had changed. I found that there was nothing but emptiness, a tantalising indifference.
I was deeply shaken by this indifference, this strange metaphysics of relationships and, above all, this empty inner horizon. I heard similar stories from some of my close erstwhile students and writers who have become university teachers and writers. It dawned on me not long ago that this sunya, this indifference was the result of the Covid-19 situation that slowly drains trust, sense of meaning and relevance of human relationships. And I find that the greatest toll that the pandemic is taking is on the very power of human interactions. We will be condemned to deal with the half-ruined relationships and loss of a value-laden deal with one another.
Some important literary and art works created in the world and in our own region have given portraits of calamitous times in the past. The modernist works show how an individual who is condemned to be lonely slides into one's own traps. They show how an individual, a small entity of humanity, is pitted against the big, powerful and gigantic outside. Covid-19 makes that clearer by showing how those who have power over individuals and boast about their power of management—even though that is mostly mismanagement—can easily influence the structure of human relationships. Their actions uncannily influence the nature of such connections in society. The capitalist economy, the surge of populism and the government, which promotes fragmenting society, dismantle the easy and working model made for the welfare of the people.
In Nepal, our situation has always been complex; it’s been made worse by the Covid-19 situation. Individuals find that they are very badly affected by the chaotic management, the unfair open deals made by the government and the institutionalisation of corruption.
The pandemic in Nepal presents some bizarre pictures. The loud and obvious relationship modes that can be seen on television and read online and in broadsheets are political in nature. The political in-fighting shows that the leaders are hastily creating and modifying relationships but not doing much towards dealing with the pandemic itself. The other kind of relationship is seen in deals whose subject is power and moneymaking. People watch such relationships justified in the name of the Covid-19 scourge.
The other side of the coin is personal. We are reading reports about new problems that people have to be dealing with in individual relationships. That is another worrying subject. Reports about crashing relations and the serious lack of interest in maintaining human and warm connections make us sad and helpless. No degree of moral teaching can work at such times. The atmosphere of good relationships among people in the neighbourhood and society are crashing as a result of prejudices, selfishness and unfounded fears of contagion. Cooperation is the greatest mantra; much of that appears to be in short supply due to Covid-19.
We should try to answer a few questions, which may be partly theoretical and partly practical. Can the government and its leaders—not only those from the ruling party but the opposition as well—prove themselves as the source of hope and inspiration? Can people believe that such leaders have a human face, are kind and help people to fight the anxieties that affect human relationships? Can such gestures and qualities become part of the policies of the rightist and leftist populist movements alike? There is no easy answer to these questions. But it is a worthwhile topic that has become part of the national discourse in Asian countries like Nepal, China, India, Japan and Bangladesh and the Western countries like America, UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece and others. News of political leaders in these countries trying to convince people—especially at the time of winning votes or gathering support for their programmes—show how the human face of relationships has become an even more important subject today. Can we make the Nepali government and political leaders realise that?
What do you think?
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