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Why did 2021 feel worse than 2020?

Recently, I had an engaging discussion with a colleague/friend on this topic during one of our weekly catch-ups.

She would have had a few things to say had I not added the '/friend' to that line. 😅

While the conversation itself didn't focus on this comparison, the sentiment did come up. While discussing the current state of the pandemic in India, I mentioned that 2021 does feel a smidge worse than last year.

Now you're probably wondering, "What's wrong with this dude? I think he's gone senile!" Maybe. But hear me out nevertheless. What're a few crazy thoughts in this otherwise crazy world?

2021 was bad.

Let me clarify myself by stating very clearly that last year was the worst that my generation has seen in a while.

I said 'my generation', so please spare me the stories of riots, wars, and disasters. They were all horrific, but this is a new level of scary.

Though the virus is aptly called the coronavirus disease 2019, it brought the world down to its knees in 2020. Death tolls went through the roof in most of Europe, countries shut their borders, and people got barricaded inside their homes, clueless and scared.

Co-incidentally and sadly, we had a trip planned to Thailand that got canned at the very last minute. But all those last-minute trips to Decathlon were far from wasted, since we just diverted our trip to Goa instead! And thanks to that, I still maintain my 8-year annual Goa vacation streak. 😂 Don't judge. All that occurred a whole month before we realized what a bitch COVID was going to be! 🙄

All of us reacted to the lockdown in our own way, and I was lucky enough to enter the first phase of lockdown at home in Pune. So while most people had barely managed to figure out their meals by the end of the first month, I already had a blog up and running. Maybe I got a head start, but most people caught up, and the lockdown eventually became a challenge instead of a burden.

Friends rediscovered one another. Online board games were excavated and dusted off. People explored new hobbies or short-term obsessions; if you'd prefer to call them that! The lack of restaurants saw the birth of a new generation of home chefs and bakers. The lack of pubs and bars saw the government finally grow a pair and allow for home delivery of alcohol. Most important of all, the conversation very quickly moved from the pandemic to 'what's the new thing that we're trying this week'.

Honestly, if I had to pick a favourite, I'd say that home-delivery of alcohol was probably the most surprising. Despite years of lobbying and pleading, all it took was a microscopic virus to influence that decision. I am sure that years from now when I describe this pandemic to my grandkids or someone else's 😋, this fact will make the top 3. 😂

And this brings me to the leading question on my mind.

How did we cope so well in 2020?

While I can give you a long-winded answer to this question, I will put it out there, quick and dirty.

  1. The situation was as novel as the virus that created it

  2. There was no hope

Now, for the long-winded answer.

The novelty factor plays a significant role in the way we react to any situation as humans. True, it's scary and uncertain. But the thrill of surviving it and beating it carries us through. The fear is only as far as the initiation is concerned. Once we've committed and jumped in head-first, the rest of the journey feels quite energizing. And this is what I felt during 2020.

A good comparison would be the first time you went camping. You had to live in a cramped tent. There was no bed and no electricity. There was no gourmet food, and you had to walk a mile to relieve yourself in the woods. But it was all too damn exciting! Well, 2020 was the same. We had to live in a cramped space for days on end. There was no gourmet food unless the Thomas Keller in you stepped up! Well, there was a washroom at hand, but not as airy as the open woods. Am I right? 🙂

The idea of a new dynamic between family members, friends, colleagues, and society was enough to keep our social appetite on its toes. The newfound time while working from home became the focal point of all future coping mechanisms. The novel challenges of life inside the four walls of a house fueled the next several months that we had to endure.

In addition to all of the above, there was no hope. There was no known remedy, no vaccine, nothing. People had to quickly acknowledge that the only way to survive was to stay away and stay happy. And that made a world of difference!

A quote from The Matrix comes to mind in this context.

"Hope. It is the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of your greatest strength and greatest weakness."

So true.

For instance, I've realized that the hope associated with my F1 fantasy league has sucked the pure joy out of watching the races as good entertainment. God knows what am I even hoping for there! It's just a bunch of friends competing with make-believe teams. 😂

Clearly, humans do much better in the absence of choice. And when there was no alternative future to choose from, we adjusted, readjusted and eventually thrived.

And this brings me to the phase where the whole perspective changed.

The transition from 2020 to 2021

Towards the end of last year, the government lifted the lockdown across the country. Soon, life returned to some form of normalcy, albeit an uncomfortable one with tedious masks on.

The decision to relax was not wrong. But the sudden outburst of movement that followed would prove to be disastrous in the coming times.

I was amongst the few million folks who ventured out of their homes during this time, so I probably don't have much of a right to preach about collective safety, but nevertheless. 😅

It's like this. If you keep someone cooped up in a place long enough, they forget the taste of freedom. But leave the door open before that dementia sets in, and there's no stopping the prisoner. That's how half of India behaved between November 2020 and March 2021.

And to add fuel to the fire, influencers were the first few to grab these lucrative deals in 5-star hotels and entice their thousands of followers on Instagram and TikTok.

Oh sorry. We were also fighting a war against China on another front. No TikTok. Insta Reels is the new poison of choice. I mean, at least you think there's a choice. 😁

So, when your favourite star is vacationing in the Maldives or your second favourite star is posting insta-worthy pictures from Gulmarg, you have to follow suit, right?

Right. Even I roamed around Himachal and Goa while the fun lasted and eventually headed back to Bangalore. And am I glad that returned in time! Because in the next couple of months, all hell broke loose in India.

Not that 2020 was any less of hell, but let's call this hell 2.0. A new and revised version of hell where the virus doesn't give a rat's ass about your age. A place where the medical facilities are grossly incompetent to deal with an outbreak at full scale. A period when there is a high chance that you'll die by the time you are lucky enough to get vaccinated.

And don't worry, I am not exaggerating. 🙂

The second wave and the associated splashes

Everyone is aware of the dire situation across various cities in India at the moment. So I won't make this post about that.

But now, I am close to actually revealing why 2021 feels so much worse. And just as before, let me first give you the tl;dr

  1. The thin slice of freedom at the start of the year reminded us of what we've missed

  2. The fact that there was a solution gave us hope, and that in turn gave us a reason to be unhappy

  3. WFH and lockdown was no longer a novelty. In fact, normalcy set in

The fact that I got to spend those two weeks in Goa and Himachal with friends makes me want to flout the rules every single day. The house arrest was discomforting, but the recent chance at travel meant that I had to undergo the whole process of WFH transition all over again. And frankly, now I am tired.

And you know what makes it worse? I know that there is a solution out there. I know that we could be relatively better off in some time. It's just that we aren't getting there quickly enough. And that pisses me off more than I care to admit.

Add to this the facade of bravado that everyone has put up, and it just makes me sad. We are no longer empathetic towards the plight of our fellow humans. Lockdowns have become mundane. Every other case of affliction is just another piece of expected news. The conversation around pandemic has gone from difficult to outright negative in the span of these last four months.

And there is no joke or nervous laughter to cover it all up.

To sum it up

We probably still haven't seen the worst of this pandemic. And I can say this because I am still lucky enough to sit at my desk and write this lengthy post.

Each of us has lost something over these two years, and this is not just a philosophical observation. The zoom catch-ups have reduced. Remote game nights have come to a standstill. We have stopped hearing any good news unless it's about an oxygen cylinder that saved someone's life somewhere.

And I feel this every day.

The longer we stay away from our loved ones and distance ourselves from interactions, the soul degrades while the mind learns to cope with it. So essentially, it is a war that we are losing on two fronts!

So in closing, I'd just like to say this -

2020 was a terrible shock but a personal peak for me. 2021 has been more accommodating, but I'm too exhausted to make anything of it.

2020 was a beacon of human resistance. 2021 has been a story of human folly and breakdown.

2020 was. 2021 still is.

Stay safe, stay strong, stay alive.

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