Sparkling speckled guinea pigs,
We’re coming up on our two year anniversary of the pandemic. Griefbacon (a newsletter I enjoy) reminds me, but do I need reminding? March 2020, the month the world suddenly cluttered to a stop, our stupid little human lives suddenly useless in the face of this mysterious plague, like what use was it being powerful, being rich, being famous, being on the other side of the world, being able to escape the planet entirely and go into space, we were all going to get sick, no exceptions, unless you wore a mask and stayed inside and didn’t do anything.
Except. I did that, we all did that for a whole year, urging patience and judging people who went out, and hard judging people who travelled, like “it’s all their fault we’re still sick.” The anti vaxxers who raged and protested, the anti-maskers we rolled our eyes at and hated, they were all Them, the people who wanted the pandemic to go on forever. Except as one month turned into six into eight into a year into two, we had to all leave our houses eventually. We had retired so abruptly that like children set free from curfew we wanted to do everything at the same time: party late and travel everywhere and smoke endless cigarettes and earn lots of money and quit our jobs and see the world and move back home to be closer to our parents and have a child and adopt a dog and buy new shoes that pinch our toes and declare widely that we’ll never wear heels again and turn 34 and have a huge party at a wildlife sanctuary and turn 50 and be so scared of moving that the only celebration we have is a Zoom link and friends from around the world lurking and we think about friends more and more, we write think pieces about friends, we let some go with relief, thanking the excuse of a pandemic but we reach out to others, friendships that somehow floundered because you were both in different cities at different parts of your lives suddenly brought together by this shared experience, you begin by checking in during the worst of it and when, months later, you’re both out and about again, you still send a joke, a link, a note, a life update. Your friends are dearer to you than they ever were and you don’t think you’ll see some of them for a long time because the world used to be small and now it’s very very big and you are on one side of it and they are on the other and the countries you belong to don’t seem to care that you are a living breathing person with a living breathing history, they treat you like a file number. But to be fair, to them, overwhelmed, you must be a file number, otherwise how would they manage, you think to yourself, even if you sort of kind of want them to make an exception for you?
I’m writing this on my Last Berlin Day, it is the last for this season because of those visas. I’m having a hard time getting an appointment to apply for a spouse visa, so here I am on a tourist visa and now it’s over so I must leave again and try again and hope that they see me the person not me the email annoyance (and boy, have we written many emails. A book’s worth of emails!). Before that we travel on the last week of my Schengen to Prague and Budapest, yes, close to where the world is starting to end all over again, but far enough away for now, we hope, that we can just have a pleasant time and then fly to Istanbul for a few weeks. It seems odd to talk about pleasant times when there’s a war on, but I’ve talked about holidays before and there have been wars on before, it’s just that this one is next door and involves white people so are we to change our behaviour? War is terrible and Putin is in the running for being the Worst Man In The World (so is our very own Worst Man but he’s a bit toothless at the moment with the UP elections on) and I hope all the other more powerful countries put their might behind Ukraine and shun Russia, I really do. But I can’t help. No visa, no car, no network of people to use to collect clothes, no spare clothes either since I just moved here, so all I can do is hope, I guess, and then also have my own separate pleasant times by talking about which I hope I do not detract from the very real war/s that are going on across the world.
So one weird thing that’s happened these past two years, and I suppose not weird so much as inevitable is that we have all four—cats, humans—become increasingly dependent on the others being around. Our cats hang around us more, and I hang around them more, and this is the wrench about travelling: leaving them. Before, I remind myself sternly, I left them for like six weeks with the maid coming in to check on them daily, now I can’t sleep unless someone is actually staying in the house with them and even then, I will be a nervous wreck until next week when I know for sure everyone has settled in. (In this case I was lucky enough to make friends who like cats so I asked one of them to come and stay at our house while we’re gone. I think it’ll be okay? We’re also friends with our neighbours which is both lucky and nice, so in an emergency, they’re there.)
(Startled suddenly by spotting someone on the road in tiny shorts and a t-shirt. Berlin is sunny today but also like 1 degree, so it’s not warm, just bright. No one is wearing a mask outside. No one does. In a few days, clubs will open again and Berlin will go “back to normal” because they believe here that the pandemic will come and go and there’s no point stopping lives over it. From India I would disagree, sitting in Berlin I agree. Did I tell you that during my language class my entire table got COVID, sitting right next to me, breathing into my face, and I didn’t? I have a booster shot and a N95 mask and I feel like ok, if I get COVID, I get COVID. Obviously, I don’t want to get seriously ill, but I don’t want to live my life right now as though I am already seriously ill so why not resume?)
This might be a controversial view for some of you, na? But I’ve seen two countries respond to a pandemic, up close so my opinions are in this big soup of ideas, and I keep trying to fish out solid bits and examine them closely. Do I think everyone should take the vaccine? Yes. Do I think the government should have the right to interfere with people’s health decisions? No. Will I get another booster? Yes. And another one after that and after that? I don’t know. But if you fight me on any of these things, if you say, “Oh M, noooo what about blahdiblah?” I’ll agree with you. I’m really very wishy-washy about my pandemic opinions. That’s also a strange thing: to have lived with something for two years and not have a solid opinion about it. It’s like once I got vaccinated I just gave up thinking about it. I think I’m just bored of it, and that’s a luxury too, being bored.
The thing is also I don’t think things are going to “go back to normal.” This is just life now, masks and tests and flare-ups and sickness. We had several solid years of no-pandemic, just human beings touching and coughing and bumping into each other, and those were great years. Do you remember your first flight after 9/11 made airports around the world change their safety protocols? Do you remember how the security queue snaked around the room and everyone sort of half-laughed at this new nonsense and hoped life would return to normal soon? Do you remember the first time your bag was checked at a hotel after 26/11? Do you remember when there were garbage cans on the streets of Delhi and Mumbai and then they were all gone because people kept putting bombs in them? What I’m more worried about than “omg will we have to wear masks forever” is that the rich countries (yes, like Germany) will somehow move forward without us. That they’ll leave us* behind again, struggling. That there will be a post-pandemic world and it’ll only be populated by the West. The thing about the pandemic that made everyone take it seriously was that it happened to everyone, wasn’t just a third-world, brown people problem.
(*including me in “us” because come on, I may live here from time to time (please let the visa gods be on my side soon!) but you know. India.)
As my friend said to me on Saturday, “First there was 2020 I: The Pandemic. Then 2020 II: The Vaccine, and now we’re on 2020 III: The War.” Ugh. But I’ve had a good three months, and I finally have my next project in sight so even though I’m flitting around the world like a mosquito at least I have something to keep me grounded through it all. I’ll be back to Berlin before you know it, and in the meanwhile I’ll write to you soon. Probably from Delhi, but maybe from Istanbul. Send me tips! (I have about 18 hours in Prague including sleeping), four days in Budapest and two and a half weeks in Turkey.
This newsletter runs on love and tips, so buy me a coffee she says shamelessly.
That think piece about friendships as you age which I love!
About writing in my favourite font! (obviously I have a favourite font.)
Ann Patchett doesn’t shop for a year!
Akhil Sharma becomes a really old parent!
George Bernard Shaw is all of us trying to decline invitations except his rudeness has panache!
My new Voice of Fashion column is about Marian Keyes and the colour pink!
That’s all I’ve got. If you liked this post, here’s a handy-dandy share button.
Have a great week! Speak soon.
Who are you? Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.
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