We’re at that stage of the pandemic where we can attempt to divide it into stages. The shock and uncertainty of the early days. The brief reprieve of the first retreat. The brutal onslaught of the second wave. The tentative assurance of a double vaccination. And now, the heartening prospect of a world opening up. We’ve been tossed and turned like a luckless salad on a rickety boat during a Shakespearean tempest, and lived to tell the tale. And since we’re a species that feeds on narrative, we’re desperately trying to tell ourselves stories that make sense of it all.
Of mice and men
It’s best not to be smug about things in this apocalyptic era, but it’s difficult to resist a jibe. The much-awaited, alliterative year 2020 turned out to be a cruel illustration of the worldly wise phrase: “the best-laid plans of mice and men”. Let’s observe a moment of silence to mourn the sudden demise of what was once called “long-term planning”. As the world went into staggered lockdown the consequences of which we’ll be grappling with long after Covid-19 has been tamed -our brains did that thing they do under distress. Reveal themselves to be a Pandora’s Box, filled with unspeakably scary things.
I for one did my best impression of Newt Scamander from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, facing the demons of my mind like the Magizoologist from the Potterverse tends to his irrepressible monsters–with tenderness, hope and copious amounts of wishful thinking. And here’s where the smugness comes in: in a world where nothing makes sense, a healthy attitude to randomness comes to the rescue. Just like in a tense cricket match where, after the impressive top order has collapsed, a lowly bowler pinch-hits his team to victory, so too can we be redeemed by tools in our repertoire long lying undetected.
The perverse pleasure of the iPod shuffle
Ayn Rand, that prophet of American capitalism who has seduced generations of intense teenagers with the fiercely individualistic Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, outlined her philosophy in The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism. Her Objectivist worldview finds a cheering counter in Bertrand Russell’s In Praise of Idleness, among many other heartening manifestos of fulfilment. It’s time a modern prophet penned The Virtue of Randomness, surely the most underrated life skill of our times. We think about it as the absence of other qualities like planning and preparedness, for which the propaganda factory constantly works overtime. To surrender oneself to randomness is to stop stressing about events not in one’s control–while not resorting to a belief in some benevolent supernatural force either.
Sounds like a tough ask, but once you’re hooked, you’re hooked. I miss the halcyon days of the classic iPod and its miraculous shuffle feature. Listening to songs you’ve curated, but not in an order you’ve chosen, was so liberating. The cheap thrills of hearing the formidable Begum Abida Parveen incantate the words of Amir Khusrau, followed immediately by the Village People belting out YMCA – a highly underrated, slightly perverse pleasure of our blasé digital age.
What’s your Friends’ personality type?
It sounds a bit ironic, submitting oneself to randomness in an age where spontaneity has taken such a hit. How does one, for instance, meet friends (“to socialise” has begun to sound like a dreary synonym of “to network”) without making plans well in advance? But it’s possible, and here’s evidence. I’ve just converted a midnight WhatsApp message into a lunch plan with a friend visiting from a distant suburb. And it’s a working day for us both. This is not an urban legend, even though typing this felt a bit unreal. We have our vaccines, our masks and all the other common sense protocols that we cannot afford to ignore; let’s reclaim our right to randomness to offset the drudgery that is the curse of the times.
Much has been made of the (often exaggerated) introvert/extrovert binary in the context of the pandemic. It’s time to shift the focus onto those who plan versus those who wing it. To conclude with Friends, the undisputed personality Bible of the new millennium – “Rules help control the fun,” for Monica Geller. But everyone knows Phoebe Buffay is the one who’s truly living it up.
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From HT Brunch, November 21, 2021
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