It is tempting to play with words but when the difference conveyed is so full of meaning, it is better to be precise. This is a time of being in lockdown, when the word is understood by all the people of the world, whether they are otherwise ignorant or illiterate, or even plain non-English speaking.
It is more than two months now, but unlike many others I am not marking each day as it passes. My days have not been very different so I am not tempted to post memes or amateur dance videos, nor am I missing having to visit indifferent relatives. In fact for a solitary person like me, this lockdown has freed me from any obligations to socialise. Going back to the earlier normal will be sure to weigh me down again with having to say Hello when I would rather scurry past quickly, unseen and unheard.
I used to be a people pleaser once. Even now I find it hard not to give in to pressure and talk to people and try to “be nice” to those who I know do not care anything about me.
One of my earliest memories is of my father telling me the Marwari girls next door, who were a few years older than me, looked very pretty because they always had smiles on their faces. The implication was clear, so I tried to paste a smile on my face for a few days. But no one noticed or remarked anything, so I gave up, thinking a smile was too hard to hold if there was no one smiling back at you. I thought no more about trying to look pretty or being called pretty.
Quite frequently my parents would describe someone as being very pretty and I would be in awe of that person without ever having seen them. But one day I realised that all the people who were praised by my parents for their looks looked very ordinary in my eyes, and so stopped thinking about it.
When I was in my teens, I gave up trying to look good because it seemed to be a losing proposition every time I looked at my reflection in a mirror. So I spent a few years never looking in a mirror. I managed to put my bindi on my forehead anyhow, angling the mirror to show only my forehead, not caring too much about the shape of the liquid bindi. If I walked past a reflective shop window, I turned my face away, till I realised that I could recognise my reflection only by the colour of my clothes. My face had become that of a stranger.
I spent my middle years trying to do everything well, cooking, cleaning, washing, while keeping relatives happy by doing everything that was expected of me. Maybe it mattered and maybe it did not. The points and the medals always went to others.
It was not until my fifth and sixth decades that I began to see people as they were and not as I thought they would be. I have been told that I have changed and that I am not the person I used to be. It makes me happy that I no longer care what anybody thinks about me. I try to do my best now to follow my own standards of behaviour and be polite and straightforward – without playing games – but when it is clear that there is no equal response from others, it is time to let them be, and walk away. The last part used to be almost impossible once, but not now, when I know that everyone is alone in this world. We came into this world alone, and we will leave it alone.
This isolation imposed by the virus has made it clear even to the lucky people who are blessed with abundant wealth and friends and family, that it is only a matter of chance who will be with them in a time of need. To others not so blessed, it is very clear indeed that friends and family who are never around even in happier times are certainly not going to make their presence felt at other times. Decluttering the people in your life is as important as decluttering your wardrobe. Mary Kondo would say, Has this person ever been nice to you? Without being as ruthless, at my age I think I can safely keep away from those to whom I am invisible or at least, mind my own business.
There is a story about Yudhishtra being accompanied by a dog when he enters Heaven. Everyone has left him already and only the dog remains. He is told that it is Dharma in the form of the dog who has remained with him till the end. So people are not important enough that they must be pleased at any cost. Neither are they important enough to cause distress. If they are good people, the kind you want to keep, they will stay on. The other kind is not worth thinking about.