Last night we went for a party at Lost Lemons (both O’s looked more like balls than lemons on the neon-lit signage), near Leisure Valley Park in Sector 28, Gurgaon. It was a nice party but for the fact that the music was so loud, everybody had to kiss each other’s ear while talking. These intimacies were a function of the noise and when for a moment now and then the music stopped, everyone felt so foolish that they were shouting at each other for the simplest things.
It was a Friday night, it seemed there had been just no COVID-19 laying the country low for the last two years or so, no matter that India had recorded 2.3 crore vaccine shots on that day. So far, close to 80 crore jabs have been administered. Lakhs have died. Many more have fallen ill.
Yet, on Friday night, if you had come with me, you would not suspect there was death and great suffering comparable to a war happening until a few days ago. The need to be normal is what perhaps makes us human even if that involves killing or robbing. Or partying. Think about it.
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Lost Lemons is just one of the restaurants in the Leisure Valley area. There are at least 50 bars and restaurants arranged in a semi-circle around an open ground. All the restaurants are competitively garish in decor, and reassuringly loud.
The open ground is however not exactly open. This is where you park your car, except on the day we went, parking was an exercise in close-combat. We sort of parked our car sideways, hoping for the best, and came out of the windows and found ourselves under a large and sad-looking male camel wearing what I thought was a red see-through sari, and carrying two kids on its back.
A few other kids, who were not so well off, trailed the camel with balloons in their hands which nobody was buying. Who buys balloons these days? The last time I bought one was in the last millennium, when it was in fashion only because my kids had just been born, and they would buy it to pop it so they could feel shocked that a world had been lost and felt free to bawl. Classic victims.
Ah, yes, the overpowering need to be normal, to get back into the swing of things. The human spirit, which essentially means we cannot and, indeed, must not learn from our disasters. Eve and Adam knew the apple was injurious to health, but has that stopped the price of apple (₹290, for a kilo as of Friday) from going up?
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In Delhi, Friday was cool and pleasant because of the rains. But even otherwise, one could smell the first of winter early in the morning and late in the evening, just a hint, a sense as if you just touched a cold hand wrapped in a warm glove.
Winter means also more holidays, festivals and parties. Perhaps even more cross-dressed camels. Crowd. On Friday, we saw everybody was having fun, dancing and drinking, the more cautious of the revellers wearing masks on their chins, possibly hoping the sight will scare the virus away. But soon even that token gesture will be forgotten. How does one act normal with a mask, say, hanging from one ear?
So, then it was a nice Friday night, camels and lemons and all. But there is just a chance that we are on the cusp, god forbid, of another COVID-19 wave. And if there is one, that would be the funeral of our economy. Maybe this is the wrong thing to say: can’t we develop a habit of drinking normal things like alcohol through a straw cut into the mask? No? No.
Late night, feeling good and normal at human contact, we exited after our share of farewell hugs and got into the car and fixed our masks properly over our faces. Habits, habits. After about 10 minutes we took them off, because reversing the car had been like climbing down a steep mountain on one leg, and we could not swear loudly and clearly with the masks on. When we finally managed it, at the main gate we met the camel. It was lying on the ground, masticating. It looked normal. And it was no longer wearing the sari.
(CP Surendran is the author of One Love And The Many Lives of Osip B, published by Niyogi Books)