This year has been a watershed in more ways than one. It has inspired a separate lexicon that is dedicated to explaining this ‘time’ to ourselves and to others. A large dedication or motivation has been to marshal a numerous partial, half hearted patois to sense make this buffering moment in history. Future, which was lingering as a spectre, was brought forward by the thud of the Wuhan Virus which later became the global pandemic. A microbe paused the march of modernity. All plans fell by the wayside as Plan B’s were plucked out of thin air and were expected to plug in to the grid effortlessly to get back to ‘normal’. But the F5, this time has been irreversible. 

Pandemic comprises of the root words, ‘Pan’ and ‘Demos’ which is self-explanatory as it has the hurting potential to affect everyone. A massive iota of sorrow has been caused to families and communities. The suffering has been democratic and egalitarian with Prime Ministers, Presidents and Royalty being infected, although the loss has been terminal for many near and dear ones, and for others a very intimate window into the terminal. As the saying goes, death as tax cannot be avoided. 

The terms deployed at the service of meaning making are ‘unprecedented’, ‘new normal’, ‘semi normal’, ‘Before Corona’, ‘After Corona’, ‘Lockdown’ among others. This washout of a year, which inflicted such unimaginable horror unfathomable by the limitations of lexicon has led to an avalanche of stories on social media. A ground up movement is happening in real time as various bystanders, frontline health workers, patients and former patients are live tweeting the genealogy of events.

Such a simultaneous narration of a pandemic has helped map the trajectories of suffering that offer ample current and archival material for analysts and scholars of the pandemic. This infodemic, or the information explosion pertaining to the pandemic has brought to the fore, the softer aspects of a deleterious virus including the dire need for digital literacy. The ability to gauge fake news is a critical skill of our times as is the awareness of privacy in the zeitgeist of surveillance capitalism. There is no vaccine available for fake news apart from the correct cognitive tools which a person needs to learn as digital is culture in this pandemic era. 

The important question that comes to my mind is; How much of this verbosity is helping us process our pain, of the loss of lives and livelihoods?

The discourse in India has been as vocal and plural as our country itself. Argumentative Indian in the words of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has unleashed the frustration which is a reflection of the triple whammy of the crisis in terms of a public health emergency, the jobs crisis, the internal migrants fiasco with the national security show down with the middle kingdom. The rhetoric has been as if we had perfect polity and administration prior to the national lockdown.

The answer is India has many layers and levers of administration which make even the functioning of public health highly complex as these are operationalised from the centre to the state to the municipal levels given that it is a concurrent list subject. Building state capacity requires a ‘whole of country and society’ approach and not only a governmental approach. Tweeting contributes to the conversation however does not necessarily translate into something tangible. Many good Samaritans such as Actor Sonu Sood, or alliance of civil society groups feeding the migrant workers in Mumbai called ‘Khana Chahiye’ have done stupendous work in helping to remediate the situation. 

After almost half a year of multiple lockdowns and ‘Work From Home’, there is certain degree of numbness and fatigue creeping in. The constant streaming of negativity has reached a level of saturation that infection statistics rising steeply due to increased testing does not matter anymore as it is a currency with any real purchase. It is a drowsy state of stupor where meaning is in suspended animation till a vaccine hits the market. The term ‘Normal’ is bereft of any valency. It is an empty metaphor which needs a fresh lease of life. The language deployed needs deeper reflection. The metaphors of war to combat the pandemic have fallen woefully short. The generic fatigue has crept into our everyday language as the limitations of our language are the limitations of our world paraphrasing the German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

How does language matter as we attempt to co-create future(s) of post pandemic possibilities? Language is linked to identity and political subject formation and is fundamental to the sense of the self. With education being transformed for a long time as students learn from home, language needed to grapple the global and the local is a perquisite. A transition generation will need a hope, where there is constant foreclosure of options for the future. Even the New Education Policy in India calls for an interdisciplinary approach.

The function of language is not merely to facilitate communication, but to tool the mind for the journey ahead. It is about time that we ‘Mind Our Language’. 

Manishankar Prasad

Manishankar Prasad is an environmental engineer, sociologist, researcher and writer. He has studied at the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He has published across numerous national and international platforms such as the New Indian Express and the Huffington Post, been a panellist on Al Jazeera International and BBC World, and has been interviewed by Forbes and The Guardian.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.


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