The War Feat. Us

If like me, you were born in the 1980s in India and are reading this blog post written in English, on the internet, odds are you’ve had an easy-ish life.

No, wait, don’t kill me yet. Because while I know every one has their own unique and gargantuan problems, there is this to consider:

Our grandparents lived in British India. They lived through India’s Independence Struggle, through the bloody days of the Partition, through the Indo-China War. Their parents lived through the Second World War, some may even have fought in it, because brown lives were always cheap for the Empire. Those who didn’t, experienced the horrors of colonial rule, the exploitation and discrimination that prohibited dogs and Indians from entering certain premises.

Our parents, too, saw war. My father still remembers the air-raid sirens, the black paper stuck on windows at night to escape Pakistani bomber planes and the roiling in the stomach when one passed overhead.

These two generations stood through ration lines, faced large-scale unemployment, survived on low-quality food without complaint, because hey, at least there was food and others weren’t so lucky.

We, on the other hand, came of age just as globalisation extended its fancy, French-manicured fingers towards the country. We were the MTV generation, reveling in these new-fangled malls, gingerly pressing the keys of the first, boxy computers at work, speaking better English than our parents had ever done. In our own way, we were pioneers exploring new frontiers, but all these years, we hadn’t really seen a war.

Recession, yes. Terrorism, yes. But war? No, sir.

We’ve never known the uncertainty that walks hand in hand with war. Will this bread I hold in my hands today be the last I eat for months? Will this neighbourhood I’ve lived in all my life, become dangerous a few hours from now? Will my friends, my parents, my children be carted away in the middle of the night to someplace that didn’t exist a week ago? Will I lose my job? Will I run out of money? Will I be safe? Will anyone?

We’ve never really known the fear that comes from reading about war. So many dead in Italy. These many in China. World leaders urge citizens to keep calm. Global bodies trying to find a way to stop the deaths and destruction all over the world.

And we’ve never known what helplessness, true helplessness, feels like. That feeling you get that absolutely nothing is in your control. The way you avoid looking into your children’s eyes when they ask you questions like ‘Are we all going to die?’ and ‘Why is this happening?’ and ‘When will it stop?’ That white-knuckled, temple-throbbing, stomach-churning impotence? We’ve never known that.

The mass migration from cities to villages. The unprecedented crumbling of the economy. The overworked doctors and nurses. The drastic security measures. We’ve never lived through all that.

Till now.

And that’s why I think that this fight against COVID-19, this is the war of our generation. And of those who follow us. It’s not Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s not Chernobyl or Bhopal. It’s not the Great War – an epithet earned by the First World War because people alive at the time couldn’t imagine another war of its like. They couldn’t imagine another instance when countries would lose their citizens by the hundreds, thousands, millions.

And yet, here we are.

Make no mistake, then. This is war. And it will have its due. Some will perish, fighting to the end. Some will survive to tell the tale to wide-eyed grandchildren decades from now. Some will write stories that read like dystopian nonsense to readers of the next century. This happened, they will say, and we were there when it did.

And the rest will carry on living, as best they can, with what they have. Because war or not, if there is one thing humans know how to do, it is to prevail. And perhaps there is hope to be found in that.

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