Life is buffering

TL:DR- This is halfway between a rant and an exercise in dusting the cobwebs from my brain. If you’re looking for a poignant point, please watch Republic TV instead.

Yes I know, that is a fairly angsty title that might make one feel like I am trying to be clever. I am. But also, this is exactly how I feel.

Let me take you back to that moment when the movie you are watching suddenly stops mid-scene. It is a forced break in your on-demand life. The moment leaves you wondering whether to own the break and press the pause button on an already paused video, to render some sort of placebo like control over your life; or just pretend to be zen and wait it out, while acting like the break doesn’t bother you at all and that you actually did want to go to the fridge to get some water.

That is exactly what has happened to my life.

Me and my brethren (lazy +salaried + single people living alone) lead a fairly ‘on-demand’ life. We do not move a muscle for anyone or anything, unless we truly want to. In other times we would be called selfish. Today, due to our sheer numbers, we are tagged with the euphemism; ‘individualistic’. Our cabs come to our door and gourmet food is thrust in our hands by rating-hungry, marginally exploited young men and women.

Our entire life is largely about control. It is about the control we feel we have on our own lives. That 2 AM drive to the hills on a week night was way more fun in college ’cause you could sleep in class, but now it is just the last vestiges of ‘youth’ acting up that make the rest of the week miserable. But no sir, we will not admit it. We made a deliberate choice and the result has to be good. How can it be bad? No sir!

I found a very interesting fact on the internet which said that most of the highly rated books on Goodreads are books that have a large number of pages, books that are particularly voluminous. This goes to show that people don’t want to admit that their 3 months spent reading ‘Infinite Jest’ were a disaster. This makes sense. When was the last time you heard someone say that they had a miserable vacation to Europe? There are plenty of fail Ooty/Coorg/Lonavala/Manali trips; but Europe can’t fail. It costs lakhs, the visa takes time, the leaves have to be applied for, flights have to be booked! It has to be the bestmostepicfantasticfantabulous trip ever.

It is only in this generation that the statement of ‘I make my own mistakes’ is said by semi-broke 20 somethings and not on-screen by a Marlon Brando-esque anti-hero.

This is why Corona and the Pandemic has come as a giant shock to us. I can see that we are not used to control being taken from our lives so easily. It is increasingly evident that me and my peers are slowly coming to the humbling realisation that we are just pseudo adults, highly incapable of handling our own emotional needs let alone someone else’s. Overnight, whatever control we thought we had on our lives has vanished and we don’t really know what to do.

I moved back home 6 months ago. From Bangalore to Coimbatore. I set up my work from home shop in my childhood bedroom much to the chagrin of my poor mother who doesn’t know where to begin when she wants to clean my room. However, my mother’s cleaning woes aside, being at home was definitely the right decision as far as I am concerned. If I had to stay in my Bangalore apartment and deal with a life-threatening virus, flatmate issues, maids, cooks, landlords, bills, building rules made by cranky mothers and scared elders, my pretence at adulthood would have evaporated in 24 seconds.

Today, productivity has been mapped to erstwhile entertainment activities like finishing a book my younger self could read while the teacher droned on in class about chlorophyll and mitochondria. Don’t get impressed, I know the meaning of neither. I caught myself feeling good the other day about finishing a movie with just one, ok maybe two, Instagram breaks. It astounded me that an activity that was considered a waste of time by my parents while growing up is now a self appropriated silver star to me by myself.

But, it is not just me who has changed. I remember the days when my father would look at me rotting on the couch in my boxers, in front of the TV and give me looks of utter disdain. Today, he enters the room in boxers, looks at me watching a movie and after 30 seconds of observation asks me, ‘Is it on Netflix?’. My mother’s complaint with my sister watching 14 hours of Korean drama a day is not that she shouldn’t watch so much for so long, but the fact that all her recommendations on their shared Netflix account are screwed! What has happened to the world? Everyone I know is constantly making an internal IMDB in their heads of the movies, shows, vlogs, streams, videos, sketches, poems, songs and albums they have to check out immediately. Immediately. Everyone’s favourite times of the day are those that they can lock themselves up in their room with their phones, laptops and TVs and put on that show that someone recommended, only to recommend it to someone else the next day. Or whine about it to the person who recommended it to you.

Before Covid hit us in the face like Harbhajan hit Sreesanth, I was living life the way I usually do, “A quarter mile at a time”. Sorry, it sounds cool when Vin Diesel says it. With me, it just sounds like I am too lazy or too much of a miser to fill up on fuel in my 2011 Honda Activa. What I mean is that I was living my standard ‘let’s see what happens next life’, while doing normal stuff like going to work, shaking hands, hugging people, y’know, life pre-Covid was on the edge.

Today, I am comfortable and as happy as I can be, safe and protected emotionally at home, but I constantly oscillate between productivity and listlessness. Sometimes I stare at my computer screen for long periods of time without really pressing a single key. I still have my standard ‘productivity hacks’ in place. I have got my ‘to-do’ list, I have my calendar full, I have meetings that I conduct, I have personal work that I do, in short, I am running my professional life the exact same way I was 6 months ago. ’Cause salary. ’Cause bills. ’Cause responsibility.

But there is something to be said about the joy of walking away from office and forgetting about everything work-related in 30 seconds by the sheer act of physically distancing yourself from the space. There is a distinct pleasure in coming home and throwing away your jeans in some corner, not to be thought of again until the mad rush the next day when you curse yourself for not putting it in its place. WFH ‘hacks’ address these feelings by stating that do not work in the same room your bed is in and wear work clothes everyday. But, listen, if I take up another room in the house, my family will most definitely throw me out.

With Covid, as with anything in life, I find it hard to find my peace with a belief and stick to it. I talk to an extremely extra positive person who has stats to support his/her positivity, (“Indian immunity is shocking the world, Pranav!”) and I feel positive. I then talk to a dreary pessimist who also has stats and links and articles (“We are all going to die, bro) and I start to get jittery again. Most days, I don’t know what to think. I avoid this conversation and news about it, not because I am particularly afraid, not as much anymore at least, but primarily because I do not know how to feel.

The days are all merging together. Like I said, life is buffering. I do not know whether to press the pause button and own the pause or wait it out and go have a sip of cold water.

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Pranav Mathur

I work for other people in the day and on myself in the night. Wait… that sounds wrong.