BENGALURU: Just the way many of us have been fearing of late, the term ‘social distancing’ has started threatening to show its true form. Five months after the phrase entered our vocabulary, it seems to be putting to rest all the debates about how it should actually be called ‘physical’ and not ‘social’ distancing’. The gap is no longer restricted to 6 feet. It’s seeping through walls of apartments, circling neighbourhoods, and traversing hundreds of kilometres. Locked down or not, the locked-up lives are moving apart from each other, slowly, one social media message or phone call at a time.
It’s fast becoming a distant memory now, the times when half-an-hour would go by in a flash after you dialled the number of your sibling or cousin. There is no gossip to be shared from the latest family get-together that one of you attended, or the shopping list for the wedding scheduled two months from now. Phone calls are all about Covid case counts, government restrictions, and public behaviour in your respective cities.
It doesn’t matter whether you are talking to someone in another country or continent. Or if it’s a friend, an elderly aunt or a former colleague. Actually, if it’s the latter, chances are that the conversation is likely to be more disheartening if you get to hear instances of layoffs and furloughs. No revelations of water cooler whispers, no casual let’s-meet-soon promises.
Social distancing, in the stricter sense of the term, has crept in closer home too. No longer are neighbours the same good people you could call in times of need. They are instead threatening to call each other out for letting children play outside without wearing a mask, or for singing too loudly during the day while others are working from home, or even for hosting a small party on weekends.
Even WhatsApp forwards have trickled down, and browsing through other interaction platforms has become more of a compulsive habit than the joyful exercise of engagement it earlier was. Twitter has become synonymous with trolling, whether it concerns political developments, national defence issues or a health calamity. Keep scrolling down the Facebook feed, and there is hardly a post that’s interesting enough to hold your attention. No exciting travel photos of places that have long been on your bucket list, or pictures of a friends’ reunion that you so hated to miss.
There instead are the usual videos of friends showing off the miles recorded on their treadmills that they ordered online recently; of acquaintances exhibiting their success with preparing Chettinad chicken and Dahi vada, garnished with coriander leaves freshly plucked from the little plastic pot that nurseries sell plants in; and, of course, the videos of old movie songs, perhaps the only thing that you may watch till the end if it features an artiste you idolise.
But then, even the social media platforms ruled by celebrities hardly hold the allure they did until the pandemic arrived. By now, fans know well the colour of the sofa set and the view from the balcony of their favourite stars’ homes. If not lockdown videos, Instagram is full of throwback photos. There is not much to look forward to, nothing new to share. And yet, we must stick to all the ways of forging connections. There is nothing we need more right now than bonds that bridge social distancing.