Journeys have banal connotations while an odyssey is invariably a journey of vast proportions, loaded with hope, tragedy and homecoming. On March 27, Ranveer Singh started his journey from Delhi where he worked in a small restaurant in Tughlaqabad to Amba, his village home in Madhya Pradesh.
After walking about 200 kilometres, he died by the Agra highway. He was the first migrant fatality on India’s hunger march. Death transformed Ranveer’s doomed journey into a collective odyssey of India’s migrant populations fleeing to the comfort of their villages and families, which won’t be getting the monthly postal orders anytime soon. Ranveer did not die alone, but his was a lonely death, away from the milieu, which defined him.
Sophists have for long played around the clichéd theory of loneliness and being alone as a Randian Ubermensch paradox, but the past few months have showed that being alone is not an individual curse. It is, in fact, a collective state of loneliness. The millions of migrants who walked home for hundreds of kilometres were not lonely because there was comfort in numbers.
The thousands left behind in relief camps, the hundreds who are rioting to go home, or paying for train tickets they can ill-afford are alone in the midst of an uncaring society, which needed their energy and youth to flourish, but paid them salaries not even remotely proportionate to profits. They crammed together in slums and tenements, socially distanced from their ‘betters’. Loneliness is location, location, location.
The government is under fire for not giving migrant workers free train and bus tickets while Indians stranded abroad were earlier flown in free—a distinction, which cannot be ignored on the basis of class or economics. The Congress party, in its political kindness, offered to pay for migrants’ travel. Government insensitivity is not the fault of the leadership.
Indians are charitable, not compassionate. The deep distinctions of feudal might and caste that has divided the nation for centuries do not tolerate compassion towards the less fortunate. A Dalit is doomed to a life of collective loneliness. Widows in Vrindavan and Varanasi are cursed to exist and die alone. Young Indians from the Northeast are solitary in the multitude, because they look different and perhaps, speak better English. Ironically, in all religions, loneliness is death. Here, it is life.
The greatest crisis of existence is loneliness. Literature, science, psychology and history have tried to examine and come to terms with it and failed. After nearly two months of isolation, millions of people are carelessly crowding markets, beaches, parks and booze shops. The literary maestro of loneliness Albert Camus wrote, “The tragedy is not that we are alone, but that we cannot be. At times I would give anything in the world to no longer be connected by anything to this universe of men.” Just like Ranveer Singh.
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