In 2021, words are all we have

From New Normal to Workcation, pandemic catchphrases have followed us into the present year

hope bricks

Last year this time we were looking ahead, making to-do lists. This year we’re listless, and staring vacantly at the elusive promise of a post-vaxxed future. While we’re at it, fiddling with our N95 masks and having nightmares of being married in PPE suits, our millennium has unceremoniously turned 21. Collectively, we are at an age when wisdom is expected to dawn upon us and settle embarrassingly on our shoulders like dandruff. 

Those among us who have survived the pandemic look on with disbelief as the century hobbles into its third decade. We invent ways to wish away the negativity as we make sense of earthly time, confused about which truths to believe. Along with app-ordered meals, we diet on disinformation dispensed industriously by the dangerous minds that occupy the dens of political power. The darkness outside has seeped inside of us. The recession is real. The depression is deep. The exploitation is thorough. And the pandemic, which we have now learned to live with, has infected our vocabulary with phrases that aren’t going out of circulation in a hurry. Here are a few that we will be babbling all the way through 2021.

Also read: Crossing the laugh line

New normal: It might feel abnormal, but the New Normal describes a spectrum of pathological behaviours including but not limited to clanging plates on rooftops, authoritarian crackdowns on dissent, judicial paralysis, brazen lying on national television, and placing a chokehold on personal liberty while providing eternal immunity to worshipful servants of the dictatorship that cant about “too much democracy”. 

Social distancing: The politically correct thing to say should have been physical distancing, but social is the prefix that caught on. And not surprisingly, for during the pandemic we ensured that our poor and disenfranchised were corralled off at a safe distance. Out of sight, out of mind.

Lockdown: Some of us remember it as a time when we cooked and washed up while attending work calls in our underwear. Most countries conducted elaborately planned lockdowns, but only in Jumlaland were lockdowns imposed at the snap of a finger by a bearded king who played with peacocks in his copious spare time and ignored the plight of farmers and migrant labourers while planning an elaborate palatial expansion. Talk of multitasking.

Mask: The ultimate fashion statement of 2020, the face mask is here to stay. The most popular way to wear one, as demonstrated by certain illustrious politicians who later tested positive for the virus, is to let it dangle three inches below your bearded chin. Any lower and it may as well serve as a loincloth.

Essentials: The catchphrase of early pandemic lockdowns, this fuzzy category of commerce described every bare necessity that could be home-delivered, which over time broadened generously to include weapons, drugs, and alcohol. 

Also read: Bullies in the house

corona mask

Unprecedented: When we say unprecedented, we mean something that we don’t remember as having happened before — the scale of the pandemic, the erosion of the economy, the migrant crisis, the death-blow to democracy. But it’s all happened before, and those who choose not to remember history are condemned to repeat it. 

Sanitise: More than feverishly dabbing your hands with strong-smelling alcohol-based gel, sanitisation implies wiping away evidence, obliterating the source, silencing critics, and more. When you tell an outright lie, change a place name, or defund a department, or ‘revise’ history, you sanitise. The outcome isn’t always clean.

Screen time: Schools insist on it. Parents complain about it. Kids wallow in it. In the spaces between, we’re raising an overstimulated and triggered generation. The consequence? Wait for it.

Work from home: Can you work from home if you’re homeless? The jury’s out on that. Meanwhile, WFH remains the luxury of the connected class, characterised by 18-hour workdays and laptop screens spattered with cooking stains. It’s a great equaliser. The housemaid and security guard also work from home — yours. 

Workcation: So much leave travel allowance and nowhere to go? Go on a vacation, though not a holiday, strictly speaking, because you’ll remain connected to your boss 24/7. 

Also read: Talking of death

Vaccine: Ah, the much-awaited panacea to the pandemic. One day, everyone alive will be vaxxed. And rich. And happy. And sexually satisfied. But we’ll still have to wear masks. 

Atma nirbharta: Here’s a DIY recipe for pandemic prosperity: Start an unaudited private fund. Force the public and every government servant to contribute to it. Repay your debts with interest to your industrialist cronies. And take care of your retirement. 

It’s 2021. We are learning to live with the pandemic. We are learning to let go. Meanwhile, words and data are all we have. We find ourselves addicted to gadgets, clinging onto them for dear life. Do you take these four bars on your phone screen to be your hope and comfort in sickness and in health, till death do you part? Awesome. I now pronounce you man and WiFi.

Also read: Hell of a holiday


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