What might we have done differently when the coronavirus invaded our lives? Kusum Lata Sawhney explores the possibilities through poetry.
Sawhney’s book of poems ’We Might Have …’ chronicles the unprecedented times we are facing with the COVID crisis. The poems look at events as they unfold, and the many stages the world faces as it confronts the unknown.
Her vivid accounts of the first appearance of the virus, the lockdowns and the fear, the isolation, the anger, the kindness, the chaos, the suffering, the economy in chaos, and subsequently, the global response inextricably linked to humanity’s inherent quest for survival, remind us of the completely unexpected and abnormal year that 2020 was.
Sawhney lucidly explores the themes of mass consumption and greed, which she terms ‘the deceit of excess’, going on to describe humanity’s shortsightedness in exploiting nature and the lack of respect for the natural world – a few of the many factors that have contributed to nature’s retribution, in the form of the pandemic.
In a poem, she explains,
“We might have spawned wildlife transmissions,
Encouraged callous breeding, hosts and mutations,
We might have ruthlessly plundered and aided to our plight.”
The poems are a mirror to the destructive nature of man and the viral darkness. In addition, they are also an attempt to capture the period that was, what is and what might be. She stresses on the need to reflect and bring about a radical change in the way we live and work, to move away from being divisive and selfish. A transformation is in order to usher in a kinder, more thoughtful, and harmonious world.
Describing change and an altered way of living, she writes,
“Where tech online at home is safe
We might reduce mass gatherings too
Learn to eat and pray in solitude
We might have to educate, adapt and change
Plenty will be lost but there will be gains.”
Learning to change, adapt and look within, in a deeply fractured world requires magnanimity and empathy. Where do we go from here and which path do we take? A time of reckoning, learning new skills and perhaps a gentler way of life are the lessons of the pandemic. In her words,
“We might have been ruthless, selfish and short
Strength and alternatives to whimsy
an agile plot
We might have to relearn, retool and rethink
And in this darkest of times truly learn a new link”.
The message ultimately is one of hope. Perhaps the transformative power of poetry will help us recognize and achieve that.
Edited by Meera Kymal, the Contributing Editor at India Currents.