Once for a couple of years, I worked from home as a consultant with a team in San Francisco while living in India. I was getting off work after midnight, every night. Usually, after work I would fire up my playstation; The world would be dark and sleeping. I would go to my balcony to smoke a cigarette while waiting for the video game console to boot up. The console had a background music. It was this smooth digital sound, with hints of ups and downs. Once I heard the music, I would go back inside.
I had kept my playstation when I moved to Germany. On a cold winter night, I did the same, I pressed on the switch to turn the console on and I stepped on the balcony. The console came on after a few moments and the now distinct background music started chiming. It wasn’t even late at night, neither it was particularly lonely and quiet but all of a sudden I felt it. I felt the same sense of alone-ness that would come over me during deep Bangalore nights. It came to me like a cube of ice sliding over my spine. I realised I have come to assiociate the music with being alone. Not long after, I sold my playstation to a man with a kid. I didn’t want to have that thing under my television set anymore.
Then the pandemic hit us all. Somewhat underprepared, I noticed that I didn’t have much choice but to confront the experience of being with myself all over again. Unlike other years, this year is not the year of Schmalzkuchen and Glühwein. Neither it is the year of craft beer and smokey bars at the edge of the the river. This year we don’t get to sip rum from hip flasks and watch the sun set. This year we get to sip tea, and stand on our balconies, looking at others’ lives playing out like a theatre through the windows. This year we get to ask ourselves the sort questions that usually drowns in alcohol and gets trampled by strangers on the streets. Even though I am still struggling with most of those questions, I have some made progress in some.
You see, being alone is quite an asymptote in our society. It’s mostly correlated to sadness, and isolation. It percolates pity, envy and doubt. Not that we don’t celebrate it, we do. Emma Watson’s sorta famous “self-partnered” was quite a stir. Self help gurus and YouTube demigods touting “It’s okay!”, is quite frankly, a reflection of a society trying to figure it out. But amidst all that, I don’t think we are quite there yet. I think, we aren’t conditioned enough to celebrate the idea of alone-ness for what it is.
Industrial revolution pretty much single handedly scaled cities to a point where most of us could live anonymously in cities. We could finally, truly be alone, but still have the luxuries of life, from fresh clothes in the dryer to canned food in the pantry. This was probably unimaginable for most of us for most of history. But the phenomenon, the ability to live alone, to have the choice to be free from our basic instinct; We just didn’t have enough time to write about it, to talk about it, to sing about it, to celebrate it.