BHOPAL: The lockdown began one year ago. Time and memory seemed to have lost all meaning then. The days are incredibly long in March. In that period, the passing of time resembled a painting of Salvador Dali, ‘Dreamscape’. It is a landscape with the strangeness or mystery characteristic of dreams. The surrealist artist’s famous painting of melting clocks includes a silver pocket watch draped like a shirt hung up to dry over a dead tree branch.
When the lockdown started, nobody knew how long it would continue. Everyone thought it would soon end. Yet, it continued for nearly three months. The lockdown was lifted phase-wise. Bhopal, like any other city in the country, has wobbled back to normal life.
In Dali’s ‘Dreamscape’, his clocks are soft and malleable. It represents, as the painter refers to, ‘the camembert of time’. It reminds an art-lover that time and memory are inter-linked. Neither is as rigid as one thinks.
The time that is empty passes slowly. So did the time of the lockdown. It was like a watched kettle never boils. It is like one of Dali’s clocks. But the opposite is true when people assess time retrospectively. That Bhopalis did with courage.
Similarly, people find that when they remember the past, they perceive a year as long as if it had included more memorable events.
The pandemic has, however, changed life. Going to work, meeting people and attending parties suddenly stopped. Bhopalis are fond of outing. But they were furloughed at home without the routine of work to structure their day, caring about their children, elderly parents and watching TV serials.
The people of the younger generation, who were not born when the TV serials — Ramayan and Mahabharat — were launched, had an opportunity to watch them during the lockdown. Still, keeping away from social activities was too boring to talk about. Such periods seem longer and ominous. Difficult as it was to spend such a tedious time, the Bhopalis did it with a smiling face as they did when the greatest tragedy of human history struck them on the night of December 3, 1984.
That time was also longer. Wails rent the air. The main road was strewn with human bodies. If Dali’s ‘Dreamscape’ delineates time through a clock, a city painter, Faisal Mateen, portrays that man-made tragedy through a leafless tree. Now, this painting recalls that tragedy like a dream. Today’s Bhopal but vaguely remembers what happened 37 years ago. That reminiscence has turned into a reflection that appears like scattered images in a broken mirror.
The corona-induced lockdown and the number of human lives the virus has consumed across the world will slowly fade from memory. How will a Bhopali remember this lockdown in a year, a decade, or 50 years from now? Perhaps, they will forget. Those who are grey-haired by then will recall this gloomy period like the dying daylight that embraces the descending darkness whose shadows linger.