Yesterday, I was reading out loud the first chapter of Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland to my 8 year-old kid. The glum-looking Alice was bored to death as her sister read from a story book that had ‘no pictures or conversations’ in it. As I went ahead with the first chapter, I couldn’t help but notice certain similarities with our current situation.
In the absence of our regular settings and our banters with our friends, colleagues and extended families, we all have collectively been forced into getting bored. As we looked around for ways to escape the boredom, the internet emerged as a saviour. Just like the intriguing rabbit with a ‘waistcoat and a pocket watch,’ technology has fascinated us and pulled us into this deep rabbit-hole in which we all are falling steadily. We don’t know when or how we will hit the ground or if we ever will. We are going deeper and deeper into the internet rabbit-hole to keep ourselves occupied, not knowing how we would get out of our virtual worlds once this catastrophe is over.
Just like Alice who even as she was falling into the rabbit-hole, reached out to open a marmalade jar, many of us found solace in food. During the initial few lockdown days, a lot of us binged on comfort food. We hunted online for recipes and tried out new sizzlers and pastas, and incessantly bugged our local Kirana wala for exotic ingredients that we wouldn’t have bought otherwise. Alice soon realised that the marmalade jar was empty and so she kept it back on the cupboard. Some of us similarly realised the dangers of consuming empty calories without any physical activity and snapped right back to healthy living and eating dal-chaawal and other wholesome ghar ka khaana.
Just like Alice, who thought that ‘‘after such a fall as this, I shall think nothing of tumbling down stairs!” many of us are now celebrating our new-found strength. Emotionally, this long wait for the lockdown to end is helping us work-out our patience muscles. We can now ‘think nothing of’ waiting for our businesses and economies to grow back to their normal scale, waiting for that long-due international vacation, waiting to pursue dreams that have been indefinitely put on hold….
When she finally hits the ground on a heap of twigs, Alice continues chasing the rabbit and finds herself in absurd situations. We too will eventually hit rock-bottom and encounter the absurdity of the lives we have built for ourselves. Alice finds a small door that leads to a passage and garden, which looks enticing to her. But Alas! The door is too large for Alice to pass through. Similarly, large organisations with established protocols and processes might find it difficult to be agile enough to fit themselves in the changing circumstances. On the societal level, rigid social norms may have to crumble and make way for more flexible interpersonal arrangements. When Alice finds a magic potion that shrinks her enough to allow her to pass through the door, she realises that she is too small to even reach the key to the door which was kept on the table. Similarly, in our own reality, the key to prosperity may become all the more elusive to the poor, the voiceless and the unrepresented, who may find themselves all the more helpless.
Interestingly, the rabbit in the story is always one step ahead of Alice, carries a pocket-watch on him and is shown to be running out of time to reach somewhere. What if this pocket-watch is symbolic of time and technology is the rabbit that we have been chasing all along? This would mean that every new technology carries its own time (read expiry date) within its pocket. So, in our pursuit of newer and better technologies, are we geared up for an unending chase? In this game of survival, will we give in to our emotions and wallow in our tears or will we use reason to bend our realities to suit the new situation, the way Alice eventually does? Only time will tell.