Author: sn2378

The Plague & Angels & a note about hope (Smrithi’s very late Augmenter’s Post)

This is a long overdue augmenter’s post! I am sincerely sorry about the delay! I’m hoping super late is better than never. But really, I just wanted to add a couple of thoughts here about Camus’ The Plague, and Kushner’s Angels in America. 

Jacques Othon’s death in The Plague remains to be one of those moments that I still cannot forget. And I keep having this instinct to call that part in the novel a scene because it truly feels like I watched it — and even more so, it feels like I’ve heard it. The sounds of the place, the patients screaming in the hospital, it’s not hard at all to imagine a soundscape of pain vibrating out of the pages. For the first time, through this almost sensory experience, I felt the novel in my body. It became very, very real for that moment. The plague became real, in all its agony, and not just bureaucracy, or community, or isolation – all of which are so valid, it’s just that the physical agony became real for me. This reminds of two moments over the summer when I was reminded of the agony of COVID, these were the moments that the pandemic became physically real to me, in a very tangible sense. 

The first was a video from ScoopWhoop, taken outside one of Delhi’s biggest hospitals. 

It is painful to watch. Because right about this time, there had been so much talk about how COVID, in reality, was not all that deadly/fatal, it was being compared to catching the flu. Then I came across this video in which family members are ‘interviewed’ right outside the hospital, and they talk about how they have no clue about what is happening with their family inside, how they’ve been forced to share beds, how family members had been crammed into the same space as other COVID patients. The mismanagement and lack of resources in a country like India becomes so visible here. It becomes clear that even if COVID may not be “all that fatal”, one doesn’t die of the disease, one dies of the structures around the disease. In class we have previously talked about social and political structures around pandemics, but here I just wanted to highlight how actual hospital, wellness and care structures were never designed to sustain people. What happens to our systems of care after this pandemic? 

The other video is from The Atlantic, and it is people describing their ICU delirium after having been admitted for COVID. The COVID survivors also state how there are such little resources to help with ICU delirium, even though 80% of the people on ventilators have been reported to have experienced it. Both of these videos center the people of the pandemic – it just goes to show, even on an emotional, mental, psychological level, a pandemic is so much more than a biological disease — which is something The Plague captures so well. 

Disease is not ‘objective’, as with everything, it is defined by your relationship to the structures of the world. In that way, disease can be made –  for instance, disability is not inherent, but it is caused by your interactions with the structures of the world. 

Speaking of disability being caused by the structures of the world, I just wanted to bring up another play that’s been compared to Angels in America. The Inheritance, by Matthew Lopez – I got to watch it last fall in New York. In every review/article I read, the play would be compared to Angels because of its similar themes (it also has two parts). The play, in my opinion, centers community. The play (which revolved around a New York apartment) seems to be saying that the gay community of today has lost the community it once so fiercely fought for – that history is being violently forgotten. But at the same time, the play questions that very idea. Has it been forgotten? There is a meeting of the past and the present communities in this play — and the end, oh the end (of part 1, I couldn’t watch part 2). Spoiler alert, the end is when a character named Eric meets the people who died in Walter’s (his old friend) house, that he had set up as a home for AIDS affected people during the AIDS epidemic. And Eric sees these ghosts, this community of ghosts, and just like the ending of Angels, it is just so…hopeful. I had been holding myself back from feeling hope (partly because I have been so used to seeing and having dark, sober, almost-apocalyptic reflections with theater), but the scene really says something about the people of a pandemic, of a community that has been denied any sort of resources. To me, it seems to be saying that – yes, we have inherited diseased structures, but it might just be possible to change it through the people, through us. 

I hope you get a chance to read the play, if not watch it.

Just some thoughts. 

Thank you all for this class, and thank you for reading. I am walking away from this semester with a little bit more hope. 

Bangalore and London: the city exposed

A Journal of the Plague Year is situated in a city that is forced to change, and reveal itself. Defoe details this drastic transformation of this city he once was familiar with by describing stories of people who now have to contend with the socio-economic structures that were never built to sustain them. This reminded me of an interview with Abhishek Majumdar that was published in the Indian Express: Pandemic made me realise Bengaluru is a labour camp with a few apartments: Abhishek Majumdar

Abhishek, who is also my playwriting professor, has lived and worked in Bangalore for a good part of his adult life. Through his involvement in relief work (to provide food to communities who couldn’t afford/access any food due to the pandemic), he now explores and interacts with a city that was designed to “swallow” certain communities, who are forced to become visible now under the strain of the pandemic. 

Indian Express: He cannot recognise a familiar city. It is pricked with hidden holes; people it had swallowed are being disgorged from its bowels and the cracks are showing up in its gleaming construction. “On my regular route — my house to the office or to my daughter’s school — you can hardly see a slum or a labour camp. This says something about how cities are built. It has taken a pandemic for me to be certain that, if we have a view from the sky, Bengaluru is essentially a labour camp with a few apartments. The picture I had was quite the opposite,” he adds.

I was very moved by these questions about the city that Defoe and Abhishek raise, about the massive structural inequalities built into the city, and how a disease might expose and exacerbate those. 

Defoe: Surely never city, at least of this bulk and magnitude, was taken in a condition so perfectly unprepared for such a dreadful visitation, whether I am to speak of the civil preparations or religious. They were, indeed, as if they had had no warning, no expectation, no apprehensions, and consequently the least provision imaginable was made for it in a public way. For example, the Lord Mayor and sheriffs had made no provision as magistrates for the regulations which were to be observed. They had gone into no measures for relief of the poor. The citizens had no public magazines or storehouses for corn or meal for the subsistence of the poor, which if they had provided themselves, as in such cases is done abroad, many miserable families who were now reduced to the utmost distress would have been relieved, and that in a better manner than now could be done.

Earlier this summer, Abhishek also wrote a play called Salt for the ‘Urgent Drama’ programme of Folkteatern Goteboerg, Sweden, about a family in a slum in Bangalore struggling with hunger. Abhishek reveals through this short narrative how a sense of nationalism is prioritised over actually providing resources to those who need them – providing food to those whose daily incomes have been taken away. The poor have to bear the force of the pandemic even though, as Abhishek writes, they weren’t the ones who first introduced the diseases into their cities. 

Abhishek: For the last 45 days or so, I have been involved in a food relief initiative in our city of Bangalore. Millions of workers have gone completely out of work and they are receiving very little support from the government in terms of food and essentials. Consequently, hunger is as much an epidemic as the virus is a pandemic. Also, the virus has been brought into the country by the rich. It came through people who would have flown to other countries, but its harshest price is being paid by the poor.

Lastly, I would just like to quickly mention this conversation with Abhishek, Anurupa Roy and Shahid Nadeem. They talk about how their experience of the city has drastically changed, and about theater’s role in activist/social/relief work (now that theaters themselves are closed).