When TS Eliot wrote, 'April is the cruellest month, breeding/ Lilacs out of the dead land', did he ever have a premonition of the dreadful April 2021 when the entire world would stay beleaguered. Poets are prophetic in more than an anthropogenic sense. Eliot may or may not have a presage of what was to come 102 years later but the poet and his wife were taken down by the Spanish flu in December, 1918. The disease rampaged until 1920 to claim a hundred million lives across the globe. He wrote The Waste Land during his recovery from the flu and it was published in 1922.
There is a striking similarity between the 1918 pandemic and the one now stalking the length and breadth of this planet. April in effect continues the regenerative spirit of the Spring when people in this part of the world in particular welcomes their new years. The Bangalees and the indigenous people have most colourful celebrations of their new years. But as if with a twist of mockery, everything has been brought to a colossal disappointment. And this is not for the first time. When the coronavirus first made its unwelcome presence known in March last year, people were taken off guard because they had no experience of an epidemic on such a scale.
The Bangalees and all other ethnic peoples who celebrate the occasion of Nature's regeneration so poignantly, colourfully and artistically had to forego their festivities last year and have been forced to do so once again this year. Eliot's poem has focused on the contradiction between what should have been a time for fecundity and vitality and what it has turned to be -- death and barrenness, utter disappointment and hopelessness. Exactly the mental struggle and agony people are going through have been captured so graphically.
In a way this is modernist morbidity that has invited the pandemic. During Eliot's time, the world was not this robotic or even mechanical. Still his poetic vision reached a realm of fantasy that today is no longer a fantasy but a bizarre reality ---one that is challenging reason and rationality. People are indeed ill at ease with this unaccustomed neo-reality.
It is this compulsion enforced on people that proves so heavy, oppressive and atrocious that some people indeed can no longer take it. Young people in particular fall victim to this morbidity and at times commit the most undesirable. Those who hoped against hope that 2021 would be better than what they considered the darkest episode in their lives are utterly lost to find themselves in a far greater depth of despondency. At a time when people were supposed to celebrate an occasion closest to their hearts, they are thrown into the darkest pit of dungeon.
TS Eliot's poem is built on historic reality and myth. The Spanish flu is the reality and the myth is the wounded land ---in this case the planet. The Covid-19 pandemic is a reality and the wound inflicted on the planet, its Nature and ecology is also no longer a myth. The human species has caused the planet to bleed and it is suffering only a backlash of its own mindless acts.
This pandemic was an opportunity for the peoples the world over to mend their ways. But instead, there has been a flagrant display of animosity between nations and people, cruelty, inhumanity and all kinds of vices. In a testing time such as this, normally the trial brings out the best in man -- and it did so initially from unexpected corners -- but some incorrigible souls pursued their vicious agenda without any letup. Even the privileged and the fortunate have made the most of the misery of the unfortunate in order to accumulate wealth at an accelerated rate.
Great celebrations bring people together and help establish a cultural and humanitarian bond. For cultured and enlightened people it is well-nigh impossible to get filthy rich without performing their social obligations. Without cultural refinement people get dehumanised in the same way they do in their extreme want and deprivation.
In The Waste Land the spring rain only stirs dull roots but cannot help grow lush vegetation. This seems to be symbolic enough to depict the minds of people concerned with their own narrow interests. This world is suffering from this mental moroseness and limitation that does not reach out to embrace fellow human beings. The pandemic has been knocking at the closed door of people's hearts to open up and share fortunes earned and bounties of Nature equitably.
Two years have gone by without celebration of the Bangalees' greatest festivals. The same has happened to other communities and people of different faiths. Is there any hope of this darkness disappearing in the distant horizon next year? There is no guarantee that the pathogen will go forever from the Earth's surface. The only recipe is to fight this enemy together -- irrespective of most powerful and small and weak nations -- forgetting all the differences that is undermining the human spirit at its most elevated.