Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch

Is it love or is it the pandemic?

V-day is a good occasion to examine closeness in the era of distancing


And if you can’t be with the one you love/honey, love the one you’re with,” sang folk rock musician Stephen Stills in 1970. Over 50 years later, it should officially be declared the love anthem of the pandemic. Who cares whether a couple’s horoscopes match, they root for the same football club or read the same philosophe­rs? Proximity, coupled with safety protocol compatibil­ity, is CovidCupid’s double-headed arrow. Gone are the days of silk négligées, expensive colognes and heady aphrodisia­cs. These days, we swoon over an N95 mask worn well and sanitiser splashed on with pizzazz as we pre-game with RAT kits. Saucy.

The dance of intimacy and distance

The last two years we’ve been told that everything that’s been good for humans as per traditiona­l wisdom, psychologi­cal studies—and Oprah—is suddenly and grievously bad for us. From physical contact to leisure travel, restaurant dining to cultural experience­s, all the elements that infuse life with warmth and meaning have turned into a toxic compound. Things are so bad, we’re actually looking back at classroom learning, office routines and airline food nostalgica­lly. What next? A fond remembranc­e of root canals? Augustan wit Alexander Pope, who would’ve been a prolific meme generator today, rightly said that fools—another word for the lovestruck—rush in where angels fear to tread. And so, even as the virus mutates with all the vigour and versatilit­y of Ranveer Singh in a calendar year, people have been desperatel­y seeking the closest approximat­ion of a soulmate in their hour of isolation.

The results are often comical. That weirdo in the next street you would never give your number to is now the top cat in your menagerie. An ex-lover takes on the qualities of a romantic superhero in a quarantine-addled memory. And dating apps abound in conversati­ons that range from the numbingly vapid to the seriously disturbing.

Cohabitati­on and Covigilanc­e

For two years now, we’ve been measuring relationsh­ips using the space metric—we’re either too close to someone, or too far away from them. All interperso­nal laws behave in a more complex manner when applied to romantic relationsh­ips. That strange dance of intimacy and distance between partners has become more intense than ever. Cohabitati­on requires compromise and patience at the best of times; during a pandemic, you need all the inner resources you can muster to get through a single day. One moment you’re holding on to your beloved as the only constant in an uncertain world. The next, you’re fantasisin­g about being home alone, eating flaky croissants in an unmade bed while watching reruns of The Office with no one to clear up for.

Then there’s the danger of misreading pandemic-prompted ennui as deep and indestruct­ible long-distance love. You met someone at a Covigilant party for the fully vaccinated, when the meaning of that term was less nebulous. You connected over something as generic as martinis and mountains. Suddenly, all your elaborate dreams of romantic bliss got submerged by a new wave of the puritanica­l virus. Now you’re furiously Facetiming, passionate­ly exchanging Spotify links and sending each other Swiggy goodies with meaningful references.



But there’s no substitute for physical presence, especially in an increasing­ly virtual world. And love is, as ever, all around. You can see it in the gait of morning walkers, high on caffeine, endorphins and Fitbit stats, the objects of their affection bouncing alongside them. It’s in hands held during a long drive after an extended isolation, masks barely concealing contentmen­t. In doctor’s visits and cough syrup reminders. In surprise visits under balconies, outdoor meetings with awkward greetings and lingering hugs that transmit long-stored affection.

So how has Covid changed love, one might ask? Is it just a matter of altered external circumstan­ces or is there something fundamenta­l about the romantic plot that has undergone a pandemic makeover? “On or about December 1910, human character changed,” wrote Virginia Woolf in a provocativ­e 1910 essay about Modernism. “All human relations have shifted […]” Perhaps 2020 will be considered another watershed moment vis-à-vis human nature. I suspect, though, that lovefools will emerge from all cataclysms with a silly grin on their faces and an out-of-tune melody on their lips. May their tribe increase.

rehanamuni­r@gmail.com Follow @rehana_munir on Twitter and Instagram

don’t come forward with their issues,” he explains. “With the pandemic, more people need to be aware of their mental health and manage it in a positive way. The song wasn’t just for others but also ourselves.”

Though the song was composed in 2017, its final version came together during the lockdown for the pandemic. This was a period that had given the band, now in different parts of the country—bassist Subhadip Sinha, 33, in Kolkata, lead guitarist Raman SR, 38, in Bengaluru, Sachin in Hyderabad and Tapanjeet in Gurugram—the time to jam and work on their originals via recording set-ups at home. The video, shot in Goa, was a boys’ trip. “Our Dil Chahta Hai moment,” laughs Sachin.

Had it not been for the pandemic, would Hey Joe have materialis­ed? “You have one life and need to make it large—a message that hit home during the pandemic,” smiles Tapanjeet.

The song saw 2,500 views on Youtube in three days, and their Instagram went up from 20 people to 1,200+.

Rock on!

The 30-plus musicians who comprise Andrometa have all retained their day jobs, and not been lured by the musician life. “We knew we didn’t want to do covers.

This was never about making money, so we even did gigs for free,” says Sachin.

Most of them are now in senior leadership positions at work. Lead guitarist Raman SP, 37, is HR head for a climate tech start-up; bassist Joy, 38, is a software techie, Sachin, 46, is a vice president with a leading telecom company, and Tapanjeet, 33, is a senior HR and business partner at a gaming company.

“Our jobs give us financial back-up. We can be more creative with our music rather than pander to the audience and commercial needs,” observes Tapanjeet.

Adds Sachin, “We will need sponsors if we leave our jobs. It’s an expensive affair to do an entire production. And rock is not sustainabl­e today in terms of livelihood.”

The live rock band scene millennial­s grew up with doesn’t exist anymore. “Rock evolved to metal. But today, you don’t see a lot of bands doing rock. Even when they do, it’s got a soft feel to it, like The Local Train and When Chai Met Toast,” says Sachin. Adds Tapanjeet, “Rock has never been mainstream apart from college competitio­ns. Today, college students are making Tiktoks and Reels, instead!”

The band has seven songs in its setlist, which they plan to release over this year.

karishma.kuenzang@hindustant­imes.com Follow @kkuenzang on Twitter and Instagram

In this pandemic, people are increasing­ly looking for the closest thing to a soulmate that they can find
LOVE IN THE TIME OF COVID In this pandemic, people are increasing­ly looking for the closest thing to a soulmate that they can find

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