What good would this time do us if we go back to the world as we knew it before the pandemic, without an improved moral compass, and a desire to look and care beyond oneself?
“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” — Winston Churchill
It’s been a significant yet strange couple of years, hasn’t it? “The New Normal” is the ‘mot du jour’, bandied about casually as we all remind ourselves to mask up and stay safe (and sane). As we end this year, things seem to have normalized to a large extent in India — house parties are back, weddings have begun, travel has resumed. Heck, even the masks are slipping. But, are things back to what they were pre-pandemic? And more importantly; should they be?
The world was on a bender pre-pandemic — Insta-worthy travel, relentless shopping, and bacchanalian excess. The pandemic brought this franticness to a grinding halt. The familiar patterns of living all went for a toss, along with withdrawal symptoms from the lack of photogenic avocado toasts, of gym mirrors to flaunt those (touched up) abs, and even no place to wear all the latest trends. Civilians and celebrities alike were at a loss, flummoxed with the new order of things.
A few lockdowns later, and a few lakh deaths later, here we are, trying to cope, even as the new Covid variant Omicron raises its multi-pronged Medusa-like head, and leaves the future in a limbo. What has this period taught us?
For me, it has brought home a new set of priorities. The importance of family, the pleasure of slowing down, the undiscovered joys of doing nothing (and not feeling guilty about it), the time to create new things without the pressure of a fashion week showcase or the stress of juggling a dozen balls in the air. I learnt what true luxury is — the ability to choose, the control over one’s time; the small things we take for granted: health, family, peaceful sleep.
Of course, it’s not been a picnic. There was uncertainty and stress in spades; the uncertain economy, the immediate danger of the disease, disturbing images of death and desolation. But it also taught me how resilient we are; it brought forth co-operation and help from strangers and neighbours alike, reminded me to be gentler and nicer, and to reassess what kind of life I wanted to go back to.
It has also been a busy lockdown. I designed costumes for three films and finished filming them wearing two masks, PPE suits, and taking a few dozen Covid tests. I took this time off to design and launch our new online store, and launch the first directly shoppable festive collection. I spent time with my infant daughter who was born in the first week of the lockdown and is now a toddler who babbles and loves playing with fabric swatches when Daddy works from home.
Would I equate these luxuries with an insane deal on a new handbag or shoe? Not at all. I would rather question what purpose this new acquisition will serve in my life. I would also ask what is the thought and philosophy behind the product; I would want to know whether it was ethically produced and whether it will pass the test of time and be something I cherish in the coming years. For me, as a designer and as a person, it has always been about buying lesser but meaningful things.
The international travel restrictions have meant that all of us have discovered the oft-neglected delights and treasures in our own country; sometimes in our own surroundings. The closure of restaurants has goaded the most reluctant cooks to make their own food, and for some, to even discover the therapeutic joys of creating alchemy from humble ingredients sourced locally, and even get creative with pantry ingredients.
The effects on the environment in the first few weeks of the international lockdown were palpable and surprising: cleaner air, more wildlife sightings, less noise, purer water, it made a whole lot of us urgently aware of the effects of our consumption on the world.
These last few months have also made most of us more cognisant and grateful of the invisible contributions of people who make our lives simpler and functional, people that some of us took for granted and sometimes didn’t even “see” — household staff, car cleaners, gardeners, dhobis, even the seldom visiting door-to-door salesman who regularly timed his deliveries for things we didn’t know were required, but he knew exactly when to pop by with the item, as if by telepathy.
The plight of millions, those not as lucky as us, was on display in the initial phases of the pandemic; those without financial, familial, or social security. It taught a lot of us that the truest joy comes from helping someone and seeing them feel happiness or even relief in their moment of distress. Whether it was sending home-cooked meals, or donating to charities, or even making sure that those dependent on you were taken care of, the pandemic has seen so many of us count our blessings, and extend those to the folks who needed them more.
The simple pleasures and simple joys of life are what make it worthwhile, I feel. The big magnum moments, of course, matter. However, it is downright foolish to keep delaying happiness for only the big milestones, or worse still, goals that are superficial and ridiculously irrelevant; more likes on posts, a bulky follower count, or even checking items off someone else’s ‘bucket list’.
Am I a nostalgist? Someone desperately romanticising the “good old days” and the “sweet simple life”? Heck, no. I believe strongly in the future, and I also treasure the past. But I firmly believe (and try) to make the present as relevant and meaningful as possible.
How each of us should spend our time, money, and even life is a highly individualistic choice. However, I would hope that each of us takes this pause in our hamster wheel existence to recalibrate. What good would this time do us if we go back to the world as we knew it before the pandemic, without any personal growth, an improved moral compass, and a desire to look and care beyond oneself?
Do I look down on consumerism? Not at all. I run a fashion brand after all. But I do encourage mindful and conscious consumption; not only in terms of your purchases but also your thoughts and influences. If we were to look back at this crisis a couple of decades from now, what would we say has changed in each of us?
If we were to go back to our behavior, lifestyle choices, and thought patterns exactly as they were before the pandemic emerged, it would be a colossal waste of all this turmoil. Wise men learn from others’ experiences, right? I hope each of us will assimilate our cumulative learning from these tumultuous times to move the needle, in our own ways, small and big, and make the difference that our world needs.
As the promise of the new year brings optimism and hope with it, may we manifest what we all truly crave. What is on my wishlist for 2022 is that each of us takes steps in the right direction; some of us may be further along the path to evolution (whether in terms of style or mindset) than others. But to keep questioning, to keep doing, and to keep pushing the envelope is something that we all can do.
May this year make us feel more alive, and let us live out our own best lives. In the meantime, stay safe, stay happy, and mask up.