Humans are social animals. For valid reasons, COVID-19 may have locked us down physically; it will never succeed in dwarfing or curbing our infinite spiritual freedom. Humans have successfully endured numerous difficult times in the past and that is how nearly 8 billion of us are currently living on the planet. Logically, therefore, we shall make our best endeavours to endure the current difficult time also. Whilst helping ourselves, we shall also endeavour to help others to the best of our capability, by reaching out to them through all possible means, in the current times of need. We shall learn novel ways in reaching out. We are known to be hardy, resilient, tenacious and tough. We don’t give up, come what may!
Need for socialisation, albeit taking all necessary precautionary measures, as advised by our governments and medical experts, to stop the spread of Coronavirus, has never been as paramount as the present time when the world is getting virtually paralysed due to the current unprecedented times. A clever message currently making rounds on social media has captured it aptly: “Nature’s justice: At present, while animals and birds are free to move, humans are caged.” Another message says: “As humans have retreated, natural environment is slowly gaining health.”
Yesterday evening, in the backdrop of the current COVID-19 social restrictions here in Perth, we had the inaugural Special General Meeting of the KPP*, which is the newly formed, largest Kashmiri Pandit social organisation in Perth, Western Australia. The meeting was held through Skype, due to its common familiarity, although other online means (such as WebEx, Microsoft Teams, Zoom) are also available. The meeting was formal and structured, conducted along the lines of a pre-distributed meeting agenda and in an open democratic spirit. Being the inaugural Special General Meeting, it had the full active participation of all women and men members. Thanks to the vibrant enthusiasm of the members, the online meeting extended beyond the scheduled closing time by about an hour.
During the meeting, the members fervently discussed the activities – social, cultural, educational, entertainment – that the community plans to roll out during the course of the year – online or in person, as the situation allows – in accordance with its 18- page constitution, and Mission and Value statements.
Amongst the most important messages voiced by the relatively younger members of the KPP, the following three messages stood out:
- I was very young (less than 10) when we had to leave Kashmir in 1989-90. I want our children to learn speaking in Kashmiri language and become familiar with our Kashmiri culture and ethos.
- We must all live and function like an extended family and break the barriers of formality of invitations to meet and interact with one another. Just pick up your phone and call the other family, informing them you are visiting them in another half an hour.
- These are depressing times. We must constantly keep an eye on one another – through phone at least – and provide all possible support to one another.
All members agreed we should function as a large Extended Family. This term, Extended Family, needs to be defined. It is not the type of extended family that we understand from our more individualistic life style or witnessed since 1990 (Note: Most Kashmir Pandits had to leave Kashmir in 1989-90). The members of the KPP intend to replicate the life style – of mutual care, concern and empathy – of our ancestors in Kashmir up to 1989-90.
It is important to note that, after 1989-90, large Kashmiri joint families got split into smaller nuclear units. With time, political correctness and ‘mainu key’ (‘who cares, why bother’) attitude, intertwined with cosmetic lip sympathy, crept into our general social and family interactions. Most social interactions got practically reduced to ‘khao piyo mauj karo’, which literally means ‘drink, dine and dance’. Unlike current lip sympathies and cosmetic social care, the influence of our erstwhile neighbours – both Pandits and Muslims – and relatives in Kashmir was profound. Everyone cared then, almost. What was happening in your household was everyone’s business. Weddings and funerals were essentially organised by neighbours and relatives. Neighbours would help one another – without ego or obligation – in the hours of need – through cash or kind (provisions). Neighbours – both Muslims and Pandits – would keep a caring eye on one another. If a youngster would smoke or gamble or play truant at school /college and was seen at the cinema or a restaurant, it was certain the news would reach his (or her) home invariably by the same evening through a caring neighbour – a Muslim or a Pandit – or a relative or a friend of his (or her) parents. One could not just escape.
Going forward, living as an Extended Family can, of course, come at a price but that price is worth paying. Without doubt, we must minimise the price to reap the full benefits of the Extended Family. This can be done by respecting the dignity and privacy of one another while we socialise and bond closely with one another.
These are unprecedented difficult times. As a silver lining, these times provide us with a once-a-lifetime opportunity to rediscover our humanness – our selfless, humane, empathetic side – to reach out to our fellow humans and lend a helping hand, where needed. This is indeed the time to dump our ego and meanness into quarantine bin. This is not the time to settle old scores or show middle-finger to those we don’t like for invalid or valid reasons.
These are testing times too. When these times pass, only the stories will remain. Most of us would have understood the essence of the time proven English proverb: “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”. Until the arrival of COVID-19, most social interactions were limited to ‘khao piyo mauj karo’ (drink, dine and dance), but not any longer.
In the present time, friends and friendships will be tested to core. Genuine friends and friendships will be discovered during these testing times. Our civility, benevolence and empathy will be tested. In conclusion, these are the times for redemption. Let us, therefore, redeem ourselves as humans, as world citizen and as genuine friends and relatives.
A note about KPP*:
Kashmiri Pandits Perth (KPP) is the Perth-based largest social organisation of Kashmiri Pandits in Western Australia. Mr Bimal Kaul is its inaugural President. Mr Chetan Watal and Ms Meenakshi Trisal Kaul are its Secretary and Treasurer, respectively. The organisation is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Kashmiri culture, spirituality and identity. The organisation is committed to make use of its collective resources and brain trust in organising and conducting a range of educational programmes – in cultural, religious and academic areas – and social events to meet its intended objectives. The KPP membership is open to all people who share a common vision and mission with the KPP.
… Bill Koul (29 March 2020)