Humor based on my pain: lessons for the pandemic from Anindita Das’ book

what the pandemic learned from me by anindita das

There seems to be no end to the many ways through which the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic has proliferated into our lives, taking us aback with a force that feels so alien and unwarranted even given the fact that it has been a long year and a half that the world as a whole has been grappling with new and newer oddities as these. Touching down so coercively upon every aspect of lives and lifestyles so as to forge a bond with every other soul in the world by offering virtually the same experience for everyone has been this bane of the dawn of the 2020s that refuses to budge and continues instead to bug us all with recurring and returning and reappearing waves of unleashing its own mighty fury. It is within one such norm of occurrence that the world finds itself loopily drawn into till God knows whenever where one such soul set against the seemingly lacklustre expanse of existence as each one of us, embarked along to chart a course not just her own. In delivering teachings of her own to a pandemic otherwise going about giving its pompous lessons in virility, it is the humorous persona of an ever creatively bubbling Anindita Das who is making all the waves at the moment with her debut book What The Pandemic Learned From Me having already topped the Amazon Hot Releases rankings in the Humor and self-help categories along with trending in the Hot New Releases section, just a couple of days since its launch. And for someone so effortlessly blending in some deadpan mode of hilarity in just her first endeavour, the win for Das perhaps lies in her honest yet imaginative telling of a situation and a reality all of us doomed in this world has been living since what already feels like forever now but yet presumably is quite some way away from it.

The most interesting feature of Das’ maiden scribbles revealed to the public under all her identity is the mode in which it begins and carries forward with its continuation, relying on relatability all throughout not just in the many ways the pandemic has left us emotionally connected even within its socially isolated requirements but also in the manner in which she has gone about striking that chord with each one of her readers. And while ours is by no means an attempt to dissect through the anatomy of what we judged to be a very cheerful looking, ‘cute’ and happy book through the cover of it, the medium of conversation that Das manages to strike up with her reader through very personal yet universal realisation of accounts is intelligent enough to not covet attention. A very conscious yet also a rather ‘diffident’ means of introducing humor into writing, the open letter format is what Das relies on to pen out pages after pages of nuanced realisations, not conjured up completely in the more liberal dimensions of the head but dwelling still in ideas somewhat removed from reality to do to us through her book what books essentially does- create magic. Only, the magic here is not an escape to some utopian land but more a means of finding semblances of relief and holding on to snorts of laughs within the mysteries of the dystopian existence that is our reality today.

But beyond the employment of the devices of the literary, what works for Das’ book as you would discover when you sit back and immerse yourselves in the musing of it is the sheer and simple honesty weaved all through it. There’s perhaps not a single strand of the lockdown life that the author has not managed to touch upon- from the pantries of recipes and dishes and bakes and breads that we all have inevitably sought out at least once to the greens of the gardening bug that did indeed catch on to our many a green thumbs suddenly sprouting out of nowhere, or the forever persisting world of the social media prejudice that did not for once showed any signs of feeling suffocated under the COVID wrangle, the forever longed for dynamics of the work from home privilege that we wanted to so much become a part of our more laidback lives, the many a charades of the grocery spree that we once considered too monotonous to merit attention but which today is the lifeline we cling on to, either as means of sustenance or for the unprecedented ‘power’ of it being a grant to the witness of the mavericks of the world beyond the otherwise comfortable, now choking dimensions of our homes, all those closet blues that manifest today in surprisingly unmattering repetitive constraints of the some couple pajamas and tees we own, the hobbies that we had all hobbled along with, either out of boredom or to fit in or at times because we seemed to harbour a genuine interest for an activity we never knew existed- pretty much everything that seems to be the order of the days pertaining to the new normal finds expression in Das’ account of what essentially is a whimsical observatory dwelling in the present but turns out also to be somewhat of a ‘hard hitting treatise’, and therefore a jarred realisation of what life has boiled down to be vs what we wanted it to blossom forth as.

Surprisingly articulate to the point of making a direct entry into the innermost recluses of the brain even beyond her own has been Das who, through the luxuries afforded to her by the means of penning down her most raw thoughts in a manner that is guaranteed to elicit resounding affirmations in unison while driving one to really wide grins of their faces and once again inciting the response of relatability, has surmised up a world of definite universality that unravels to each reader in their own envisaging way. And nurturing even further this deep interest that has been generated in the reader’s mind is the very efficient way in which Das has gone about titling her lessons for the pandemic, or more definitely her odd- or rather even- eighteen open letters in very ‘evocative’ terms indeed. And no, it is not any profound vocabulary of intense emotions that Das chose to stir to drive home the point imbibed in each of her scriptings, dwelling rather still in the simplicity of a humour in as wittily innocent means as possible to eke out yet another of the many highpoints of her book so set in the mindless but essential pondering over situations hopeless enough to actually warrant a tirade. It is to Das’ credit that has her so skilfully maneuver her way through the pervasive realms of the times the world finds itself trying desperately to make sense of. In fact, in this whole coronavirus induced ruckus of the uncertainty of existence, it is pursuits like these that Das and numerous others like her have managed to draw upon, outlining the realm of the arts or the crafts and the like that has been vital in sustaining the essence of an otherwise meaningless mortal life that man is doomed to live, not in any way overriding however the exemplarily unparalleled service that frontline workers have been tirelessly rendering in all selflessness. Indeed, as “art is much less important than life but what a poor life without it” envisages, Das too has set in motion her own distinctive healing touch of which she herself is perhaps unaware and that which by no means fuels the pursuit of her book that she offered as nothing but purely some sort of a succour for the not so evidently but definitely weary souls of the world. But within the realms of what is only her first steps in a world so adept in delivering laughs and smiles and solace and most importantly life itself to humankind, Anindita Das manages to imbue something much commonplace and and still all the more profound- a certain creative yearning for the bad times to pass and effectively crossover to better ones.

And this exercise in humor and relatability, as well in weirdity and absurdity, through reflections on mundane findings and irreverent life idiosyncrasies, is something well expected of Das even though she never had set out to give shape to her conceiving of thoughts and rants before in this manner of a concrete existence. An established identity in the advertising circuit of the country, the lady hailing from the northeastern city of Guwahati in Assam has been helming affairs in her field of operation for more than a decade now, having worked with some of India’s leading ad agencies employing her wit and expertise to churn memorable campaigns for some of the most prestigious brands, among which spearheading Ikea’s campaign sometime between 2017 and 2019 has been among her most influential ventures. Riding also on the validation of numerous awards and accolades is this forever creatively effective alumnus of Delhi’s Indian Institute of Mass Communication but only recently turned author who thankfully embarked along this route of more dynamic self expression that does not demand of her to yield results as her many a high profile client does, but still emerging as equally enjoyable an experience for her many newly formed literary fans and followers and perhaps another handful of the reticent readers as well who sure would take to fancying Das’ unassuming mannerism of nudging subtly even their own masterfully concealed clamour of thoughts. For the global medical crisis to endow such a wider perspective of the life entity to Anindita Das that has enabled the enacting of an other roundabout way by giving the pandemic itself a lesson of its own beckonings perhaps is one of the rare silver linings shining through the greatest gloom yet of the 21st century.