Eight months into 2020, I’m happy to announce that I’ve already achieved my year-end goal which was ‘Eat Own Weight In Wasabi Peas’. In other achievements, I’m also learning, for the first time ever, what it’s like to live and feel truly and properly alone. And unlike my beard which now covers 300 square miles and has its own zip code, this isn’t something I can blame on the pandemic. Nope, the truth is that loneliness waltzed in through the doors a few years ago and just stuck around; a haemorrhoid of the soul.
You’re probably thinking, “Ashish, you? Lonely? How?! You’re the guy famous for yacht parties with supermodels bursting out of walls like that thing from Alien.” Actually that’s DiCaprio, but it’s a common mix-up. And yes, it is odd, because I always saw loneliness as a feeling reserved for other people, like senior citizens or Imtiaz Ali heroes looking for women to save them. But hey, like love and FIRs, loneliness happens when you least expect it.
It wasn’t always this way. Let’s flashback to a time way before Covid, when you could hug people minus the mental image of going to third base with a ventilator. I’d moved in to a new place, with a friend I’d known for years and a metabolism that was happy to finance half of Bombay’s liquor industry. But eventually my 30s heard the ruckus and called the cops on that party. Then came solo living, where I found myself walking into the jaws of an empty, silent flat every night, which was exactly what I wanted. Except when I didn’t. And both those feelings existed at the same time.
The last couple of years also became kinda work-from-home, or sometimes ‘work from cafe and pay 700 bucks for cardboard dandruff aka granola’. So I’d often go days without having spoken to anyone, except maybe my trainer. And a dude reciting numbers while you throw up a lung on the gym floor hardly counts as social interaction.
Given all this practice, at the start of the pandemic, I found myself handling the isolation aspect a little bit better than I expected. Don’t get me wrong – I still hated it. I’m not one of those internet-introverts whose entire personality is telling the world that they’re introverts. BUUUUTTT <guy tapping forehead meme.jpg> you can’t be sad about isolation if you’re busy being sad about other everyday concerns like overarching doom, the complete upheaval of life as you knew it, and that icky feeling of wet atta stuck to your fingers.
And now, after five months of not meeting people, I’m relatively okay and haven’t invented imaginary friends haha Ashish is lying this is Pramod his new close friend and also pillow.
It isn’t just me. Over the last few years, urban loneliness has been recognised as a global health issue. I know this because googling ‘urban loneliness’ is a thing you do when you’re lonely. Fun Fact: in 2018, Britain created a position called Minister of Loneliness. Yes, there’s an actual person and no, their job is not to share Artidote all day. (They share nihilistic TikToks.)
In India, like the west, loneliness has started leap-frogging age barriers and hitting young urban professionals. It’s a crippling affliction that sometimes causes them to take desperate measures, like suicide or arranged marriage.
Thankfully neither of those are on the cards for me, but even pre-Covid, I found myself entertained by completely unnecessary thoughts. For example, what if I choked to death or slipped and hit my head in the bathroom during a rained-in weekend? How long before someone found out? I’d like to think soon but that’d only happen if there were some client deliverables pending. That would be weird:
Client: Why is the content delayed? We put a date in the Excel HOW DARE YOU DISRESPECT THE DOT XLS.
Manager: Uh, Ashish died.
Client: Oh no… we’ll have to (gasp) update the promo posters.
Client: RIP EXCEL SHEET. GONE TOO SOON. <sobs into pivot table>
You’d think that the solution would be to surround yourself with people and yes, friends are lifesavers, but not the complete answer. For one, they do this weird thing where they exist as individuals with their own needs and desires and schedules, so they may have to pass up the glorious opportunity to babysit your lonely ass.
And secondly, even if you pack your calendar with socialising, it’s a temporary fix. You can’t use people as pacifiers forever. The trick is to be at peace by yourself, without compulsively clutching onto a deadline or a drink or a joint or a screen or six break-ups worth of ice-cream. As far as I know, the only person to have achieved this is the Buddha. It probably helped that there was no internet back then. You can’t achieve enlightenment when you’re refreshing Insta 20 times a minute just to see some asshole boomerang his drink. (It’s me, I’m that asshole.)
I’ve also realized that I’ll never get completely used to the silence that comes from living alone. It feels like your whole house is wearing noise-cancelling headphones. You need active measures to dispel it otherwise you run the risk of turning into an art-film character, communicating entirely through sighs and kurta-creases.
One pick-me-up technique is to go about your chores with loud music on, even if you don’t feel like it at the start. Trust me, by the end of it, your neighbours will hate you. I’m sure mine think that I’m a psychopath because who listens to Run The Jewels, Taylor Swift and High Rated Gabru in the same hour? But hey, they’re the ones with two ear-shattering kids they made on purpose, so who’s the real psychopath huh huh?
Although it’s no guarantee, I’m told that it gets better in the case of healthy, stable relationships. I wouldn’t know – there are thinkpieces longer than my longest relationships. Sometimes I’m reminded of this right when I wake up and see that the bedsheet on my side is wrinkled, while the other half is pristine and untouched. If you look at the bed from directly above, you can see exactly where hope ends and the Prateek Kuhad video begins.
If you’re in a similar boat and were expecting real solutions in this piece then yay, you’re already a foolish optimist and you’ll be fine. Because really, what other approach could there be except dogged optimism and all that other boring but important stuff like therapy, exercise, cutting down on social media, pushing yourself to forge real connections, cuddling with Pramod etc. I wish you luck, especially for the days where nothing works and you only want to Netflix and eat rubbish. Just avoid wasabi peas. They’re really easy to choke on.