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The bubbles we don’t see

Nature is the toughest enemy you’ll ever fight.

We live in extraordinary times. The entire planet seems to be engaged in a single conversation about an invisible bug called Coronavirus that has claimed more than seventy-thousand lives in a matter of weeks. And we haven’t even seen the worst yet.

This virus that’s making the rounds seems to be sparing no country and no one. Madonna got it right when she said, Coronavirus is the great equalizer. The virus sees everyone as equal; Royals and commoners, poor and rich, powerful and powerless, old and young, Americans and Chinese, black and brown, yellow and white. We are all the same, but still…

All of us live in our own little bubbles.

Let’s start with my bubble, the only one I seem to know. I managed to travel from Delhi to Chennai, my parents’ hometown just in time to help my father who had a fall and had to be admitted in a hospital. My father is now back home though his condition could be better. My wife who I miss very much is in Delhi with her mother. My parents live in a beautiful house by the seaside with a lovely garden. I have my own room with a nice TV. We have help through the day. Raju who lives on the same street as us, cooks and cleans every day. Kannan, our driver was kind enough to stay with us while my father is recovering. We also have a 24/7 nurse.

When I’m not helpful around the house, I keep myself entertained on Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp and every other boredom-relieving thing on the Internet. Sometimes, I’m writing. And some other rimes, I have virtual drinks over video calls with friends and family whom I would otherwise see once every few months. Just today, I found a five-hundred rupee note in my pocket which I had casually forgotten. I peed in a proper toilet next to a bathtub, and watched Ozark on Netflix. That’s my bubble. A comfortable bubble, but a bubble nevertheless.

As an extension of my bubble, I get to experience other people’s bubbles through social media. Many of my friends are cooking, singing, painting, writing, and indulging in other creative activities while being ‘stuck’ at home with their families. All of them maintain safe social distances, while getting used to closer virtual proximities.

The bubbles we don’t see are the ones that need help.

In India, all around us, we have cooks, drivers, cleaners and security guards. We often maintain personal relationships with the helping class. In the west, among the working class, it’s the waiters, neighborhood florists, convenience store clerks whom we briefly interact with. Regardless of where the working class lives, they too live in their own bubbles, experiencing their own set of problems, and maintaining their own definition of what is essential.

While the Coronavirus may be the great equalizer, it also exposed cracks in our society.

There are many untold stories within these bubbles we don’t see. While, for many of us, the pandemic is an unusual global event that requires intellectual introspection, for the working class, it’s a crushingly unfortunate event. They can actually die from starvation because they are not making their daily wages. They can die from heat exhaustion, because they are forced to walk back home to their villages. They can lose their jobs because they can’t ride on a bus. They can be evicted because they can’t pay rent.

When the virus came, many people I know in India (myself included) sent our cleaners, cooks and drivers to their ‘home’ because we no longer needed their help, the same help which we relied on so heavily for so long. We could suddenly help ourselves because receiving help from potentially exposed staff was too risky. And others I know who were so reliant on their help, didn’t want to let their staff go. The staff stayed home because the master class didn’t know any other way and simply couldn’t help themselves. It’s painful to know that I’m in the master class who can decide between keeping and dismissing staff, solely based on my own convenience and my risk tolerance.

In the west, there’s a different kind of working class, but with similar issues nevertheless – your plumber, your weekly maid, the waiter at your favorite restaurant, the butcher, the college kid who serves you your usual latte at Starbucks. Many of these people having been socially distanced, live in distant and uncomfortable bubbles.

I feel guilty for being fortunate.

Reflecting on how lucky I am, I shared my feelings of guilt with some friends. They reasoned, I’m probably feeling this way because I’m helpless and powerless to do anything about it. While that is mostly true, I’m not ready to accept that notion and surrender to inaction. I feel compelled to do something, even if that something only makes a small difference. I reflected on all the challenges going around in social media – Covid cooking, sketch what you see outside your window, Pose in a saree, ten-day photo challenge, etc. These challenges are necessary distractions to maintain our sanity during times like these. So, please continue doing this. Having said that, I tried to come up with a challenge of my own, more like a request, to do something that can make small differences in other people’s lives.

The ‘Get out of your bubble’ challenge

1.  Reflect on 3 people who helped you in the past

Be aware of the not-so-fortunate bubbles around us. Identify three people in your own extended bubble who may need help, pause and reflect on their possible situation.

2. Be curious about their situation

Call them to hear their stories. Try to empathize with what they are going through.

3. Offer help 

Find out if you can help them in any way. For example, do they need money to pay for rent, food, or anything else? Do they need to get somewhere but can’t travel because they don’t have a car?  

4. Share this challenge and the stories you hear

Share this ‘Get out of your bubble’ challenge on your social media – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and other networks that I’m too old to know about. If you don’t want to share the post, but just the challenge, please share this link:‘get-out-of-your-bubble’-challenge/

My mother and I have started making calls. I’ll share these stories on my next post. Thank you for listening and thank you for sharing. Stay safe. See you on the other side.

Photography: |

Published by Arun Muthu

In 2019, I relocated to India after having lived in California for more than two decades. These scribbles attempt to capture my observations at what I call home through a foreigner's eyes.

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  1. Wonderful, thoughtful and compassionately so…. Liked reading it coz it is nice to see in writing my own thoughts and feelings. I am doing the best I can for maid, car cleaner and gardener. I want them to know they haven’t support and that they are cared for. God bless you. I am your friend, Sagnik Murthy’s sister.

    Liked by 1 person

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