Few weeks ago (mid January it was)* I took part in a writer’s conference with other international writers in Kolkata, India. It was a panel discussion addressing the topic of “Writing for the post-pandemic world”. It was only then that I realised that in this part of the world the PCR tests and even the vaccination certificates are no longer needed for travel or visiting restaurants, as it was before in most places. Even masks on people’s faces are a very rare scene to observe. I was sincerely astonished: really? The pandemic is definitively over? The humanity overcame this crisis and now life continues as before? Evidently, there it was: we were in the midst of a literary event with crowds of unmasked people enjoying a mass gathering. And even for India covid was so harsh and so many people were taken by the virus, we were there, celebrating life and literature, discussing what it means to be a writer in this brand new world.
The Indian artist creating comics showed us her new works she was able to do thanks to the lockdown. The German author was cracking jokes about being locked in the house with his two toddlers and still having to write. Someone else mentioned the governments which were using the limitation to empower themselves or to suppress the protests. But what about my country? For the Ukrainian people the post-pandemic world never happened.
I tried to explain how surprised I was by the theme of this panel discussion. Neither me, nor none my compatriots had this privilege of being able to breath freely and realise that humanity overcame this global challenge and life now goes on. Russia took it from us. Russians came to our home to murder, torture, rape and loot. Covid-related problems were not considered as problems any more. It has not even lasted as memory. Except for all the kids that were already deprived of a couple of years of normal school are suffering this again, but that is a different story I’m gonna write.
Coming back to the panel discussion and the astonishment of making it through the pandemic. I tried to make my point that the role of writers is to stay vigilant and it was supported by another Indian colleague of mine who mentioned other trials democracy is undergoing now in different parts of the world.
“Each moment somewhere for someone the world is ending” — summed up the moderator as our time was running up to take that burden off our shoulders. It worked. Just for a moment. Because I don’t agree. When too many worlds are ending in too short a time and there is a maniac and/or a collective body, responsible for it, the rest of us shouldn’t just be watching.
I am recalling another conversation I had recently with someone from a diplomatic corpus. The lady was twice my age, a European diplomat with dozens of years of experience and wisdom. The level of the conversation was rather historical — we were zoomed out and were discussing the pre-sets for the Russian aggression against Ukraine. It left me with a lot food for thought. But also — with a deep insight of why I prefer literature to history or politics.
The thing is, literature is personalised. It has a human face, it has a story of a life, a unique one, multidimensional, in most cases universal but also unrepeatable. It makes you feel. It puts the person in the centre of the world, and when this person we identify with while reading dies, the whole his or her world dies with it.
History, politics and statistics are impersonal. Numbers and dry theory don’t talk to us. They do talk to our intelligence, to our prior knowledge and ability to think generally and abstractly, analytically. But what is true life we can only find in literature. Or that latter true life.
This is also what makes us human — being aware that with each lost life the entire world is collapsing over and over again.
* This text was written on February 28, 2023 — Editor’s note