Urban Isolation: In the lonely garden

By Purabi Bhattacharya

In Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf writes:
“He was too weak; he could scarcely raise his hand. Besides, now that he was quite alone, condemned, deserted, as those who are about to die are alone, there was a luxury in it, an isolation full of sublimity; a freedom which the attached can never know.” 1         
Woolf more or less takes us close to the robust urban wilderness we are in. Together, yet distant. Not alone yet forlorn. Connected, disconnected. Social dissociation is not an unfamiliar term in the urban space. It is a choice and not necessarily imposed. It is a consequence of a plethora of factors churned out by the relentless human pursuit for “development”. In cities and expanding towns, this is becoming a phenomenon wherein an individual is unable to cope with the challenges city life disposes. India if in the first half of Independence fought economic distress, in seven decades she has come to battling out an additional emotional dolour.
Sample these 
Purabi Bhattacharya
Into the deepest congested crowd, she knew this was going to be long, lonely living.
25,000 days and few more turned to dust like quicksand and whisked out of sight. Bela (76) just lost her husband (87), a Professor teaching Bangla in a college for three decades and plus. With the husband gone Bela is putting up with one of her sons, uprooted from the place of origin and trunk full of memories. The immediate generation being caught in their own webs, Bela becomes the single elder, trying to scoop out and piece together the shrouded hobbies, whatever to keep her mind off from creating space for nothingness. 
Natvar (25) an MNC professional migrated to the city of millions with dreams and degrees. He has a routine filled up life, luxurious lifestyle and digital friends and family at a descending scroll. Meeting new faces at the work place and around it, he socialises but cannot recollect the names. One fine day, he feels the razor sharp edges. All that seemed seamlessly extraordinary in the beginning becomes mundane, monotonous and a system failure.  And then begins a journey- into the woods within.
Fig. 1. http://davewalker.com/facebook-cartoon/
A headstrong, self-esteemed Anna (in her early 50’s) never looked back. She chose to remain single, lived with her parents, siblings. Economic independence kept her in sangfroid. Nothing reminded her ever of her age, her biological clock or the several imperatives to gradually follow. Siblings settled in respective marriages, and death of both the parents singled her out. Officially the remainders click and dine together now; but things for Anna have become painfully lonely despite being not alone. 
A 70 year old urban India draws breath through such stories. Stories of homebound existences, of aloofness, of getting marooned in life’s continent: malignant of sorts are only becoming commoner than they ever were. It can take all sorts of people to be left to their fast shrinking world. At 70, India puts up a brave front juxtaposed with the cluttered silences. 
Technological coup d'état has worked double-time as a catalyst for the ever-burgeoning distance between the visible generations: sagging, its successive and the following after. For the geriatrics, the inability of getting in with the newer tools of communication has either pushed them to the fringes or intimidated them. 
In either ways, both the grown-ups wait for the Godot: 
“We wait. We are bored. (He throws up his hand.) No, don’t protest, we are bored to death, there's no denying it. Good. A diversion comes along and what do we do? We let it go to waste. Come, let’s get to work! (He advances towards the heap, stops in his stride.) In an instant all will vanish and we’ll be alone more, in the midst of nothingness!” 2
Clash of the ages 
A lot has gone down the Ganga, heaped up as well in the Himalayas. India at 70, if has its share of mirth, also has its lump of mellowness. And the latter is of great concern. 
Due to their compressed mobility and crippling conditions, the elderly become dependent on other people to carry out their minute by minute errands. With more of nuclear domestic establishments in the society and fewer children in the family, to ride herd on older persons becomes a task, at times unfeasible. Methodical and time to time psycho-medical assistances can take stock of the grim situation as and when required. 
The Census 2011 reports that of the nearly 250 million households in India, 31.3% have at least one elderly person. Around 22.1% households have one aged person and 8.3 % have 2 aged members in the household.3                              
“These,” he said gravely, “are unpleasant facts; I know it. But then most historical facts are unpleasant.” 4 
The data certainly is far reaching. With each passing Census year, things only give shape to worry for an ever swelling Indian population of 1.34 billion. 
If the old garner sympathy for the challenges, the youth too is not let off without any. It has to keep pace with the time, precipitating. Can forlornness then be far behind? 
It seeks power. Absolute. It seeks independence. Absolute. It registers its say. Unhindered. It is in a hurry. Uncautioned.
Technological infringement has given it what it craved for. And came striding along a banzai: apartness. The young often finds himself a lone wolf, fighting his own battle: of identity crisis, of belongingness, of urban living. Ripped out of his place of origin, he is placed to the whereabouts of growth. Between all of this silence, void, hollowness have found a cushion inside of him.
“Even the technology that promises to unite us, divides us. Each of us is now electronically connected to the globe, and yet we feel utterly alone.” 5                                                            
Gender gander
This is a country where everywoman is a Goddess, everyman her worshipper. It always stood firm on doling out equal rights to genders. Men, women, others alike. But behind the smokescreen of frankincense every gender has its designated roles, determined by two millenniums of patriarchy. 
If women, more often than not are expected to endure, public figures wouldn’t shy away defending rapists from public platforms6. The process leads to isolation for women at home and outside and men on the defensive at least in public. The morality chasm thus breeds alienation and distance, chipping away the fundamental cure for loneliness. 
The shrugging islands 
We were one at one (read 1947). We opposed serfdom. Hand in hand we rose against imperialism, against colonial invasion. Now we fight one on one. We detect each other’s race, sect, religion, social status, gender and not to forget character and sit down quietly assassinating one another from our private walls. We have mastered the art of trolling, cave camping and playing God, the almighty. The country breathes in a crunched space which has no room for discussions and opinions that could be politely disagreed upon and matters to be cobbled together. Social media, peers, all that was meant to be friends play shadowy games with the unsuspecting minds. 
“Every hour a student in India commits suicide.”7 A headline such as this chills us.
Tim Syiem was a boy of 15 years. His school teachers maintained he was a low-key student, but a sharp boy. His English teacher with tears swelling up in her eyes reiterates he wrote exceptionally good poems, much ahead of his time. He was the eldest son of well-established professors and they had no clue where, what went wrong. He had left no note, nothing that could console the parents bearing a loss as huge as his precious life. Dented forever, the parents have only to pray for the young boy and a few of his poems as memoirs of their first born.
Cases of students resorting to suicide have become a matter of concern. The National Crime Records Bureau, 2015  reports ‘Family Problems’ (2,139), ‘Failure in Examination’ (1,360) and ‘Illness’ (904), as the main causes of suicides among children (below 18 years of age).8   
Cities with their ever expanding issues become the melting pots. They are also the market. They emerge as the evermore powerful places of individual for perfecting human domination over the social, economic and political environment. Cities hold onto the laissez faire capitalism. Suburban lives come to action pushing population to urban wide and its wealth. Technological prelation invades households. But then the cities are not too late to witness the unimagined population overspill and its spaces, resources shrink.
For Braudel, “money meant towns” while “cities and money created modernity” 9
70 years down the line, one also sees the class differences only growing and the efforts to leapfrog an economy that not so long ago was agrarian to well past industrial are not sans pitfalls. Digitisation of economy thus invited probing questions from the experts. 
On digitisation of economy, Lars Heikensten, executive director of the Nobel Foundation, former governor of the Swedish Central Bank who held distinguished positions in the Swedish ministry of finance, including that of director general and head of the economic affairs department for example observed:
There are risks (with digitisation) and IT policies need to address these issues. This is not something that will solve itself. People have been left behind in the process and I expect we shall see more and more academic debate on how to keep fairly equal, at the same time we have good economic development… The populist movements in the western countries reflect that people are left behind." 10 
The tale of two states continues to be on our face as India albeit walks free with a duffel of if’s and but’s. 
Thoreau cautions us in his prophetic way:
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things...” 11
Way out
Isolation and loneliness in the urban space have become unavoidable realities.
“This abyss of isolation delves into grave endlessness and has him suffering from the lack of interaction with humanity.”12                                                                                           
For now Bela has no soul in the neighbourhood to share her mother tongue and her love for Bangla literature, she waits upon chances, chances to meet another to twist and turn her tongue in language her own and one who shares similar tastes in literature. Now time, voluminous and silence, uninterrupted are the two constants and she finally picks up the pen over living with a litany of complaints. 
Let not this world make islands out of us, for:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.13
As we stand in an interesting juncture of history, not everything looks brilliant and that is the way it is. After all, the change that we sought commands a price. It is the process of being that would determine how much to pay and when to negotiate. After all, post liberalisation, our ideas have totally integrated with the globe and we shall ergo walk the talk in the global language. There will be some gain and associated pain. The catch as always lies in balance. 
1. Woolf, Virginia. “Mrs. Dalloway”. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co, 1925.
2. Beckett, Samuel. “Waiting for Godot”. New York: Grove Press, 1954.
3. Govt. of India, Ministry of Statistics and Implementation, 2016, “Elderly in India, Profile and Programmes,” February 2016 http://mospi.nic.in/sites/default/files/publication_reports/ElderlyinIndia_2016.pdf
4. Huxley, Aldous. “Brave New World”New York: Harper Brothers, 1932.
5. Brown, Dan. “Angels and Demons”. New York: Pocket Books, 2000. 
6. Indiatoday.inMulayam Singh Yadav on rape: Boys make mistakes, shouldn't hang”, http://indiatoday.intoday.in, April 10, 2014.
7. Saha, Devanik.Every hour, one student commits suicide in India”, Hindustan times, May 08, 2017. http://www.hindustantimes.com/health-and-fitness/every-hour-one-student-commits-suicide-in-india/story-7UFFhSs6h1HNgrNO60FZ2O.html
8. National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, “Accidental Deaths& Suicides in India”, 2015. http://ncrb.nic.in/StatPublications/ADSI/ADSI2015/adsi-2015-full-report.pdf
9. Fields, Gary. City systems, urban history, and economic modernity. Urbanization and the transition from agrarian to industrial society.” http://docplayer.net/21079209-City-systems-urban-history-and-economic-modernity-urbanization-and-the-transition-from-agrarian-to-industrial-society.html
10. Bhattacharya, D. P& Dutta, Vishal. “India's share of global economy to increase: Lars Heikensten, Executive Director, Nobel Foundation”, Economic Times, Jan 14, 2017.
11. Thoreau, Henry David, Michael Meyer, “Walden; and, Civil disobedience,”1983. 
12. Conrad, Joseph. “Heart Of Darkness: And, The Secret Sharer”. New York: Signet Classic, 1997.
13. Donne, John. “Devotions upon Emergent Occasions. Meditation XVII.”1623.

*Note: Case studies are of real people, names changed to protect identities.

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