So many of society’s systems have been revealed to be constructs by the global coronavirus pandemic. I’d been pondering all things illusory when a series of comic recollections of wild goose chases lightened my mood.
#1: I was on a boat in Pulicat Lake with an international photographer who’d flown in exclusively to take pictures of the flamingo season that local photographers were confidently presenting as thriving (probably using old material). Climate change had deemed otherwise; there’d been no birds in a long while. “Come next month,” the fisherman making his living from rare boat rides forgivably lied. My breaking point was when I suggested we change the story angle and salvage the effort: there was a colonial fort nearby. We circled and circled. The edifice had long been ruined, overrun by vegetation. It didn’t exist anywhere but on Google Maps and influencers’ charades.
So soon after that a curse was arguably in effect, a filmmaker friend wanted to visit a “film city” right here in Chennai. There were amazing, recent reviews online. Again, after hours of searching, getting snappy and exhausted, we finally accepted that it didn’t exist. A place that had opened and shut over a decade ago was still being promoted by – whom? Who has the motive for such mischief?
Wild goose chases #3 & #4: I was in Vagamon, where my favourite architect Laurie Baker had lived, in a house that was still a notable town boast. Except the interiors looked like a boys’ dormitory; outside, a tacky fountain was draped with plastic flowers. Red laterite, lush foliage, legacy? Nope. Everything about the assignment was superficial: I was to weave a facade of serenity from a bizarre itinerary covering too many hill stations in too few days. The fakest element of all was my newfound camera-toting colleague, who spent the trip buttering me up, convincing me to secure a similar assignment so we could meet again. I tried; thankfully, the wheeler-dealer’s using me as an unpaid intern rasped to halt when he admitted he couldn’t be bothered to read the published article, while posting it all over social media for his own credit.
Social media is a master mayajaal, a net of illusion. Concerned friends tell me about how a close relative of mine who is prone to fits of violence and manipulation contingent with untreated mental illness presents herself as a mindful, enlightened creator online. The true stories and the Instastories are a mismatch. I make an income from putting words in other people’s mouths (it’s called PR, babe). I know what goes on behind glamour. But when personal trauma and deceit intersect, it’s hard to stay unafraid. This is a situation many are in: cloistered in quarantine with all that work, money and travel lets them escape. On a greater scale, we also know we aren’t getting the info that could potentially save us.
I was able to laugh a little remembering those wild goose chases; but still, they led back here. The world should not go back to normal when this pandemic is done. Let the falsehoods dissolve once and for all. Let human survival be worth it.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on March 19th 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.