A nervous flight journey in the summer of 2020, and my favourite painting by Edward Munch
|The Face Angel|
My eyes are glassy, not from pearly tears,but from the angel that should shield them, as she adorns my face.The angel falls on me like a veil,touching my eyelids, hurting my nose,and she whispers, "Your nose doesn't hurt till it doesn't run".
It cost me a fortune to buy something i would, materially, describe as a small, square sheet of plastic, stretching from my forehead to my chin, fixed to a cheap looking plastic band that rests on my forehead with the help of a plastic string. It would’ve probably cost me a fraction less if i had remembered to buy the face shield from the market, rather than queuing up in front of the Delhi Airport Entrance gate, and making a premium vendor happy. Along with it, came, unwillingly, the now customary hand sanitizer, and even gloves!
Say hello to the post pandemic world, where claustrophobia strikes at the drop of a hat, and she isn’t even the dreaded “c” word!
Today, it happened during the security check, a phase of flight travel that would normally be best described as boring. Today, it wasn’t boring when, standing in a reasonably well managed queue, i was asked by the ever polite security personnel to remove my shoes, which i had wrapped in a polythene bag. Moving in a public place in the post pandemic world, without catching the virus, requires you to buy time, sometimes just enough, to manage the spatial gaps from other movers in the crowd. In a moving crowd, a little drift here, or staying stationary for a second or two, can help you accomplish that. But, the thing with a security check is, it is very stationary in itself, meaning you can’t out walk the virus! And just at the point that i lost control of my polythene bag to air, i, for a brief moment, lost it!
Now seated on a comfortable, reclining chair, waiting for the boarding announcement, i take out my mobile phone. I’m instantly greeted with my screen lock wallpaper, which is that of a very famous painting, Edward Munch’s “The Scream”.I first heard about this painting from my late Grand father, who, i felt, always had something enriching to tell us-me and my brother, across a wide array of fields .This was a couple of years ago. I looked up the image on the internet, and i must admit that, at that time, i didn’t know Edward Munch, and didn’t even take much liking to the masterpiece.
But, like many things that don’t shout, it grew on me steadily. The first thing that stayed with me was the title itself. For some reason, it feels like it would have stayed with me even if i had read it randomly placed in a regular text book paragraph. A title as unpretentious as it gets, while its beholder is snobbishly curated in a museum that must be out of reach of all but few.
The painting shows a person clasping their face, screaming in anguish alone on a dock. A few strides back, two gentlemen seem to quietly follow. In the backdrop, the sky is a swirling whirlpool of blood rich red. Why is the protagonist screaming? Who are the two gentlemen? Are they really following the protagonist?
I take a quick sneeze, which expels droplets into the crevices of my mask. No sooner does this happen, than i attract numerous gazes, of the kind that should be reserved for an epicenter of dread. There is virus in the building. Make no mistake about it. The onlooking passengers know it. I know it. And its gently floating in epicenters across the whole airport complex.
In that brief, awkward moment, some part of my mind manages to reconcile the numerous passengers' anxious expressions against Edward Munch’s protagonist’s, and discovers to no utter surprise that they are the same!Yes, the painted protagonist could well be trying to outrun a virus! A virus possibly in the shape of the two faceless gentlemen in black, simply walking with no obvious intent to harm, or it could be swirling violently in the blood shot sky in the backdrop.Did Edward Munch really see the killer sneaking sometime in distant future? There is no way to tell that, but there is also no denying the presence of the same dread....
I finally reach my home town, Varanasi, without further alarms. At the airport's exit gate,i, still struggling for space and thought,
finally discard the angel that shielded my face,from contact, and the dreaded "c" word.City dust hits my now unguarded face, settling into the crevices of the "mask". As i settle into my ride home,without even thinking, I close all windows of the car, only to catch one last glimpse of my discarded angel,my vision still glassy, but less frightening.