Lockdown. Isolation. Social distancing. Cases. PPE. These are but fragments of the vocabulary that have entered our lives with the onset of the pandemic. Now that ‘the new normal’ has been set and the countless deaths slowly become cold numbers that we scroll past on our phones, we can look back at the initial months and marvel at how easily we have adapted to these extraordinary and monumental changes. The Phoenix Rises: Lockdown Chronicles is a collection of anecdotes, fiction, reflections, and poems, compiled by Amit Dasgupta, that allows us to slow down and reflect on the variety of human responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. It includes contributions from several reputed writers—columnist and satirist Jug Suraiya, and journalists like Lalita Panicker and Antara Dev Sen (who is also founding editor of The Little Magazine), to name a few. Throughout the book, the reader gets a sense of a larger narrative, a greater event that has easily seeped into the lives of every human being. Its shadow has spread across the globe, sparing none. There is a piece of every story that the reader can recognize, a soupçon that is a part of the reader’s experience itself.
Large-scale tragedies and tumultuous events have inspired growth in literature for centuries. Famously, Shakespeare wrote three of his tragedies, King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra, during the bubonic plague outbreaks of the late 16th and early 15th centuries. The 1918 pandemic, however, is surprisingly forgotten by both literature and history, perhaps because it emerged in the aftermath of the First World War. A well-known depiction of it is in the TV show Downton Abbey, and it is arguably best portrayed in Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider. Unlike 1918, we actually see a fresh surge of literary work in the wake of COVID-19, all of it rushing to capture the variety of experiences that we have had. The Phoenix Rises is an early attempt at this, and it seeks to inform, as well as represent us.