Hikikomori: Modern Day Hermits Living In Quarantine For Years Before Covid-19

Hikikomori: Modern Day Hermits Living In Quarantine For Years Before Covid-19

‘Confined’ by COVID-19

Wrapped closely in apprehension, our world stands still in a state of limbo. Cities like Mumbai that never slept, lie in deep slumber today. The Coronavirus-sprung pandemic, COVID-19 and its highly contagious nature, has damaged our race on more fronts than one. Countries worldwide have observed the worst economic crash in the last 200 years. Adding fuel to fire, the very social infrastructure upon which service industries like clubs, bars and restaurants rely, is paralysed. The momentum of our everyday life has come to a screeching halt.

The greatest setback, however, is the one that we have been probably overlooking — the sheer trauma that forcefully ‘staying-in’ induces upon our mental health. We are yet to fully realise the psychological effects of being locked-in perpetually. Otherwise wired to thrive in a social setting, having to confine ourselves indoors is a more distressing affair than most people like to believe. It’s common news these days to watch A-list celebrities and our favourite influencers talk about ‘staying motivated’, ‘hustling’ and ‘being productive’, even in face of this storm. What almost nobody cares to highlight is how for many of us, especially the social lot, being confined indoors, can be a devastating ordeal.

Offsprings of Loneliness

Let me ask you this. Even before quarantine began, did you ever feel lonely despite being amidst a room full of people? Ever felt like an outcast among the people you call ‘your own’?

In case you have, you identify as one among a multitude of Gen-Z offsprings. Offsprings who have, on more occasion than one, undergone quivers of anxiety while facing complex social situations. Feeling socially crippled at crowded festivals or alienated at stuffy clubs, aren’t phenomena out of the ordinary. We’ve all been there.

What makes Us Offsprings Of Anxiety And Loneliness?

For a moment, strip every human off their social standing, wealth and material possessions. You’ll find that the celebrity you stood in line to meet, the business mogul you aspired to be like or even the loving mentor you respected, are all constructs of the same energy. In our journey towards adulthood, we grow a fondness for titles, possessions, and human relationships. We add layers to our professional and social life to distinguish ourselves from the crowd. A major reason ‘millennial anxiety’ are these layers that we project around ourselves, as ‘differentiation’.

Bound by endless desire, 21st-century humans relentlessly seek social acceptance, acknowledgement, and love. Most of our life revolves around chasing friends, acquaintances, and romantic companionship instead of pursuing peace of mind.

As a result of this so-called ‘aggressively social’ mindset that we end up cultivating, most of us never truly develop deep connections or lasting friendships. While we all have that one tight crew from school or college, most people we meet at later stages in our lives, end up as mere acquaintances.

It’s a common trend to befriend strangers at the club, office or coffee shop while adding names to our ever-expanding network of acquaintances. However, when we face a hard, emotionally-challenging time and try to evaluate the number of these ‘quick friends’ we can actually bank on, we find only a handful. This swamp of ‘urban loneliness’ we find our feet in, can be attributed to the superficial quality of most our human interactions. Truth is we’re all children of ‘loneliness’, trying to find our way past the commotion of everyday life.

Urban Loneliness: A Choice?

A common trope of millennial lifestyle includes ‘voluntary escapes’ or ‘withdrawals from the mundane’, where urban dwellers look at ‘peaceful and meditative getaways’ from the hubbub of daily life as a luxury. Growing up we’ve all been conditioned to crave holidays where we can skip work/class, chat friends up, play video-games, binge-films or simply ponder. But now, with the planet on pause, why does the prolonged holiday we once craved, feel more like imprisonment?

This erratic shift in scenery, was more than we bargained for. Wired as ‘Social-animals’ by nature, having to steer clear of any physical interaction and finding ourselves locked away from the humans we’re used to seeing otherwise is challenging for all of us, regardless of how happy we make ourselves to look on social media.Even while we’re all trying to cope and somehow make the most out of ‘quarantine’, if given a choice nobody would voluntarily pick confinement over being able to roam the world freely.

Now, what if you were told that there exists an entire generation of lost individuals, who’ve renounced all ties to the human world, and live a reclusive life, confined indoors for perpetuity. An entire race of 21st century teens and young adults that haven’t as much as seen the light of day for months, years or even decades. You’d think they’re crazy for voluntarily choosing a life devoid of society or human contact, but here’s why they’re not.

Meet The Lost Generation

Loneliness, being shun socially, and ‘not fitting in’ are social fears that all of us harbour to some degree. Almost all of us are haunted by the thought of oblivion in a society throbbing with people; imagining a life void of human connections, terrifies us all. Surprisingly enough, while most of us spend our lifetime upgrading ourselves to ‘fit in’ and stay ‘in verse’ with evolving times, for another defiant sect of reclusive individuals, any form of social interaction or media is a nightmare.

Locked-away in their own dreamy castles, away from the millennial pressure of doing more, being greater, these ‘hermit-people’ refuse to conform to the dynamics laid down by society. They also don’t acknowledge the need to join the rat-race of modern life and are even daunted by the very idea of being part of today’s human eco-system. Meet the lost generation, children born out of loneliness, the Hikikomori.

Who Are The Hikikomori?

The Hikikomori are detached beings who find comfort in solitude and are often found resting away from the din and clatter of the modern world. ‘Hikikomori’ in its purest literary sense means ‘withdrawal’ and ‘hiding within one’s self’. Native to where most of the Hikikomori reside, its origin is Japanese.

It’s a label given to the strange stratum of reclusive millennials who live as 21st-century outcasts, rejecting society and leading a sage-like life, confined within their abode. With nearly every service being a click away, the neglected hikikomori, seldom feel the need to step out into today’s toxic social eco-system. The mounting addition of individuals to this obscure community continues to baffle social scientists, psychologists and journalists alike.

What Is A Hikikomori’s Life Like?

Characterised by comic-books, video games, cinema, fast food and general apathy for the outside world, the life of a hikikomori is a bittersweet picture of loneliness and confinement. The fact that over five lakh individuals worldwide identify as hikikomori bears testimony to how superficial and mentally-challenging the norms of modern society and urban living have become.

A hikikomori’s day may seem familiar to that of an introvert at first — morning showers, canned food, reading the daily paper, and so on. The difference between the two is that while introverts go to the office every day and bars or restaurants on occasion, the hikikomori never step outside their home. Terrified of a failling prey to a toxic social environment, most of them choose not to even work for a living. While some live off fund-money and family savings, the younger lot cling on to their now-aged parents for continuous financial and material support.

A hikikomori spends his / her days flipping through books, movies, and video game titles. Their rooms often resemble nerd’s nest or the den of a pop-culture freak. For a 21st century culture that derides any form of torpidity , Hikikomori are often looked upon as a burden by their ageing, middle-class parents, who struggle to make ends meet, while also trying to feed and look-after their full-grown children.

Some, who live alone, may work from home, reviewing websites, writing code or submitting freelance articles to magazines for a quick buck. Their daily life, however, is no different either and entails a stream of binge-watching, internet-browsing and takeaway dinners.

Why Do People Choose The Hikikomori Life?

Interviews of the hikikomori people worldwide, medical reports and other psychological diagnosis reveal why someone would actually choose this life of ‘voluntary confinement’. To draw a rough picture, anyone who takes up this life of self-wrought quarantine does so as a result of insufferable trauma, either from their childhood or teenage years. Bullying at a young age, rejection by classmates or a general lack of purpose since school or college may motivate mentally weaker teens/children to take up this lifestyle.

For others, it might be a cumulative result of social trauma, difficulty fitting in, toxic workplace culture or just the constant pressure to be productive. Commonly glorified social standards such as acquiring status, being ambitious or having extensive friend circles don’t sit well with some people. Combined with prolonged trauma, this general dislike towards societal norms leads the most damaged of the lot to build a life away from any human contact. Being different from one another, while most of us manage to mentally accept and incorporate these social standards of normalcy, this special host of individuals remains alienated by the same. For over a century, we’ve been in the dark about the plight of these lost souls dwelling amongst us. It has barely been a couple of decades since, thanks to media and publications, that the world began to notice.

The fact that a community of individuals would actually choose lifelong confinement over ever stepping out throws light on how toxic our modern lifestyle and social trends have become. The existence of this lost, the reclusive generation that has renounced every link to human society is torchbearer to how flawed our idea of a ‘happy life is’.

The Darker Shade Of Vipassana

Vipassana is an ancient Vedic practice that includes voluntary seclusion and denunciation of material pursuits by individuals in the search of tranquillity and usher a spirit of rediscovery. The practice of Vipassana dictates the absence of an individual from all social/human interactions for a certain period of time to generate a sense of mental calm and contentment, allowing one to be more mindful and self-aware, during future pursuits post their vipassana period.

The art of Vipassana is an interim process, based around the idea of helping individuals cope with the pressures of modern life so that they are able to return to normalcy but with a more enlightened attitude towards living. Hikikomori, though similar to Vipassana, is a far darker and damaging concept that seemingly lasts indefinitely. It has been known to consummate previously bright, sociable entities, turning them into living corpses, void of all desire or motive.

Portrayal Of Urban Loneliness And The Hikikomori Lifestyle By Indian Cinema

A few months ago, a Netflix highlight, my sleepy-self would’ve otherwise ignored, enticed me to hit ‘play’. Before I realised, my mind was drawn down a spiral of dark thoughts. Social plagues, I’d seldom pondered over before, now became all too clear. House Arrest was the quirky title I binged that night. This comedy of errors did more than just crack me up. Despite shrouding the main theme with humour, the film managed to cast light upon the modern epidemic of collective loneliness that ravages most millennials.

Directed by Samit Basu and Shashanka Ghosh, ‘House Arrest is a confinement classic starring Ali Fazal, Jim Sarbh and Shriya Pilgaonkar. The film documents a disgruntled Delhi man whose staunch embitterment of social constraints leads to him locking himself up in his own lavish apartment, furnished with state-of-the-art tech. To help sustain his self-dependent, secluded lifestyle, he works as an investment consultant. The film explores the vital theme of ‘urban loneliness’ and the hikikomori lifestyle many adolescents are quickly embracing. Betrayal by a loved one, hiking work-related tension and dismissal by society leads down-cast, lovesick Karan (Ali), to tread the path of solitude and self-inflicted confinement, in search of peace — the same way the Hikikomori have been doing for years.

A World Of Shadows

As unsettling as it may sound, today’s dark truth is that we surround ourselves with people who don’t matter just so we can pretend we’re not lonely. We dive into pointless conversations to convince ourselves that people actually want to hear us. Our life revolves around chasing titles, wealth and social standing, hoping the world accepts us. While most of us lead this hollow lifestyle of denial and pretence, very few among us manage to make peace with our true nature. And almost none of us are able to break free from the toxic chain of material pursuit that binds us.

In modern society’s incessant marathon to chase down likes, validation and hop onto the bandwagon of the next cool thing, real connections and the importance of friends, acquaintances and genuine humans in our lives is strongly downplayed. Progress as a society lies in embracing our true nature and social callings. Afterall money, success and recognition are merely temporary pursuits, what truly lasts forever are our connections with people who stick by till the end.

What Can We Do as a Society?

With the advent of social media, fast-changing trends and quick fashion, today’s youth is seasoned to be notoriously superficial. Wearing a veil of beauty, intellect and power has never been easier. The emotional, mental and spiritual bond between us grows weaker thanks to social standards that have erected a wedge between us.

We judge, ostracise and condemn those who don’t fit in, as though ‘perfection’ were a sash of pride. Empathy is what we lack acutely. What we can do collectively as a commune is care a little more about people around us; be it the hygiene-worker at home, the lonely colleague at work or that shy kid in class. A critical step in the direction of brightening up our lost generation would be, being better friends to those who need help but are afraid to ask. Compassion and the warmth of acceptance are elixirs that can curb the greater pandemic of urban loneliness – the pandemic that will persist even after the dust of COVID-19 settles.

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