Tolstoy’s answer was six feet. Let me change the question to how much land is available in Mumbai to each person. The land area of the island city of Mumbai is close to 68 square kilometers. The number of people in this area was last counted in 2011, and was 12.5 million. It may have decreased a little since then, but this number will serve. Take away a quarter of the city’s area for roads. That gives us about 35 square feet of space per person. That’s a rather small room. Take away another half of the land area for offices, and you decrease the space to 12 square feet. We begin to approach Tolstoy’s limit. What chance, social distancing?
In a place like this you learn to be alone in a crowd. You can spend a quarter of your life packed like sardines into a can called a suburban train, and live a complete life in the space between your earbuds. You can get off the train, walk home to your 35 square feet bed-sit, and count yourself a king of infinite space. But you may have bad dreams.
Which is why work-from-home is a wonderful idea. As long as you have a job which you can do over the internet, what is it really that brings you far from your family and friends, from that familiar place that you grew up in, to a crowded city like this? We discovered the freedom of the internet during the pandemic. Immediately after the end of the lockdowns, we began to travel during the week, working on a laptop that you could take anywhere that gave you a wifi connection. I saw sunrises over deserts and mountain lakes during this time. And I saw nomads even more adventurous than me: kayaking between meetings, climbing cliffs with phone and earbuds in backbacks.
What keeps us bound to these cities? The concerts and dinners, the art and the collegiality of the workplace can be sampled a couple of times a week. But I love to walk the streets of the city, alone, camera in hand, taking street photos. Would I be able to watch people in this way in any place other than a city?