Most of the globe has been under ‘lockdown’ for more than 12 days now. Often sitting at the window I watch the world outside go by. A solitary bus or car will sometimes cross the deserted street, a lone man on a bicycle will traverse the empty road or a dog will wander the empty street looking around somewhat puzzled. It is hardly a world going by, it is more like a trickle of the world I knew.
When I look at my phone, which is quite a bit these days, apart from the reams of advice about the virus, there are lessons on how to spend the days in captivity or there are the videos of the empty cities, roads and squares the world over. The resurgence of nature is also a repeated entry on the social media. Elephants trundling down streets, whales on Bombay High ( said to be a fake) and a sparkling blue Yamuna river flowing in the heart of Delhi.
Often this slice of life seems a strange delusion. When I get up in the morning the first thought is ‘ is it a bad dream?’ Then as the morning progresses and the sameness of each day stares me in the face, I acknowledge that it is not. It is one of the most challenging and trying times in our lives.
I try to stay upbeat, do my routine exercises, do the work from home and at home that is expected, and drink in the stars that now twinkle brightly in a night sky rid of pollution. However, I must admit I yearn for my life, at least the life I believed was mine, before the virus derailed all of us. I long to be able to go for a walk in the park, drive down to the market, hang in a movie hall, meet friends and relatives and hug them. These simple things that I had taken for granted all these years, never actually thought about them, suddenly have become the riches I wish for.
Getting dressed and going to work – something one often lamented or joked about. It is something that I long to do now days. Work from home is going on, but the buzz of the workplace, the face to face interactions – the value of these mundane things is dawning now. Screens have their utility, but the sheer energy of presence of other humans around is something they can never imbibe. Visions of players playing in empty stadiums and artists collaborating on different boxes on screens are somehow not as attractive or engaging.
There has to be an end to all this. The Covid-19 virus will be conquered – either by medicine, time or nature. Then how will it change the world? That is the question that engages us the most now.
All the earlier pandemics changed the way we live in many ways. The Plague, apart from annihilating large swathes of population became the reason for evolution of property laws, gave us the word ‘quarantine’ and lead to the evolution of the middle class in England. The Cholera epidemics lead to focus on municipal waste disposal systems, The Spanish Flu lead to widespread changes in public health management. Closer to our times, the SARs epidemic has lead many countries like Taiwan to ensure that its public wear masks on a regular basis.
On the macro front writers like Yuval Hariri warn of the growth a surveillance state since technology is being used to track patients and contact tracing, the “under the skin surveillance’ as he calls it. Kishore Mahubani talks of the emergence of a more China centric globalization, while Richard N Hass warns of more failed states when we come out of the current pandemic.
What about individuals? We all are currently overwhelmed by the impact of the ability of the virus to change the course of our lives as we know it. There is a deep and abiding sense that life will never be same again. So many thoughts are being expressed. The value of slowing down in life, of spending quality time with those you love, of the meaninglessness of overarching ambitions and desires, the importance of compassion in our lives, the grace in reducing consumption, the knowledge that at the end of the day essentials are all that are needed. The new heroes in our lives – health workers, police, sanitation staff and all those who keep the world running. All these are ideas and values we want to, hope to, keep with us when all this ends.
However, there is a niggling doubt. When the virus is conquered and we are free to reclaim our lives and the spaces we inhabit, will we remember all these things? Or will in a blink of the eye things go back to business as usual. We might continue wearing masks, but will the lessons we learnt in this period of stillness stay with us?
The hope is that there will be incremental change in all of us, which would reflect gradually in the world we live in, after all it is a life changing event. That is something we cannot deny.