Going beyond definitions

A photo that has recently gone viral is that of our First Lady Savita Kovind sitting on a hand driven sewing machine and stitching masks for shelter homes. A motivating and inspiring vision, her contribution is also an indicator of the way COVID-19 is changing our roles.

An unprecedented event in our lifetime, the coronavirus attack and its only management – isolation and distancing – is making people the world over, rethink and reinvent themselves.

Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

The auto giant Mahindra has diverted its factories towards making ventilators, the French perfume and cosmetics giant LVMH has dedicated many units to make hand sanitizers for hospitals, and fashion designers got into the business of making masks. Our ubiquitous postman or woman has now become the local banker, as they provide cash on call in remote areas from the customer’s account in any bank. Between March 24 and April 23, post offices across India delivered Rs 412 crore in over 21 lakh such transactions, mostly in rural and unbanked areas. The Railways has converted more than 5000 of its coaches into isolated wards by April, to augment medical care in underserved areas of the country. It is clear that change is the order of the day.

As industries, businesses and sectors are responding to the crisis by changing their products and services to meet the challenge, individuals and groups too are realizing their own hidden potential to help.

There are innumerable stories in the media about public servants distributing food and supplies to the needy in their areas. There are stories of municipal gardeners joining the sanitization teams to help out.  Police and health workers are stepping outside their conventional roles to help others. Police personnel have been distributing supplies, medicines and wishing lonely senior citizens ‘happy birthday’! Doctors apart from saving lives, have also been performing last rites for deceased patients. Associations of different civil services like the IFS, IAS, IPS, IRS, etc have launched the CARUNA initiative to help fight the virus. CARUNA stands for ‘Civil Services Association Reach to Support National Disasters’. Through this initiative, civil servants use their network to collect information and database of migration, essential supplies and medical equipment like masks, ventilators, PPE, etc in order to augment the formal effort.

Countless NGOs, civil society groups and informal groupings are reaching out to those less fortunate, senior citizens and others in distress. Helping hands are outstretched to provide essentials, medicines, information and support. Start-ups have turned to innovation in the area of public health in this era, while the IITs are at the forefront of research in the management of COVID-19.

In all walks of life, an outpouring of the sense that each of us should help outside our comfort zones is reflected.

Even in our personal lives we are seeing a transformation. We engage in different pursuits with time and the internet on our hands. Some are cooking, others learning music, or a foreign language, others writing or catching up on reading. Virtual tours of art galleries, cities, online music concerts, operas or simple hangouts are available. Curiosity and the desire to explore one’s own interests are having a field day!  The online world is abuzz with courses on nearly anything that can be imagined. Continued learning – a coveted value, has come into its own in the lockdown era.

People did different things before the pandemic set in. The fortunate ones had regular jobs, defined roles and boundaries in which they worked and lived. More often than not the work, job or role that we performed defined us. Someone was an auto giant, a cosmetic manufacturer or a railway carrier or a postal department or an entertainer etc. Individuals were civil servants, police, manager, artist, banker or a corporate head and the like. The virus has melted the constraints of these definitions. It has helped us realize that we are much more than our defined roles and jobs. Presently as individuals and groups we are expanding and discovering our own potentials in rethinking ideas, processes and initiatives.

When we are done with this phase in our lives, this knowledge and ability will undoubtedly remain with us. We are much more and beyond the job and role definitions that limit us. The image of the First Lady is the ultimate recognition of this.

(This was published in Hindi in Dainik Bhaskar newspaper a few days ago)

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