The world is struggling to cope with a complete disruption of life by the coronavirus pandemic, with countries focusing only on saving lives and healing the sick. Lockdowns have brought life to a standstill, traffic jams have disappeared and social distancing seems here to stay. The best minds in every country are working incessantly to stop the spread, manage people, find solutions to economic woes at both micro and macro levels, provide basics to displaced migrants, and provide the ideal environment for scientists to prepare a vaccine and a treatment drug for this dreadful life threatening illness.
We have been spectators of a rapidly changing world, observing this race for wealth and materialism, saddened that no one seems inclined to spend time on things that matter most—investing in self and family well-being, finding time to rest and relax, slow down and enjoy what we have, before acquiring more.
Humankind had become unstoppable. Life in adult years was endless travel, exploration, working hard and partying hard, eating out, buying, throwing and buying all over again… it was all about consumerism, fun and travel. Earning and spending, and spending more-even before we earned it!
Then came the full stop in March. In the form of Covid-19, a disease caused by a tiny virus that wreaked havoc, causing over 250,000 deaths globally, and pulling out the plugs from well-established systems. Countries, governments and administrators are down to their knees to keep systems running, doctors working round the clock saving lives and serving the sick, and finally everyone returned home to stay locked in. None of us thought we would witness this complete disruption of life and activities, be homebound with a global lockdown thanks to a pandemic that has cost thousands of lives and the numbers directly affected by the disease crossing 2 million. Difficult to put an exact number as I write this, because by the time the magazine goes to print, the numbers will have jumped for sure.
Loneliness plagues those living alone, while arguments and fights erupt in families, since people have not been together in close proximity as they are now, for a long time.
Back to basics
It has been somewhat like rediscovering how to live, finding the countless opportunities the home offers to remain engaged and involved, enjoy the material collections, experiment with activities long considered drudgery, and finding hidden talents. As outside helpers were asked to stay home as well, domestic chores took on a new meaning.
I am reminded of my childhood days, when we all learnt life skills and artistic activities-we learnt how to cook and clean, sew and embroider, knit and paint, repair and refurbish. Reading was an essential daily activity. That was the time for maximizing utility of every asset and making the best use of time in fruitful activities.
The kitchen has become such a happening place, with inclinations to cook from the scratch, since prepared meats and meals not considered safe anymore. And wow, what a difference in taste and flavor as we experiment with the repertoire of recipes we collect. Rushed meals, and roller blade eating have now been replaced by leisurely family times. Cooking has suddenly become so much fun, taking on the challenge to match the culinary perfection of master chefs, whose food we have savored, and whose food videos tantalize the taste buds.
We have time to reach out and catch up with friends and family whom we have lost touch with. Living room discussions have given way to online group discussions via apps like Zoom and Google hangouts and Blue Jeans. Activities that were outsourced are now part of our daily routine. It used to be so convenient to walk into a salon or spa and get a complete makeover, but seems it may be some time before this can be resumed. Time to look naturally beautiful!
Many of us have decided to declutter, and let go, look at all our possessions with a different perspective, assess the utility and need of each and make objective selections and a few emotional ones. Often, our homes are a cluster of things of high emotional value, long after they have served their purpose. It is better to pass it on to someone whose need for it is more.
For once in our lives, we have time to read and finish the pile of books on our bedside, look at old photographs and watch family videos. Many an evening goes by, reminiscing about those old times, a luxury otherwise unimaginable with office, school and work routines.
Exercise and fitness had become synonymous with exclusive gyms that offer memberships, but these too have been shut. Early morning walks in permitted areas help to breathe in some fresh air. Exercising at home, yoga and other stretching regimens are options that help sustain the burning of calories and staying fit. Thanks to the internet, videos posted by gym instructors and amateurs help in exercising correctly, keeping the right posture and getting the maximum benefit.
A new perspective of life
No one can complain they do not have time. Not being able to step out, time is one thing that’s abundant. No movie shows in theaters, no eating out, trips to shopping malls or bars and pubs.
Hopefully soon, when life crawls back towards normalcy, there will be an enthusiasm for work like never before, gratitude for work and perhaps no complaints for a long time to come. Many activities that were part of our daily lives will change. We will be skeptical about eating just about anywhere.
The air appears cleaner, pollution levels have fallen, the sky is clearer and we again hear the chirping of birds. Nature seems to have heaved a sigh of relief.
On an individual level, life seems to have become more complicated, as rules of basic hygiene get redefined and conscious efforts have to be made not to touch surfaces, keep hands gloved, and face masks on leaving the home, sanitizing hands, and avoiding touching the face. This will probably become a way of life for years to come. There is an element of discomfort and a fear lurking about our own safety and protection from this invisible enemy.
On the economic front, the damage to the global economy runs into billions of dollars, manufacturing stalled, unemployment levels rising, work-from-home culture has set in, travel completely stopped as states and countries implement varying levels of lockdowns. The shopping culture has changed as little beyond basic necessities is purchased, and online shopping will benefit tremendously till shops and malls can resume functioning with free movement of people.
Social distancing, imperative for halting the spread of the disease, has put a halt to social gatherings, and meeting people is avoided. This has brought back the phone call culture, to stay in touch. Conferences and meeting are virtual and webinars have emerged as the platform for knowledge sharing.
Besides the illness and the threat to survival, the psychological impact of Covid-19 is worrisome. People had forgotten what it is to spend time at home, and now cannot fathom how to keep engaged and gainfully occupied, and this is causing fear, frustration and boredom, even inching towards depression. Loneliness plagues those living alone, while arguments and fights erupt in families, since people have not been together in close proximity as they are now, for a long time.
The silver lining is visible for those sensibly making the most of this changed environment. Confined indoors, many people are enhancing skills, attending online courses to increasing knowledge, exploring unknown virtual domains, and of course, extending themselves to help those who have lost jobs and homes, looking for ways to return home.
The workplace may also be changing forever. The need for 100% attendance by the entire staff may no longer be necessary. The work from home model seems to be working well and will continue especially in fields where physical presence is not necessary. Offices and office spaces will shrink, attendance will become virtual and this will reduce the time wasted in commuting, cause less traffic and hopefully improve efficiency.
The same may not be true for education and online classes. Schools and universities have switched to online learning globally, at least that have the resources, but will it be as effective? Only time will tell. For the present it is serving a purpose but perhaps cannot be as effective as classroom teaching as normalcy returns. Education is as much about personal experience and interaction as learning from lectures and books and journals.
A few points to ponder as well. For decades, globalization has been the key to economic betterment, but one country’s disease has made other nations vulnerable. Migrant labor has filled the gaps and benefitted through employment, but where do they stand when they lose their jobs. Is interdependence preferable or should countries aim for self-sufficiency?
Myanmar has seen very responsible behavior from its citizens who are religiously following government orders, wearing masks and gloves and not stepping out. Life has become difficult with small businesses and factories closing down. The government has been distributing food to the needy and donations continue to bridge the gap. In the initial days, panic buying saw supermarkets being cleared of stocks and supplies. E-commerce has been in its nascent stage here, but is picking up, and online shopping with home deliveries will expand manifold. All international restrictions are being imposed and adhered to. April, the most eagerly awaited month of the year, has been the quietest, and the biggest festival Thingyan, was not celebrated. An element of fear, and safety are being given priority even as people wonder when this ordeal will end.
The coronavirus pandemic is actually a sudden awakening, giving us an opportunity to stop, economize, make resources stretch, avoid waste and preserve and protect whatever we have. The difficult times are a test for the human spirit and its resilience.