The Covid pandemic has been ruthless upending lives everywhere. The virus, resulting in a lockdown (partial or full in some places depending on the country), is frustrating for us all interrupting our normal lifestyle. The virus spreads like wildfire forcing people to avoid others including loved ones. It has shaken the roots of human thought and behavior worldwide. What was a ‘normal’ way of life, of behavior, is now replaced by ‘a new normal’ in which people are maintaining a safe distance from contact with others – social distancing it is called. Every aspect of life as we know it in which humans care for one another, has been upset by this virus. It is a new normal – social distancing and limited contact with others for fear of getting infected and succumbing to the deadly disease.
The pandemic has inexorably underscored that humanity has become an organic whole ‘vasudhaiw kutumbakam’, the old Indian Sanskrit adage (world is one) – pinprick causes pain felt by the whole. This virus has leveled valleys and mountains of status, people, countries, and haves and the have-nots. The attitudinal swagger of the developed West is gone as the ‘punyness’ of humans gets driven into our cognition.
This virus has changed human dreams, aspirations and outlook, brought the world to its knees, and the result of just under 2 gms by weight of the virus from across the globe.When in January news filtered out of Wuhan about a new highly contagious corona virus, we felt secure comforted in T&T, India, elsewhere by its remoteness. Alas, within weeks like wild fire, this virus had entered our lives melting disconnections, replacing it with palpable fear and uncertainty. Trade, economy, emotional bonds are all affected showing we are connected globally.
Human value systems evolved across aeons are set to change. Value systems that define perennial human emotions are changing. For example, tactile communication of love as a human value, long established as a norm, is changing given the highly contagious nature of this virus coupled with the emergence of unknown asymptomatic carriers who infect others.The emotional vacuum created by the virus is hard to fill. We have hardly even begun to understand the enormity of emotional shock resulting from the pandemic. Imagine that a funeral where mourners just drive by or troop past the bereaved family maintaining social distance or worse still, consider the plight of dear ones who cannot even accompany the coffin of a covid deceased to final resting place. Siblings can’t hug loved ones returning from far off lands and who are quarantined. And then there is the reticence and stoicism with which neighbours greet you and worse if you are infected by or a survivor of the virus. That warmth, intimate hug to make you feel loved are gone. How will one live without these tiny gestures of love and togetherness.
What will be ‘the new norms’ of expression of human bonds and intimacy – a question that even the most anticipatory of futurologists have not yet enquired or visualized.The value loads that humans had so assiduously attached to events and things over the years and hooked up their aspirations and dreams to, have started to melt. Cherished dream of migrating foreign lands and the associated glamour has suddenly evaporated. In the past it was from ‘local to global’. Now, the new mantra is ‘from global to local’ –become self-reliant which was once the mantra during decolonization period that itself was replaced by globalization! Goodbye to international jet setting tourneys.
On a sombre note, that poor migrant labourer in a city now yearns for return home (wherever that is) and the intimacy of simple life. Alas, that is, if he survives the long harsh journey back home from New York, or wherever. Dreams have changed, with the aspiration ‘if I have to die let it be my own country or village’.
The virus has hit the economic system too that has been diligently evolved by humans. In fact, this system is responsible for exacerbating the hiatus among human beings. Whether it is status ascription, material affluence or power to affect the other, the ultimate source of it all can be traced to this entrenched economic system. Is it crumbling? Well, the ‘new normal’ is certainly not going to be as of yore.
As it is, symbols of status, affluence, and power are fast depreciating and in the post Covid world likely to emerge in a totally different form and substance. Work culture has already changed from glamorous swank office spaces to work from home with seamless connectivity. Work itself is likely to get more efficient and less intrusive and bossy.
Welcome changes, but for the less equipped without technological background, especially manual laborers and farmers, and those who are ingrained with bureaucratic underpinnings, change in work culture is likely to precipitate a catharsis. Web traffic is on the increase, with a major fallout being lesser traffic on the roads and lesser office space requirements relieving some of the pressures of urbanization. Lesser face-to-face contact would imply decision making without recourse to human contact element, thus radically altering work culture.
With a new world today, needs and wants are not being driven by the background music of glamorous advertisements but by what humans actually need for survival. A strange scenario when economies are going into recession because humans are not consuming redundancies to grow the economy and create jobs.
The great pandemic paradox facing T&T and the world today is ‘Whether to open the economy to save it or to extend the lockdown to save humans’. The highfalutin lifestyles of the developed world and those aping them were unsustainable. But who was listening! The pandemic and nature have been given avid consumers time to ease up and listen. Nature is self-healing and smiling. Rivers are running clean, environmental pollution almost zero, birds and other animals (especially in big cities) are visiting humans. Is it the END or a RESURRECTION?
(*Prof Ram Shankar is HoD Pol. Sci Jabalpur University, India and Vishnu Bisram is a social scientist)