Life goes on-line

The onset of COVID-19 brought with it many changes to the way human society operates — changes that will likely outlive the pandemic itself

All black swan events change the world so dramatically that we have to redefine 'normalcy'. Such is also the case with the invasion of the COVID-19 virus that has altered the way the world lived its life. Populations around the world did pretty much the same things. Some in extravagance and some in penury, most lives were routine. Going to school, college or university or work was the story in every family. Earning a livelihood was a high priority, interspersed with few moments of romance for some and holidays for some others. These were little breathers meant largely to recharge and rejuvenate for the fortunate. It has all changed for the foreseeable future.

In 2019, Wuhan was still a distant city the enterprising Chinese had built as another landmark to modernity. Come December, and it became notorious for having let loose a deadly virus, COVID-19, contagious and spreading across the globe, faster than any wildfire can ravage forests. The world had to come to a stop. Dead stop. First, Wuhan went into a lockdown and to curb the raging infection rate, every country had to shut its airports. Travel was restricted to emergency and rescue only. While each country devised its own protocols, we in India too pulled down the shutters. Life went off-line in a jiffy.

All of us were ordered to stay at home. Worse, we were not to step out at all. This was the only way we could beat the virus from infecting all sections of society. This was a disruption of life unparalleled and not seen in recent human memory. Only essential services were to function. Schools, colleges, regular jobs, everything was to be on hold. Life had to be re-invented. All sellers of essential goods went digital. Orders could be placed on the phone or on email and delivered at the doorstep. Grocery, fruit, chemists and many other vendors, confectioneries, rations and all needs moved to demand and supply through electronic or telecom media. New learning had begun because it was needed to survive. Good or bad, this change is here to stay and if anything will be the norm in our altered living styles.

The nostalgia for the normal of 2019 and even until the first two months of this year is understandable. The social interactions and the available freedom to mingle unmasked were a way of life that would not change, was the way everyone thought. It is the vulnerability of the moment that has unnerved the populations all over. Everything looks unpredictable. Even the things of life that we all took for granted have now become contingent. Flights will take off but when you can return has become a question mark. Social visits, earlier the norm, are now risk-prone. Hesitancy is in the air and we have to learn to live with it as a routine that our comfort has been disrupted.

The hurly and burly of life had absorbed us all and took us all away from the basics and fundamentals of life. COVID-19 has pressed the pause and reset button. No longer is it the morning rush to office or school or college. Home spaces have had to be redesigned to cater to the WFH phenomenon. Dining spaces have become work tables and bedrooms have been converted to accommodate online learning for the children. No office gossip, no coffee breaks for kindling a chat with a colleague. It's all work with as many lonely breaks as one wants. What does this new reset button augur for times ahead? Politics has to become robust and caring. The opacity of the process must make way for open and fair governance. Urban spaces will need a rethink. As corporates redo their maths, many of them will make working from home a regular feature. As social distancing becomes a norm of using public spaces, how will these be re-defined to ensure safety from the spread of this obstinate virus that is not only refusing to go away but surging even now? Surely, public transport will need to be re-configured as will sanitation and hygiene standards and facilities. It appears certain that all of us will have to maximise contactless living and all gestures of warmth and cordiality, love and care will have to find expression in words only. How will humans live without the reassuring touch of a maternal or a friendly caress, in

the foreseeable future is scary for all yearnings of gentle natures.

Who knows about the future? One thing for sure is happening: the digital threshold is proximate to the common man and virtual space is taking over the geography of the earth and going beyond known horizons. The best-laid plans of mice and men are wasted by the 'gang aft a-gley'(often go awry) as Robert Burns has said in his 'Apology to a Mouse'. The virus from Wuhan has made our world go awry. Fear has entered our psyche and got entrenched. Leaderships in every field are getting tested as never before. We can celebrate our life as it is or regret what might have been. The way of life as we knew it in 2019, is history.

The writer is the now retired-Director of the India Habitat Centre. Views expressed are personal

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