2020 set many new paradigms, which may be the norm in the coming years, too
Perhaps no other year’s end has been awaited so eagerly across the world as that of 2020. That is because no other event in recent history has had such far-reaching impact as that of the coronavirus pandemic. The year 2020 upset so many time-tested patterns and ways of life that it could be termed as the harbinger of a new living style.
2020 taught us how we could maintain a safe distance from each other and yet pursue our daily routine easily. This included working from home, learning at home, and even socialising at home: all through the internet. The pandemic forced us to have a limited number of guests at weddings and other family functions. It also resulted in the realisation of how much we were unnecessarily spending on unproductive and uncalled-for activities. Instead, if we have so much extra, then we could easily share it with the needy and the poor.
The lockdown forced commercial organisations to adopt new techniques and work styles to adhere to social distancing and other safety measures. Work from home (WFH) became the norm and companies realised that instead of spending so much on their infrastructure maintenance, employee transportation costs and meetings and conferences and exhibitions, novel ways could be found to still achieve the results. It also resulted in better mental health of the employees as they didn’t had to bear the daily toll of commute and instead could devote more time to productive activity.
Covid-19 also forced us to pause for a while and think how we were managing our affairs with mother nature. While news of the devastation brought about by the pandemic continues, some positive stories about the natural benefits has also appeared, bringing a smile to our faces. Paradoxical as it may sound, it could be surmised that the coronavirus brought a timely wellness programme for our environment and planet earth and even for us.
There were reports from several European countries of better air, clean atmosphere, sparkling water in canals and rivers, birds and animals appearing at places where they have not been seen for a while. In Wuhan, where the outbreak initially began back in December 2019, the sky, which is usually home to dangerous air pollution levels, has turned natural blue. The change has been attributed to travel bans and the pause in factory work.
Similarly in India, there were reports of a cleaner Ganga in Kanpur and Varanasi, two cities where it is the most polluted, and a cleaner Yamuna in Delhi. Residents of foothill cities in Punjab were able to see the majestic Himalayan mountain ranges from their rooftops, besides hearing birds chirping and seeing animals wandering into human habitats at night in the towns.
While nature gave time to mother earth to heal, it also gave humans a break from their busy daily routine. It allowed them to devote not just some time but all the time to the self. This happened at both physical and spiritual levels. What we fail to realise is that perhaps nature gave us this time to take a break from our daily humdrum and ponder over those issues for which we earlier never used to find time. Mentally or spiritually, the lockdown gave us enough time to ponder over those spiritual issues about which we always wanted to read and study in depth but were never able to focus on. Now we were able to ponder over questions related to our existence, our role and duties as a human being, and what we are getting and giving back to the society.
In most cases, these spiritual pursuits involved family, too. We had more time to interact with and take guidance from our elders and transfer it to our kids and clarify their doubts about our faith. All this helped us to establish a stronger bond with our elders, youngsters and kids, besides also providing them an opportunity to grow spiritually or study matters related to their faith. The end result was a healthy and stronger family both physically and spiritually.
In addition, the pandemic forced many to adopt healthy habits. Surveys carried out in many European nations reveal that a vast percentage of people are now in favour of travelling by cycle or walking for their daily commute to the office, instead of using vehicular transport.
Similarly, the “stay at or near home” culture has led to a boom in online shopping and home deliveries, with 58% of shoppers in the UK – according to a survey – determined to continue their support to local groceries and food stores.
The lockdown and its aftermath showed us pictures which left the whole nation and the world aghast – the pictures of a vast multitude of ordinary Indians fleeing the large metropolises, in particular, Delhi, leading to many unanswered questions about the shape in which our country has transformed into.
The ordinary Indian citizen was forced to ponder why these migrant and poor labourers and their families decided to flee the cities? Was it the result of an announcement which put the whole country into an unexpected lockdown, without any background preparation on how to manage the emerging chaos resulting out of it, or was it due to our collective apathy towards those who are less fortunate than us?
However, the exodus also bought the indomitable and collective spirit of Indians to the fore. Many social organisations and individuals rising to the challenge started community kitchens, helping those who were stranded or those were not able to get two square meals a day.
In addition, the pandemic and its deadly effects also brought new words like quarantine, lockdown, sanitisation, etc, into the lexicon of every common Indian. People who had no regard for their own cleanliness awoke to the harsh realities and started practising what the government was trying very hard to instil in them through its ‘Swachh Bharat’ campaign.
Pandemics don’t always trigger social unrest, but sometimes they can, by throwing into question the very inequalities that caused them. That’s because they hit the poor hardest – those in low-paid or unstable employment, who live in crowded accommodation, have underlying health issues, and for whom healthcare is always less affordable or less accessible. This was true in the past and remains so today.
Corona also challenged the basic foundation of both the capitalist and socialist worlds. Any easy answer to the resultant chaos and apathy would be a bit difficult to find, but it may force our politicians and policy makers to re-strategies priorities and solutions, and adopt a more humane approach. Let’s hope that in 2021 the virulence of the pandemic will lessen and our politicians and rulers will find new, better humane ways to rule.
Interestingly, the fifth edition of Swiggy’s annual StatEATistics analysis for 2020 shows that the top favourite food item on Swiggy is biryani, non-vegetarian more than vegetarian. Customers ordered biryani more than once every second in 2020. However, for every veg biryani, there were six orders for chicken biryani.
The top favourite dishes on the food App included Paneer Butter Masala, Masala Dosa, Chicken Fried Rice, and Mutton Biryani. Also, more than 200,000 pani-puri orders were placed during the lockdown.
—The writer is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He was associated with BBC Urdu Service and Khaleej Times of Dubai. [email protected]