I need not tell you the importance of the date 22nd March 2020. On this day, our Prime Minister Modi declared India’s plan of action against the pandemic. He said that we would have a lockdown, curfew for everybody that led to a complete churning of life as we knew. Before we realised, we went into Lockdown 1 to 2 and 2 to 3/4/5. Everybody’s life turned 180 degrees in a short period. We never realised that Mr Modi was pressing the reset button. Naturally, even he did not know about it.
The first quarter of 2020 was a life-changing period in the history of humanity in our lifetime. There have been such moments before, like plague pandemic, influenza pandemic. World wars I and II were similar events, but in those days, the communication was in the primitive stage compared to what we have today. The news would trickle to the involved nations, over a period, mostly in the form of newspaper items. Spreading of the story the world over, took a very long time, if ever. In India, the world war news reached because Indian soldiers were involved.
It depends on us how we take the positive side of any situation. How did I handle this? We, of course, dealt with this situation as a family. Jaya and I were on the same page in every situation. We simply decided to go by general medical advice and specific advice given by our physician, and nephew, Atul. His suggestion was simple. Do not go out anywhere. With the situation as it is prevailing today, we are following the advice to the last T. He also suggested various vitamins; for obvious reasons, I shall not give the details lest I make a mistake. We exercise at home and get fresh air while sitting on the balcony.
A lot of jokes are cracked about washing utensils/clothes and cleaning home. In India, this work is generally performed by maids. To ensure minimum outside contact, we will continue with the rules, which suggested that maids should not be allowed to work in homes—the primary victims of the situation are low-income people like maids, dhobis, small kiosks vendors. Businesses large and small suffered too! We kept the maids’ morale high by continuing to pay them their salaries 100 %. We know a few other people from a similar category, who did not work for us. When they asked for financial support, we gave them whatever their needs were. It was the least we could do.
Did we ever feel that we were caught in a cauldron? Did we feel claustrophobic? Did we discuss with friends and relatives about how these restrictions are bothering us? No, never! Why did we not do it? Because we never felt bothered by this. In fact, we look forward to our days ahead for the different programs that we have. These programs are, of course, virtual, but we have them regularly. We discuss what to wear for these video meetings, and laugh. Since 22nd March we have been wearing those same sets of clothes every day! Our granddaughter once asked Jaya, “Do you have only two dresses now?” But this remark brought out an important thought about how much wastage we did on clothing and everything in general. We could have saved a lot of money, but it is not about saving. The same money could have been utilised for the different causes. Spending money on white goods, cars, fancy stuff is not wrong. It serves the purpose of keeping wheels of economy running. It runs, factories, shops, trade houses and so on. But at some stage, we had all become a tad too casual about throwing money at goods and services!
We have not gone to any shop or a restaurant during this period. We have hardly had any interaction with the outside world. Is that good? No, it is not! But at the same time, by not wearing a mask or following social distancing norms, we are going to add the number of infected people. We immediately realised that this is our social responsibility, and we learned to enjoy life under the prevailing circumstances. We follow the mask rule when we go downstairs to collect courier packages.
The use of social media has gone up. The Netflixes and Hotstar’s of this world rule the roost. The cell phone is our gateway to the outside world. Many people were very uncomfortable using Video calls only a few months back. F to F (Face to Face) was a buzzword unknown to many seniors. Now this same group of people has two or three video calls every week.
So, what is the debit side in the balance sheet? There are a few. Why did we not use video calls before? Why did I not use my balcony to the full extent? It is a treasure trove of lovely breeze, a lovely view of Sinhgad, and vast canvasses created by Him in the majestic sky. Why did I ignore them? Why did I not chat more with friends and relatives as much as I should have? Jaya has one grouse. She has culinary expertise. With maids around, she would take part in cooking once in a while. She is now enjoying the kitchen and writing ( it is a secret I am not supposed to share, so do not ask her about it). She is going to start painting. She wonders why she did not do such things all these days- her debit side!
But one thing we have learned over a period. Take the pandemic seriously, but do not get obsessed with it. It is better to remain partially ignorant about the information that is flooding us. We should be selective about what we want to know.
You may think that I am in favour of being ignorant about what is happening outside our immediate spheres of influence. But that is actually very far from what I am arguing here. While I completely respect and understand why some people prefer to stay in the comfort zone of ignorance, I believe that we should all try to get out of that comfort zone. However, by doing so, we should avoid falling into a hyper-awareness of lousy news/videos without regard for the proper actions and achievements that many people and communities are undertaking throughout the world. Further, we should also keep in mind that, even in the darkest and most difficult circumstances, we are not impotent, especially if we start to act! It is when making our voices heard by politicians, for-profit and nonprofit organisations, and even the international community can have a substantial positive impact that goes well beyond what we originally had in mind.
This awareness will eventually lead us to become less selfish and more empathetic societies. However, the only way to achieve these kinds of cultures is by allowing our hearts to be touched by circumstances happening far and near our homes, without letting them become bitter or numbed. Is that even possible? If it is, then how?
…By never losing hope.