During this challenging year, the COVID-19 pandemic is not only altering the global, national, and individual landscape but also the priorities of our race, hopefully forever.
As the dreaded virus tears across royal families, celebrities, and matinee idols in addition to the hoi polloi, these demi-Gods and pin-up idols are being exposed to have feet of clay.
The new luminaries are rightfully becoming those who render vital services to society: medical personnel who burn the midnight oil to save lives (to the exclusion of those who are motivated by lucre), farmers who fill our granary in return for a pittance, sanitary workers who keep our cities bearably clean and the entire value chain of manufacturers, transporters and vendors, which brings to our homes the necessary wherewithal.
The incessant greed for material trifles is transmuting into a realization that the most precious gift is that of life itself and thereby all that is necessary for its sustenance, chiefly our health system. The lack of focus on the health infrastructure has spelt the doom of premier cities like New York that had previously been the world’s envy.
Nations have allocated immense resources to fund desperate research to discover a viable vaccine and cure to halt the conflagration. Pharmacies are replacing temples as places of pilgrimage, and renowned doctors substituting for priests in providing the prognosis and daily advisory to handle the current crisis.
The allure of tourist spots and manmade marvels in alien locales faded when they became hot spots of the invisible enemy and we have begun to cherish the safety and comfort of our humble abode. Instead of inane visits to malls and crowded parties, we are investing in family time and our intimate life-sustaining relationships. Families are bonding as never before; and digital media has become supreme in educating, informing and entertaining. Social, or rather physical, isolation, masks and sanitizers rule the roost in the absence of a viable solution for the affliction.
Though the pandemic has bred isolation and confinement, it has also engendered a spiritual quest and an inward-looking disposition. Most of us realize the significance of the adage that happiness lies within. As fancy couture remains suspended in cupboards and flashy cars rust in the garage, we are realizing that we need very little to be truly happy and a moment of creativity can spark more happiness than purchasing the latest iPhone. The futility of material possessions and the importance of human relations are highlighted as never before.
Aggressive nations and pompous leaders that promote aggrandizement and false image-building have been exposed and the new catchphrase of good leadership has become rational decision-making in the interest of public welfare. The sensible citizenry is realizing the value of women leaders who are facing the challenge with scientific temperament and sound common sense to steer their nations to comparative safety.
The global scenario is in flux as wealth no longer seems to be the determiner and the U.S. flounders with the largest number of cases and deaths. The nation that had formerly led the world response in handling global crises has been dislodged from this erstwhile position, and the balance of power is shifting to less wealthy but better-steered nations. The lack of effective leadership in the U.S. as it belatedly battles the pandemic amidst contradictory proclamations has exposed the hollowness of this dream destination for youngsters.
I imagine this society learning from the chaotic present and hurtling into a robotic future with an emphasis on eugenics and belated physical isolation, as depicted in my story ‘Future Love Story’ (from ‘Slices of Life’).
The migrant crisis in India due to the COVID-19 lockdown exposed a major vulnerability in our society: the inter-state migrants who were left jobless and homeless at the imposition of a 21-day lockdown.
Their nostalgic desire to return to their home states and the tribulations of a migrant family feature prominently in ‘Dusk’ (‘Slices of Life’). As visuals of this informal workforce trudging homewards were splashed on TV screens, city-dwellers across India awoke to their plight and some good Samaritans emerged to feed them and prioritize their welfare.
Urban India is awakening to its moral duty towards this hitherto unseen section of society that services our homes and builds the city infrastructure and industrial growth on which we pride ourselves.
One of the biggest transitions has been in the attitude of all right-thinking individuals towards Nature. During the lockdown, after centuries of unmitigated environmental abuse, we saw nature reclaiming its space as the blue skies cleared of fumes and the seas of refuse and animals pranced happily in open spaces without fear of Homo sapiens, the most dangerous species on earth.
COVID-19 has reminded us that we are not the master but a minuscule part of Nature; it has hollowed our pride in our prowess as we fall like ninepins to a microscopic virus that wreaks on us the wrath of a maltreated environment.
Hopefully, in the future as well, humanity will cherish these lessons of humility and co-existence learned during the pandemic, prioritize the general good, invest in meaningful relationships instead of pursuing material wealth and refrain from ravaging Nature.
After an academic and professional career, Richa Gupta has devoted herself to writing and published her second novel ‘Skeins’ in 2018. A senior teaching professional with over 19 years of academic teaching experience, Richa is also an Instructional Designer for training and e-learning in the corporate sector. She lives in New Delhi.