From how different governments have acted to conspiracy theories and realising that we can be self-sufficient, here are some takeaways from the COVID-19 crisis.

Lessons we can learn from the pandemic A teacher writes to her studentsImage for representation: PTI
Blog Coronavirus Sunday, April 05, 2020 - 18:16

Dear students,

I trust all of you are keeping safe and healthy. You are still so young, but yet forced to witness so much turmoil and have thus evolved into thinking women (or in your words, ‘adult’.) While you were deciding between watching another episode of Sex Education or sleep, you were shaken out of your reverie and forced to reckon with the world – to fight for your freedom, your rights and now survive.

Did I jinx it when I gave my farewell speech, saying that you had seen it all? From Brexit, Hong Kong protests, repeal of Article 370 in Kashmir, Revolution of Sudan, the assassination of Baghdadi, the crushing economic recession and the anti-CAA protests? Not in our wildest imagination did we think that the worst was yet to come, that we would one day be witness to a pandemic, a World War like situation with the entire globe shutting down.

While being torn between my desire to consume more and more news, and drown in escalating anxiety, and resist the urge not to, for my own sanity, I couldn’t help but make a list of the lessons that we can learn from the pandemic.

  1. This pandemic is a perfect example of The Butterfly Effect – when a butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world, it causes tremors on another, says Chaos Theory. COVID-19 has shown us the reach of the growing tentacles of globalisation, our relatedness and how everything is connected. All our actions have effects.
  2. We often take the World Wars for granted, don’t we? It had become another page in our history textbook, another date to remember and yet another pointless exam answer to write. But now we can understand how it would have been for people to live through the wars. To worry about resources, to scramble for good news, and hope in the face of crippling uncertainty.
  3. The Government is important – when we are in despair, we turn to the state for support. Only the state can pass the right policies, keep the system running and take care of its citizens. And this is why it’s in our own best interest that we stay abreast of news and use that information to make important choices. To vote. To exercise our right wisely and choose the best.
  4. While exposing the importance of the state the pandemic has also given rise to one major thought – which form of government works best? Communist countries with robust public health systems like China, Cuba and Vietnam have done very well in containing the disease, while neo-liberal democracies like Italy, Spain and the US have floundered. Is there a lesson here?
  5. Can there be too much democracy? Is the cost of a free and open society, a total disregard for community? Is there something utterly irresponsible about individual freedom? To take the US as an example, even while the number of cases were skyrocketing in New York and the government was pleading with people to practise social distancing, college students were seen frolicking on beaches and in pubs, indulging in spring break shenanigans and licking toilet bowls as a part of #CoronaChallenge.
  6. We now know what oppression feels like. Lockdown used to be the parlance of the Kashmiris. We now know what it means. Gaza. Palestine. Syria. Now that our lives have been painfully disrupted, we have a taste of what it is to lose freedom. And remember, we have only lost our freedom of movement.
  7. Did China conspire to do all this? Was COVID-19 created by China to choke the world and attain global domination? Was the virus created in a bio-research facility in Wuhan to be unleashed on ‘troublesome’ Hong Kongers and snuff out democracy forever? China’s successful handling of the crisis and subsequent closing of its international borders has given rise to many WhatsApp forwards and articles insinuating that the Chinese orchestrated the pandemic. Apparently, Chinese millionaires have bought shares in crashing companies worldwide ensuring China remains unscathed in the global recession that is sure to follow. Beijing hasn’t recorded too many cases and was never locked down. How was that possible? Well, we will ever know the truth. It’s perhaps also foolish to indulge in conspiracy theories, especially today when the fake news infodemic seems more lethal than the actual disease. In the face of growing racial discrimination, it’s best we ignore these theories and focus on reviving our societies instead.
  8. When we heard about the lockdown, what did we worry about most? Contracting the virus or the effect the lockdown could have on our minds? Most illnesses kill the mind before getting to our body. Is it still all in the mind then? Mental health is as important as physical health, if not more.
  9. Guess who is having the last laugh now? History’s longest and happiest social distancers – Kim Jong-Un and the Sentinelese of course (separately, not together though)! Oblivious to the outside world and happy to be isolated.
  10. Capitalism can be aggressive. Capitalism can kill people – America, the country that has never had qualms over waging wars against weaker countries (as long as it’s not on its soil) and destroying their economy to smithereens (while keeping their economy intact) – America that prides itself on being the stuff that dreams are made of – America that makes a hue and cry about a scrawny terrorist killing 10 people – is now grappling with an unprecedented crisis on its hand, with 500 deaths each day. For a long time, they chose to ignore the crisis, called it the ‘Chinese virus’ and lived in denial. Also, they could not bear the thought of their malls and merchandise coming to a grinding halt – after all that’s the machine that runs America isn’t it? The country with the highest GDP in the world. Alarming death rates have finally opened the government’s eyes and pushed them to place importance on public welfare over economy. It’s easy to pin all the blame on Trump, but it reeks of something more sinister, the corrupt moral fabric of America. The UK in order to not pick up the tab (since the government sponsors the NHS) decided to go for the long haul or work at herd immunity. Social Darwinism. Let life go on. Corona will kill the weak, the fittest will survive and the rest will develop immunity, was the policy. So who will bite the dust? The poor and the old, of course. It sounded like Hitler was espousing his model for superior genes all over again.
  11. One thing is for sure. This pandemic is changing the world irrevocably. At a personal level we may now choose to be more mindful of our health and reorganise our priorities. At the global level, there will probably be two kinds of government control – greater surveillance of citizens at the cost of individual freedom and maybe tighter borders. Is social distancing giving rise to national isolation?
  12. Is nature telling us something? Have we been grounded to repent for what we have done to the planet? Perhaps we are the virus and corona is trying to get rid of us. The surreal image of Olive Ridley turtles nesting along the beaches of Bhubaneswar peacefully, for probably the first time in their life, is testimony.
  13. The difference has not been more clear. What is essential and what is not. While we recognise that doctors, nurses, health workers, police, researchers, cashiers, grocers, farmers, journalists and teachers are the essential services of today, it must be also taken into account that they are also the least paid.
  14. The right to Internet is a fundamental, inalienable right.
  15. COVID-19 has been a great equaliser – it can infect the homeless man on the street and the Prince of England. However, it is a rich man’s disease – it has come from foreign travel. Yet who seems to be paying the price? The hapless migrants who had disinfectant sprayed on them for no fault of theirs. If we cared so much shouldn’t we have sprayed it on the NRIs and tourists who came from abroad? Inequality is the biggest problem in our country.
  16. I think we finally realise the true cost of development. Did we really need that flyover? Or that mono-rail for that matter? Should we be spending Rs 3,000 crore on a statue while our health expenditure is only 2% of India’s GDP? And should we elect such a government that chooses to do so?
  17. Countries such as South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong have done well in mitigating the crisis than much richer European countries and the US. Which brings us back to the question – what makes a country ‘developed’?
  18. I’ve been curious of the crow sitting on the branch of my mango tree. Does it wonder where the humans have gone? Do the street dogs wish for our presence? What was running in the mind of the civet cat when it walked down a street in Kerala’s Kozhikode? Did they think it was the apocalypse or did they celebrate their freedom?
  19. It’s time we check our privilege – we can socially distance because we can afford to. We have savings. We have enough resources to even bake cakes and post it on social media. It was also privilege to hang out with friends and to explore aisles and aisles of our favourite snack. It’s a privilege to say goodbye.
  20. Indigenous people are right – we need to be in tune with nature. Listen to it, not encroach on it. The more we eat into the territories of wild animals and snatch their homes, the more trouble we will find ourselves in.
  21. If nothing else, this pandemic has made us self-sufficient. We can cook, clean and take care of ourselves, and sustainably too. And no, we do not need to shop so much online.
  22. We are the books we read, the movies we watch and the music we listen to. We are the art we create and the craft we make. In the darkest of times we turned to art to keep us alive and may we never forget that.

The world will never be the same again. You young women are inheriting a brand new world. Rich from this experience, I know you will make a difference.

May we emerge scathed but stronger.

Views expressed are the author’s own.

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