BY ZAINAB AHMED
Memoirs of the pandemic that turned the world into a scene from a dystopian movie
After the World Health Organisation declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic in March 2020, a dystopian scene swept over the entire globe.
Suddenly, New York’s Times Square, famous for its bustling crowd was completely empty; the Eiffel Tower had no lovelorn couples rushing to click their pictures and London’s iconic spaces wore a deserted look.
Our own Namma Bengaluru, which has been infamous for its chock-a-block traffic was suddenly desolate; the narrow roads seeming wider than ever but the air, filled with ominous silence. Everything looked like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie – shops shuttered, schools closed, no vehicles on roads, empty offices, barricaded roads, police check-posts at every corner and occasional ambulance siren blaring through the heavy pandemic air.
Life as we knew it came to a screeching halt and every person was locked inside their home. The first wave of Covid-19 was new, people began relishing their new work from home routines, spending time with their families and staying safe from the elements. The virtual world took over and suddenly online was the new normal. Everyone was baking a banana cake or whipping a Dalgona Coffee. They all went into their new lives hoping this would last for a few weeks.
But the coronavirus had different plans. The Covid-19 infection continued for months, and a few weeks turned into a few months before we knew it, it has been two years since coronavirus entered into all our lives.
The pandemic had several socio-economic repercussions. In the last two years, every person experienced the pandemic in a unique manner. The employed, salaried, upper-middle-class, and middle-class battled with anxieties and depressions. There were reports of how people were wrecking their necks and backs by working from home for long hours and zero physical activities. The other side of the coin were strained relationships. While some rekindled their relationships with more time on hand, others found it hard. There were spikes in cases of domestic violence and divorces, and people began yearning for the pre-pandemic life.
The economically disadvantaged section had a completely different set of tragedies at their door. The daily wage labourer had suddenly lost their source of income and small homes made it worse for them to survive the lockdowns.
It has been two years that several families in different parts of the globe could not see each other as countries shut borders. The virus had somehow created a global community, which was battling the same problem, yet created walls that were too tall to cross. Unfortunately, racism and other issues added to the fire of the pandemic.
Personal, political, or global – we all battled through three waves of the horrible pandemic, hundreds of families lost their loved ones to the virus and things today are just not the same.
In fact, I met a friend after two long years last week. What she said struck me about the altered life we are all living now. “Picking up conversations and speaking to people is difficult now. We do not know what has transpired in people’s lives in the last two years. The usual ‘how are you’ can never be answered with ‘I am fine’ now. There are stories, tragedies and heartbreaks that we have all undergone, but continue to live on as if things are getting back to normal,” she said adding that small talk has truly become awkward now.
I wonder, what is ‘normal’. The term has lost all its meaning since people began coining terms like ‘new normal’ for virtual meetings or working from home. Families who lost their loved ones can never know what is normal anymore. Those who lost their jobs and suffered economically will have a completely different normal. The youngsters who spent the deciding years of their lives battling a pandemic will see the normal tainted with anxieties of the virus. In short, normal is never going to be the same. And it is never going to be the same for everyone.
This does not mean that everything is destroyed, and we have nothing to look forward to. I have seen people valuing their loved ones and life even more. Spending time with family members, savouring little moments and living in the moment are some things that have grown in the last two years. The sense of community and brotherhood has developed as well. People came together to help the underprivileged during the lockdowns and they continue to do so.
The pandemic has altered our lives beyond recognition in just two years. We all are waking up every day hoping another variant does not push us back into another lockdown. But the virus unknowingly has taught us – that change is the only constant. We all knew about the uncertainty of life, but the pandemic put it out in an obvious manner. We may or may not defeat the virus completely in the coming months. But if each one of us has been awake through the pandemic, they will have learnt important lessons – not about the global economy or politics – about life.
We can hope that the post-apocalyptic scenes of empty streets, empty roads and screeching ambulances never return. But the void that the two years of trauma have left in each one of us, will take more than just a vaccine to fill. The dystopia, after all, may not have been the empty roads, but our fears and anxieties of the virus.
The way forward can be altered to help us all grow into a community that cares for one another. The disconnect that the pandemic created can be bridged by honest and better communication. This is not just for people, but even for countries that have spent the last two years behind closed borders.
Ending this with a little prayer for everyone’s health, mental peace, and a will to accept the change and turn it into an opportunity for a better future.
When not writing, Zainab is thinking or planning about writing. Potterhead for life, she is all about the simpler joys of existence – museums, movies, music (love alliterations), books, travel, food and culture. With a Masters in Political Science and International Relations, Zainab is also a researcher with one eye on serious defence and strategic affairs, and another one on everything Foreign Policy and diplomacy. Bio is subject to edit when she finds more joys, passions and solutions for world peace.