Living in the time of coronavirus: It will remind us of shortage eras past generations had known

With the coronavirus scare we seem to have gone back to a pace of life that belongs to another generation and another time. Freedom of movement, work and recreation spaces, and spaces for the enjoyment of leisure are what define the globalised era and, especially, those of us in this country who live in the bigger cities and are connected via technology, travel and work cultures to the rest of the world. Freedom is a thing that we now take very seriously, whether in our daily lives or when we are contesting its absence in certain areas of national life, be it sexual or political freedoms.

Yet, it is also something that we, the educated upper and middle classes, have increasingly taken for granted in our present-day secure and liberal, consumerist milieus. The working populations in these cities below the age of 50 have not seen, or at least do not have a living memory of, curfews or blackouts that were instituted during the wars that the country fought with its neighbours, most notably the Sino-Indian War of 1962.

Or, for instance, the memories of an earlier generation who witnessed the Japanese bombings on Calcutta during World War 2, when women and children had to be evacuated and people left abandoning their homes and daily lives, their certainties and certitudes. And then, there was the mother of all upheavals, the country’s Partition in 1947, which uprooted people and changed their lives forever.

TOPSHOT – A resident wearing a facemask amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus walks past a graffiti of Buddha wearing facemask, in Mumbai on March 16, 2020. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP) (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP via Getty Images)

And unlike these previous generations of our grandparents or parents who witnessed and well-comprehended the phenomena of famines or shortages in difficult times, we in the present era of economic boom and plenitude, compulsive coffee breaks, eating out, online shopping and home deliveries, have become ever more complacent about our supply lines. Even the public rationing system of the 1970s and 80s encompassed a vast spectrum of society including the middle classes, and the spectre of shortage or lack did periodically raise its head.

It’s only in the last decade or so, with our more firm entrenchment in the boom of a global consumer culture, that the country’s upper and middle classes have increasingly pushed aside past uncertainties. A kind of uncertainty that perhaps never left the more under-privileged sections, or the farming communities who have contended with periodic droughts and uncertain futures. And perhaps in their mindscapes, they are more equipped to comprehend and react to calamitous occurrences.

Our enforced home stays during this present period, and what is to come will surely make a lasting impact on us, emotionally and mentally. Easy access and easy mobility might soon become coupled with a far greater sense of celebration of those very same things and those spaces, which we have become accustomed to taking for granted. Spaces of leisure, consumption, education and work, which define our modern societies and which have suddenly become forbidden to us.

Perhaps we will also come to value far more, here onwards, human company and interactions, which have perhaps not come under such serious and more unprecedented threat as in the times of corona. We who are forever glued to our phones and other devices might, after the lift of the present lockdown, start to be more mindful of the company of others, of families and loved ones. And we might just come to feel stronger together, as a locality, city or the nation at large, after we emerge from this pandemic.

As we stand facing a threat to humanity at large, we are also increasingly given to think of those millions of our countrymen for whom social distancing is a luxury, those that would be worst affected should the disease spread to its next stage. For once, it is a fear that we fear not only for ourselves, and for once we want them all to be safe, because them being safe means us being safe.

Some years from now, the times of corona may be identified as marking a major shift in our economy, health systems and public cultures. Economists and public intellectuals have already identified trends. What has gone unsaid is perhaps it will also mark a fundamental change in our sensibilities, making for greater compassion in our midst, and a greater closeness for people – now that human relations themselves are under threat.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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