by Baby Shaw 4 January 2022
Humans learn to adapt themselves to circumstances right from their birth. They just pass their days in the course of adapting themselves to ‘good’ or ‘bad’. And this is how history is built. This adaptation and compromise bring an enormous change in life. This change takes place in the thought process. At the same time, they also learn how to cope with the adversities of life. This adaptation takes place also in plants and animals. Of course, humans have to sacrifice a lot in doing that. The stories of adaptation have been reflected in literature in every age; COVID-19 is no exception. How a disease may influence civilization, culture, literature— even language, is clearly visible if we look at world literature and culture. A magnificent story is depicted in Albert Camus’ famous novel ‘plague’ where he shows how the dread caused by a disease enters into our language, literature: poetry, stories, novels— even in our existence. It is epidemic and war, which have given rise to the striking philosophy of existentialism which appeared in the 20th century. In fact, every cultural revolution underlies a real fragmented world, and this is what happened in the first halves of both the 20th and 21st centuries. The million-dollar question is: is COVID-19 going to have the same impact as disease and epidemic impacted our existence in the first halves of both 20th and 21st centuries? More than half a million people died of the COVID-19 and are still dying. It has caused an exemplary global recession which has made millions of people unemployed, and has exerted an enormous impact on our inner world.
Living With Pandemic
The date, 23rd March, 2022 will remain fresh in the memory of the people of West Bengal in the days to come. This historical day is just like any historical events like any change in the West Bengal politics, the rumpus of Darby or the way people debate still today on the houseful show of Matini, for example. We were introduced to a word called ‘lockdown’. Suddenly, an unbelievable change came over everything, transforming the known rhythm of life. From the advent of COVID-19 a number of words such as corona, covid, mask, remdesivir, sanitizer, social or physical distance, lockdown and many others. Acquaintance with these words or phrases was not at all light. Within a few days, we came to see piles of dead bodies here and there— on the courtyard, roads, riverside because cemeteries or cremation grounds were too small to accommodate tens of thousands. A lot of children became parentless. Losing jobs migrant workers became helpless. Bound to return home, many of them failed to board trains or buses while many could not afford it. Being compelled, they had to walk miles after miles. On the way, many of them breathed their last breaths. Some committed suicide. All these incidents have made a permanent mark in our memory. Every time an epidemic comes in, we encounter new adversities, we startle. The life we used to consider certain, goes through a turmoil.
Changes with time is a must and new layers get piled up over time. Once the bad time is over, we think we have overcome it but it actually that’s not the case. Rather, every change transforms habits. COVID-19 seems to have made us too self-centred. In fact, continued stay-home tended to make our horizons narrow. Now in mid-2022 dreads no longer prevail, ‘keywords’ such as vaccine, mask, social distancing etc. which became the parts of life after the advent of COVID-19, do not carry weight as much as they did before. From the captive life we begin to go out shopping ignoring hot weather or rain. Restrictions on wearing masks or using sanitizer are no longer in place. Considering all these we might think that life has come back to its old rhythm but is it really so? Has the turmoil that shattered our life really gone? Has life really been smooth again? Can we just settle down this turmoil in our memory? Hasn’t a fundamental change taken place in our daily life? Isn’t it that people forget what they want to forget?
New Dimensions of Culture, Capitalism, Religion, Peoples’ Helplessness, Peoples’ Death
Japanese citizens have been accustomed to wearing masks for a long time. They wear masks to protect themselves from dust, cough or any contagious diseases not only in pandemic times but also in normal times. On the other hand, although the people in India, for example, which is a country of high middle income, still an underdeveloped country in a sense that about 40 crore people have no scope to use sanitary latrine—excrete under the open sky and even the educated people do not know that one has to cover the face while coughing or sneezing. COVID-19 has taught even a poor farmer that they have to cover their face while coughing or sneezing; otherwise, they might have to even die. Indians now have learned that they have to use sanitizer by dint of corona. Thanks to Covid-19.
Current political culture which is the use of religion in politics has made India suffer a lot in the midst of this pandemic. Holding ‘kumbh mela’, foundation stone ceremony of Ram Mandir, political gathering and so on are responsible for the death of many people.
Contempt and scorn of the upper class towards the subaltern and existing culture of the deprivation of the poor from the state and the government has caused devastating helplessness, sufferings and death.
Corona and Mental Health
According to WHO’s report published in March 2022, in the very first year of COVID-19 peoples’ anxiety and depression increased by 25%. The same report also reveals that 90% of the countries were able to provide their citizens suffering from mental health with adequate health service. It clearly turns out that COVID-19 has exerted an enormous impact on mental health. The reason is quite understandable. To follow the rules of restriction of social or physical distancing, people have had to spend time without company, uncertainty in livelihood and loneliness. Children too are the victims of the situation. Experts suggest that deviance from the normal social life over a period of two years caused enormous detrimental effects on mental health. There is no reason to think that these effects are confined to this particular period. It might seem that life came to normal but the fact is, the rhythm that rang before the advent of COVID-19 does not get tuned any more. Is it that we have learned to succumb to loneliness, solitude and above all, voluntary isolation?
A large section of the young generation had to take shelter on mobile phones, social media, networking and many other platforms. They did that not only to pass time but also to take the taste of companionship through social media.
True, companies used online business even before but there has been a sudden surge in this business practice during the COVID-19. Businesses also start using social media platforms extensively in order to market or sell their products. As a result, people as consumers being in isolation gather on these platforms to buy products. It creates an opportunity to come close to the sellers virtually and sometimes on phone calls. Consumers also share views with each other making comments on the product quality and prices on these platforms. This is how, on one hand we tried to overcome loneliness and the nature of business changed very rapidly on the other. Many workers from India lost their jobs. Willing to come back home but got stranded in foreign countries. Not only travel restrictions but also inability to pay for a ticket caused enormous sufferings for Indian migrant workers abroad. The government failed to make adequate arrangements to rescue them. The nature of state structure and what kind of government prevails, matter. What is already mentioned above ‘the nature of state structure and the kind of government’ and the following: ‘Contempt and scorn of the upper class towards the subaltern and existing culture of the deprivation of the poor from the state and the government, has caused devastating helplessness, sufferings and death’ is worth repeating’, must be considered with utmost importance and a society based on justice, fairness and equity must be built.
Lifestyles and habits that have been transformed during the COVID-19 will not disappear soon; rather, some will follow the law of inertia and thus will be implanted permanently. Interestingly, people, by now, have discovered a new way of taking delight. Looks like, people tend to enjoy watching movies on Netflix rather than having a chat with a bunch of near ones in a room. Does it mean that our habits have changed forever?
The sign of the change in habits is clearly visible all around. People still seem to have a fear in movements when we see that they prefer reserving taxis to using transports like train and bus although the former is more expensive than the latter. There has been a sharp decline in the habit of going to market places or going for a chat with friends in front of tea stalls. Before the advent of the COVID-19 people used online shopping only for clothing, decoration materials or other small household utensils but even after the fall in the intensity of the virus, housewives have been buying daily necessities such as fish, meat, vegetables and other groceries using online shopping. This is very convenient in the sense that goods directly come to home doors; at the same time, elderly people who tend to go outside for shopping, may well be restricted. On the other end, small business owners can manage to sell their products alluring the households by home delivery and online transactions. Consumers are also happy because they find it easy— they can avoid the hassle of going to shops. In fact, there has been a kind of revolution in the realm of shopping and the mode of transaction in Indian society. I call it revolution because it has continued and will continue to exist in the days to come.
The mentioned changes in the elderly population might be positive at least to some extent but that in the children, cannot be determined conspicuously. Many educationists and child-psychologists expressed their concern that because of online teaching, students lost their opportunity to have direct interactions with teachers and students, and confined themselves into small spheres, which prevented their natural growth. Not only that, excessive use of smart phones by children has addicted them, which, in turn, created a lot of mental disorders. Now even when they have returned to classroom teaching, the use of smart phones still continues: communication, sending lesson plans, giving assignments, submission of homework— many components of teaching are still going on through smart phones. Continuous use of smart phones might lead students to severe addiction to games, online betting, online games, pornography etc. Here guardians have to play a vital role. They must keep a close eye on the children so that they do not go astray. Not having been able to play sports outside, children underwent an extreme kind of loneliness. Social or physical distancing, confinement etc. exerted a greater negative impact on the children than that on the elders. In such a case, in couple-centred families parents fail to accompany children aggravating the situation. Psychologists fear a bad impact on children’s minds. To avoid that, parents, elderly people of each family unit, teachers must come forward in order to save them with affection and sympathy; otherwise, children won’t regain their life which they previously enjoyed.
We have discussed the changes in the social order so far. As has already been mentioned, there has been a wave of change in the psychic world. Alongside, the definition of recreation and taste has been changed as well. By using social networking sites and other platforms we are now able to watch cinema or serials at one-click distance. By didn’t of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, the wall between general public and celebrity is now ‘gone’. We can easily express our admiration for or lodge a criticism against our favourite actor, actress or director. Social media has made it possible for us to be a celebrity or hero/heroine within the periphery of home, for which, we just need a good content and a big audience. If your post once gets viral, you would turn into a star in the entertainment world. During and after the covid period, the internet has perhaps been the most powerful phenomenon in our everyday life. True, social distancing or self-confinement has kept us aloof from each other but the internet has removed the monotony that we were going through.
COVID-19 has changed our taste to a great extent. We have got introduced to a new mode of art and entertainment. Younger generation has come out of the old genre of stories, songs and arts and built their own genre making them suited to the changing times. We have been able to introduce ourselves to anybody sitting on the other end of the planet, to other cultures easily through the internet. Through the internet we can exchange views with each other no matter where this person is sitting. Another good thing about the COVID-19 is that people have been far more conscious about disease in general— not only about the coronavirus. Alongside, people have regained their respect towards the health system of the country. They have been respectful towards the doctors, nurses and all who are involved in the health sector, who have sacrificed immensely in order to offer all kinds of services. We can expect that there will be no more incidents of harassment of doctors and nurses in our country again.
Another notable thing is that people have learned how to spend time with themselves. This is very philosophical and we would not think this way if corona did not break out. It means, Corona taught us a very good lesson. In the 21st century and in a capitalist society we are in a race of competition. Consequently, we don’t have time to think of others but COVID-19 has taught us the lesson of the relationship, closeness, friendship, companionship—and their value. So, alongside living with ourselves, COVID-19 has helped us rethink the importance of being in close proximity to near ones. These are all positive things the COVID-19 has offered us.
We Shall Meet Again
Corona tends to be an integral part of life. It seems that we cannot live without it. But in reality, even if it disappears, some effects might never disappear; rather will remain forever. It means that we have to ‘rebuild’ our taste in line with the after effects of corona. At the same time, we must make sure that we come out of the confinement which we became accustomed to. Coming out of confinement is essential for life. Another important thing is that we usually look at the changes taking place in the social and economic spheres, and ignore changes in our psychic world. But the fact is, both changes are equally important and we must seriously consider the changes in the inner world and the after-effects.
It is difficult to comment on whether all those effects are bad. Difficult to comment on whether the life before the advent of corona was better or the life after the pandemic is better. But what we are sure about is that we will always have to remember those bad days and the lives we lost. It will remain as a painful memory in our life. Maybe we will pray so that the devastating pandemic comes never again, no life gets lost again. But we have to understand that what has happened, has happened. We cannot undo what has already happened. We have to move forward because change is a sign of life. In fact, everything changes in the universe over time and we have to accept it. However, humans can manoeuvre this change in a direction which would be beneficial for mankind. In order for us to do that we must cause an outburst of our inner power. The fact that we have been able to cope with and overcome the pandemic situation over three years and that we have re-started life afresh, should be an inspiration for us that yes, we can. We have to be careful so that we do not get swallowed by hollowness or by a sense of nothingness.