Most of us are locked in our homes, holed up with family members for durations longer than we are used to.
By Aruna Sankaranarayanan
Coronavirus lockdown in India: To-do lists, schedules, forecasts, deadlines. Human beings are perpetual planners. Before the Corona virus upended our world, we rushed and ranted daily, so as not to fall behind our interminable schedules. To meet the dreaded deadlines. To stay ahead of the curve. To ensure we moved forward in the rat race. And, then as various governments imposed lockdowns across the globe, life, as we know it, came to a halt.
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Most of us are locked in our homes, holed up with family members for durations longer than we are used to. Even as we transit to working or studying from home, the humdrum busy-ness that envelopes our lives has abruptly ceased. No Monday morning scrambles, no traffic snarls, no have-to-go-here, have-to-buy-that. Life suddenly is stripped to its essentials. We need to cook, clean, eat and sleep. Those who are fortunate to have the luxury of working online, continue to plod away at screens. We try to keep kids engaged with online and offline activities. The new-normal that we are trying to maintain is unsettling, in troubling and cathartic ways.
Unnerving because we really don’t know what tomorrow will be like. Despite models and predictions by epidemiologists, global health experts and policy wonks, nobody is certain what tidings we might wake up to or when. Though most of us are at home, the very familiarity of our environment increases our disquiet. Our new routines are unfamiliar to us. Apparently, for humans, living with uncertainty is harder than living with pain. According to writer and psychotherapist, Bryan Robinson, participants in an experiment who were told they would definitely receive a painful electric shock were calmer than those who were told that they had a 50% chance of receiving one. Our brains, argues Robinson, are wired to equate uncertainty with danger.
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Yet, despite the unease and underlying anxiety, an unfamiliar, but much-needed, quietness pervades the air. As loud honks and the quotidian cacophony of urban life has been silenced, we hear more birds chirping. The air is palpably cleaner. Our lives are less harried. It’s almost as if, Nature has pressed the pause button on earth. Perhaps, during this long-overdue but sorely-required hiatus, we, humans, need to review, reflect, re-examine and reset our routines.
While we are all making do with less now, do we really need to consume as much as we mindlessly did? With wings on our feet, we traversed the globe either on business or pleasure without paying heed to our carbon footprints. We commuted to work, cursing the endless traffic jams, but not acknowledging our contribution towards them. As more of us find ingenious ways of working from home, do we all need to head out the moment the lockdown is lifted?
Even dual-income earners are now compelled to spend more with kids. Does the world need to come to a standstill for us feel like a cohesive family unit? Earlier, though we led highly networked and connected lives, our ties were often superficial. Though social media helps us stay in touch during this humanitarian crisis, the enforced social distancing makes us ponder on the strength of our ties. Which relationships sustain and nourish us?
Sure, these are unsettling times. Though we hope that the spread of the Corona virus is arrested in its tracks, sooner than later, perhaps, we shouldn’t just revert to our old ways of living on auto-pilot. Perhaps, by unsettling us, Nature is giving us an opportunity to self-correct.
(The columnist is Director, PRAYATNA. Views expressed are the author’s own.)