As Long As Lockdown Lasts

A general view shows an almost deserted street with closed shops and restaurants during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Lukla the main gateway to the Everest region, some 140 kms northeast of Kathmandu on March 28, 2020. (Photo by PRAKASH MATHEMA / AFP) (Photo by PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP via Getty Images)

P Kharel

Confessing might be unfashionable, but this laptop tapper risks portraying a picture of an undignified good-for-nothing fellow without the taste and habit of positive thinking, creative imagination or intelligence for introspection. Generally cornered by the COVID-19 pandemic to be placed under a long spell of semi- or full lockdown within the four walls of one’s residence, one gets a fleeting glimpse of certain aspects of what life could be. The perception is purely personal, as it cannot represent the numerous manifestations and definitions of life among the rest of the seven billion people on Planet Earth.
Several weeks of enforced lockdown — partial or full-fledged — gave a shocking jolt to many a soul of different shades. The standstill on this scale was something unprecedented. Hence the desperation of the general public and the trade/business sectors. The virus has infected some 30 million people worldwide and claimed close to one million lives in nearly nine months. Existing conditions have nudged people to make a virtue out of compulsion. Lessons thus obtained on isolationism and minimalism should offer some sobering sense.
There can be no lust for the lockdown, except the sensitive ones who in any way had since long practised such distancing in good measure for the love of solitude. A senior scientist in Britain is prepared for any tried and tested COVID-19 vaccine not being forthcoming until the winter of 2021. Britons are even talking about water rationing and severe shortage of supplies if there were to be a fresh spike of the dreaded disease. Bombarded round the clock since the past seven months with news, news and more news about the deaths and economic destruction the pandemic wrought, audiences cannot at all be cheered by what Britain’s former chief scientific adviser recently declared: “COVID-19 will be around forever.” According to WHO, there are at least 30 potential vaccines currently in clinical trials.

Lost in lockdown

Life can be drab because of the drudgery and monotony inflicted by restricted routine. Anything forbidden can have an attraction — but for a limited period. The resultant surge in the urge to get lost in the chattering crowds, jam-packed public parks and noisy streets grows by the day. Most people might be physically locked but by no means mind locked. In the beginning, they purred with pleasure at having been left with so much leisure time, knowing little of how boredom and anxiety could threaten to descend upon many of them not long after.

Distancing from the ordeal of social distancing, one can shout, sing and study silently. Books unread and fancy topics not discussed could be brought up for family discussion or virtual debate. Parents not very familiar with the practice of tutoring their wards found a convenient defense in appearing to be generous in letting children while away a larger part of the days chattering and chirping full-throated all over the house.

Silence does not prevent the lips from being coloured with radiant smiles even at difficult times. We can share the spoils of solitude. Much rests in the mind — a life awash in the good, the sad and the horrid! One can immerse in news and online entertainment of continuous supply for the asking. TV addiction begins to wear off. Keeping the cupboards, racks and creeks and crannies clean; and indulging the palate in untried recipes and, in the process, adding to the paunch in the midriff might be an outcome. Lockdowns give abundant time at home to most people. Individuals with a serious bent of mind avail themselves of the time for regular self-introspection.

In a manifestation of the leveller, COVID-19 struck with speed and its tentacles spread in not one corner but the entire face of the Earth without discrimination among the big and the small, the rich and poor, the strong and the weak, the proud and the modest. Just as the international community was getting down to brace for an emerging new world order together with the likely changes in power equations and economic clout, the dreadful disease spread left, right and everywhere. Those brash enough not to take early measures in preparedness found themselves hit the hardest. Some claim the current crisis to be a hoax-pox created by unscrupulous predators preying on the gullible.
Enforced confinement might provide an environment for new initiatives and help recharge the thought process for fresh ideas and new initiatives. When will we slip back to the humdrum of life of haste and waste? This depends on the individual. Those with deep pockets and zest for life have the comfort of assured security, far away from the daily anxiety that inflicts the underdog and the less privileged.

In contrast, uncertainty writs large on the faces of the teeming millions, possessed by anxiety much of their waking moments, devoid of any mirth and merriment. The lockdown is an affordable pastime for the better off but a nightmare to those aspiring for a bare hand-to-mouth living that Dame Daily Wage smiles upon. Its displeasure strikes back with an abrupt, unpredictable vengeance to send the human race cowering and running helter-skelter for shelter.

Redefined normalcy

People of various orientations, denominations and combinations brave the enforced distancing to spend more time with their family and make up for the leisure they had not been able to afford since ages. Quite a few announced their passion for reading and studying. Books are a comforting company just as scribing—or even scribbling—tosses up a convenient outlet to route an expression in whatever form of conception.

Introspection for setting the course ahead anew might be a prized and profitable pursuit in the hour of the pandemic that wreaks so much fear. Positive thinking does not denote being unrealistic; nor should it signal an out-and-out negative approach to life and issues. Habits die hard, or do they really? The coming months should say a lot. Does dignity and poise of well-earned mental prosperity rate better than the noise of hostility in the prevailing uncertainty?

One cannot be certain if the coronavirus pandemic will go for good. The suspense between living a lockdown and leaving it can be stifling. Disaster itself is not new; how it strikes is the immense suspense of the coldest type. Lessons extracted from the wisdom bestowed by the deep past can also carry humankind through thick and thin. The present is but a brief spell of gloom and doom in the chain of the times whose precise beginning and end no one knows. How long the economy will limp, no one can tell authoritatively. As the long road to recovery gets daunting, new economic theories will float. Those having lived off their expertise on unrestrained capitalism and free markets, defined by the ones benefitting the most and the longest, will not hesitate to defend that earlier approaches were appropriate for those times.

(Professor Kharel specialises in political communication.)

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