2019 and 2020 — the former, closing, and the latter, enclosing a decade — have emerged victorious in warning us of our fragile existence. These two years came embellished with such tangible wrath for which the world was unprepared. From the embers glowing in the Amazon and Australia, to the Sydney-sized iceberg breaking off a glacier in Antarctica, to the sweeping socio-politico-economic unrests in most leading nations; each event, like a game of dominoes, ran uninterrupted exposés how hollow our global governing machinery is. Just when everything still looked possibly manageable to the hopeful optimists, a terrible catastrophe had already brewed in Wuhan of China, patiently waiting to explode and impair us permanently.
Although there are conjectures about the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, even with the most recent estimate — which is since December 2019 — it has now been slightly more than a half-year of this crisis. Its end is still not in our proximity — and coupled with a terrifying resurgence of bubonic plague — we have already incurred irrevocable damages.
The power centres of the modern-day world that fed us their futile ideas of fake invincibilities are now spent and on their knees. The political landscapes are dramatically altering. The two-segment division of the global society — the upper-half and the lower-half — has only augmented the deep-running inequalities in our systems. For the former, their privilege enables them to carry a misconstrued magnitude of the disasters. However, for the latter, mercy has become the new means. Death stands inevitable for them, whether due to hunger or the virus. We have also lost a large chunk of the generation that survived the war, taught us lessons through tales, saved traditions, and preserved histories in memories. Governments and central banks are defying norms and have announced back-to-back stimuli to save their halted economies from the brink of collapse. Billions of people are confined in their homes today (again, a privilege nevertheless), experiencing physical and mental health issues. Our survival finally shares a long-due semblance to the lives of animals kept in captivities. Confinement is neither of us’ natural habitat.
Though, the biggest positive of the COVID-19 crisis has been the pause in the afflictions imposed on the environment. It identifies itself as a pause and not an end because its end is contentious and inclined towards making a resumption globally, as it already has in China. History too has attested it time and again, with the examples set by the first two Oil Crises (1973, 1979), the fall of the USSR (1991) and the Global Financial Crisis (2008). The issue with the pandemic that is climate change is that one, it is perhaps way less glamorous to act on for most world leaders who hold on to the idea of perpetual economic booms, and two, its gestation period of death delivery is not always immediate. Yet, for some time, the environment could breathe; the skies became bluer, the air fresher, and the rivers cleaner. More migratory birds graced our lands — like in Maharashtra and Beirut; penguins roamed loose in Chicago aquariums and other animals on empty streets. Moreover, once we have seen what living in a healthy, pollution-trimmed environment
feels like, it is plausible that we prioritize and demand it from the governments worldwide.
Nevertheless, the world (has and) is metamorphosing in every known, unknown way. We have already forgotten our ‘normal’; masked faces, gloved hands and reduced interactions no more make us eerie. Even though it is tough to predict, experts argue that the post-pandemic world, irrespective of how far-fetched it may be, would be nothing like how we have known. For instance, most human interaction has become digital ever since we are home-bound. The Internet has filled our otherwise-maddening voids with only screens separating us. Two, owing to the uncertainty, at least the upper-half of the world is relaxing; their long-forgotten and -ignored aspirations now unboxing. Three, this pandemic has made us realize how little we ever needed to live. A consequent realization of who (and what) is the most essential has struck us: doctors and medical staff (hospitals), farmers (agricultural farms and food), sanitation workers (cleanliness, sanitation and hygiene), commodity sellers (groceries, pharmaceuticals) and all kinds of labour. Most of these people are hardly acknowledged, and it is high time we begin to venerate them and their services. There is also a certainty of public uproar demanding more investments in and expenditures on vital areas such as healthcare, sanitation, food and job securities, education, researches and the environment. Four, the crisis has rightly punctured the practice of companies not facilitating their employees with the flexibility of working from home. Furthermore, our values are redefining humankind again — empathy, compassion, love, care, belonging.
Every day, we are unravelling more about the virus that has brought our world to a standstill. It looks like these two years, products of the previous years, are holding a giant mirror in front of us to reflect on our past deeds. Of course, every elapsing moment becomes history. But, what (has and) is unfurling right now, will be studied as momentous by posterity. A brand-new epoch is being born. And ‘new’ does not necessarily indicate to good. Post this pandemic we would be at a crossroads. Our choice would be to either recall and fall back to our earlier ‘normal’, or force everyday changes that ensure our long-term survival. We are taking an intimate glimpse of what is ubiquitous in the international context — when humans become a threat to humans. Every known concept has the possibility of becoming redundant but one — humanity. When this gets over, with whatever and whoever we are left, in unison, we must choose to become more human. It is the only way we must learn to live.
(Published in South Asia Monitor powered by the Society of Policy Studies on July 22, 2020.)