Coronavirus: Why Nothing Makes Any Sense At All
The ironies and paradoxes of the virus has struck at the very core of our existence and our belief systems. How do we cope?
Even the most brilliant writer could not have scripted what’s happening in our lives now. Whoever has written it, has a bizarre sense of humour. Four months ago, as we were wishing our friends and family a happy 2020, who would have thought that just a few weeks later, the earth would be under curfew?
Countries are shutting their borders. The most developed nations are scrambling for basics. The poor and the infirm are walking miles to escape an unknown enemy. Horror stories are emerging from some of the most beautiful destinations around the world. Cities, bustling with tourists just some time back, now wear a deathly look. Some of the richest organisations are staring at bankruptcy while Royals, Prime Ministers and A-list celebrities are in quarantine!
One unseen virus (we still don’t know what it exactly looks like; the image of the spongy sphere with spikes that the media has been using in its articles is most likely the imagination of a talented graphic designer), has brought an entire planet and its mighty, arrogant inhabitants to its knees. And the worse part? Nobody has a clue of what’s going on or when it will end. Indeed, who would have thought!
If you dare to step out of your house to go to the neighborhood supermarket or the pharmacy (the only forms of life that exist these days), you would undoubtedly be greeted by a strange sight. Scores of men and women in masks and gloves stocking up on groceries and heading to the billing counter manned by men and women in masks and gloves! They all seem to work, zombie-like, unsmiling and robotic. If they have a smile on their face, you wouldn’t know, as they are all masked. It feels like you are on the sets of a bad sci-fi film that doesn’t have an end date of the shoot. Even more surreal are the photos on social media of cities under lockdown - a sparkling clean Marine Drive and Chowpathy beach in breathless, crowded Mumbai, the brightly lit empty flyovers of Dubai, the silent squares of Rome and Milan, the eerie streets of New York… Apocalypse now? You bet!
Everything about the Coronavirus pandemic is incomprehensible and unreal. At times you want to pinch yourself to see if this is actually happening. Every small thing you took for granted – going to the movies, attending a party, shaking hands – are now forbidden and scary. But what’s perhaps most curious is the many paradoxes and ironies COVID19 has thrown up, almost like a cruel joke mocking every belief we held to be true.
Among 7.7 billion people in this world, more than 6,60,000 have been infected with the virus and 30,000 killed (the numbers rise by the minute). Frankly, that’s way less than the number of people dying of accidents, violence, war or disease. Yet few other incidents have resulted in the kind of fear that this illness has brought on. Oddly, a world divided by race, religion and ethnicity, is united by fear of a common adversary. However, this unity comes even as the borders become stricter and measures to ensure nobody enters or exits a place, become more stringent! A globalised civilization has become hyper-localized. We are most close virtually to one another than ever before though physically we have never been this distant! In an era where apps have brought strangers into our lives, we are now being asked to socially distance from our closest friends and family. So does that makes us more divided or united?
Will we ever go back to normal? Or is this the new normal? What happens to our great career and life plans? Does this even make any sense anymore?
The questions are increasing by the day with no clear answers. And when there are no answers, humans generally turn to religion and spirituality. A Wall Street Journal article quotes British historian Herbert Butterfield, who in Christianity and History (1941) suggested that with great calamity also comes greater clarity. “A reflection on catastrophe and cataclysm”as he put it. Just as in the 40s, after the war, Americans turned to faith in greater numbers, perhaps this pandemic might actually change life for the better too, feel the devout and the faithful.
Already, healers and spiritualists have termed this as a much-needed cleansing and reboot for the earth. They talk about the benefits – how the air is getting cleaner, how you see more animals and birds and how this virus doesn’t discriminate thus pointing to the fact that we are all one and the same. Agreed. But some of Corona’s harsh truths have turned every explanation upside down.
First and foremost, it has made us question the one issue that has caused a lot of turmoil around the world – religion. All places of worship across the world have had to be shut. Prayers have been forced to become personal and intimate and not communal and public. Religious leaders, while providing solace, have brought no solutions; that hard work is being carried out in hospitals and research labs, by mere mortals. Health workers are the new heroes. So from now on, will religion become more important or less? Will people actually stop blind belief and superstition and turn to real faith and spirituality? Your guess is as good as mine!
Then there is the talk about the inner change this crisis is seeking to make. Inspiring instagram posts declare this lockdown as an opportunity to go within, foster ties with the family, ensure you slow and give you a chance to introspect. All of this may be true for some but once again it flies in the face of the other side of reality. The reality which states that the differences – especially relating to class – will remain just the same, pandemic or no pandemic. When one sees videos of vacuous celebrities isolating in luxury or spouting philosophy on the joys of solitude even as harrowed health workers, distressed migrants and worried patients fear for their lives, the haves Vs have-nots divide becomes starker than ever. Corona has intensified it. So where are the so-called positives?
There is also the specter of kindness and empathy. For all the chatter about how countries are finally coming together making joint efforts to fight the virus, come reports of increased racism and bigotry and suspicion of the ‘other’. These are some problems that even a pandemic can’t fade.
Yes, a course correction is definitely needed. But what is the right course and who will do it? Religion has proved it does not have the answers at the moment. Politics, as always, has failed us as arguments go on about trade wars, power struggles and incompetent governance. Science, meanwhile, is still seeking answers.
Whatever be the interpretation of the current confusion, the only thing that is certain is that life will not remain the same. School runs, jobs, travel, relationships, faith… everything has changed. The layers that COVID-19 has presented for us to peel go far beyond the scientific. And amidst the chaos, the one striking fact that screams for attention is the fragility of humans. This calamity has not just brought the best and worst within us, it has also struck at the very core of our existence, our way of living and our belief systems.
How do we even cope or make sense of this dystopian reality?