Groups of twelfth and tenth grade students have clustered outside the staffroom as the annoyed teachers wave them away, “We’ll tell you all everything as soon as we get a hold on the situation ourselves”. 12 hours later, most of these students have left the remote valley campus, armed with a mask and a sanitizer. Some have even reached home, places like Jaipur, Delhi and Singapore.
This was the scene at my boarding school when the ICSE and ISC boards had announced the postponement of the annual exams for the tenth and twelfth graders due to the coronavirus outbreak across the country. With extreme professionalism, the school had sent away students of all other classes, home half a month early and we were the only ones left in the valley for a long time; 90 students and their heavy textbooks. The notice requesting the rest of the students to go back home came very quickly in succession to the board’s announcement. And as the story goes, there were none. Such events were replicated globally. Just like that, the coronavirus disrupted schedules, changed plans, uprooted whole events and left the world in confused panic in a slow but single sweep. This is the international pandemic that has, in internet slang, snatched the wig right off everyone’s heads. This sure is a very heavy boat that we all seem to share, too many on the same page, too loud a choir.
With most of the world in their homes, those with internet access are using the world wide web extensively. With such a vast resource on our hands, and time on our sides, it’s not surprising that the internet is so frequently visited now. New trends appear and disappear each day and we are all still grappling with the flood of information. The one I find most interesting and therefore spend most time on is the evolution of a new set of memes: Coronavirus themed memes. The world of memes has it all. One such meme which was surprisingly profound said ‘ it’s almost like Mother Nature sent us all back to our rooms to make us think about what we did; like an angry parent punishes the children’. Even humorous instruments like memes can really make you think!
‘Largest scale experiment ever shows what is possible as satellite images reveal marked fall in global nitrogen dioxide levels’ reads a Guardian article headline. Similar articles stating the positive effect on the environment the disease has have filled the web (newspapers have stopped printing temporarily), and one can unpretentiously say : nature does have a way of finding a way to get back at us. “Never before have so many opportunities existed for pathogens to pass from wild and domestic animals to people,” UN’s environment chief, Inger Andersen told the Guardian, explaining that 75% of all emerging infectious diseases come from wildlife. There is much to be learnt from this whole episode.
On another note, with offices closed, exams cancelled, transport barred and lockdowns imposed, the world has come to a standstill. For those not working from home, this is seen as precious time to ‘connect’ with the family, pick up a new skill, and as portrayed in most lifestyle vloggers’ videos (how do they do it?), spend our time productively. This ideal situation has, however, become very hard to achieve with the presence of the deadly combination of what my father likes to call, “idiot boxes” and the Netflix and Amazon prime subscription, in most households. Do hours spent watching the latest thriller in the living room, albeit together, count as family bonding time? Can spending 30 minutes on a new instrument and quickly giving up be considered as picking up a new skill? However, to be fair, this duration of time probably has yielded fruitful results for some people, but not me.
Will the world be the same after the pandemic’s first wave leaves? We have only now fully recognized how susceptible our global supply chains and distribution networks are to disruption. How will the handling of this pandemic be seen in history? To some, this will appear as a great and definitive triumph for democracy, multilateralism, and universal health care. To others, it will showcase the clear ‘benefits’ of decisive, “authoritarian rule.” writes John Allen from the magazine ‘Foreign Policy’. This crisis has shown us that the world can come together like it has now to fight the climate crisis as well. Another interesting line by Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Sapiens; “entire countries serve as guinea-pigs in large scale social experiments”. Can we save millions of rupees by continuing to work from home, making everything digital? “In normal times, governments, businesses, educational boards would never agree to conduct such experiments”.
Another brilliant meme takes context here, BC and AC as historical terms could now mean ‘before Coronavirus’ and ‘after Coronavirus’. Such is the significance of the event we are in the midst of right now. All the previously asked questions have unknown, and if known, complicated answers. However, one thing is for sure, the stars in the night sky are visible in the city now, and all hope is not lost. The world will pull through this too, like it has multiple times before.
© Bharati Challa, 2020