What will life be like in Post-COVID India?

“There are decades where nothing happens and then there are weeks where decades happen” — Vladimir Lenin

Current times have been difficult to wrap our heads around. Times are tough indeed but these times is also a lesson for humanity’s mistakes in the past century. Man did not learn from the Spanish flu of 1920, that killed 50 million people just 100 years ago. Nor did it learn from the Great Wars, biological warfare, earthquakes, floods, famines and other natural disasters. It is very simple, the loss of human life in a calamity is directly proportional to the density it lives in at the place of occurrence of the calamity, the more spread out humans live, the lesser loss of life. Suppose you live in a war-torn country, living in a dense urban fabric would mean a higher probability of death due to war hostilities when compared to a rural or country landscape. The same applies to disasters like fires, floods, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, cyclones, riots, gas leaks, mass exoduses, road accidents, locust attacks and others that come to mind. We have not yet achieved mastery over all laws and secrets of nature to accurately predict such events. It is only wise to anticipate the probability of occurrence of each disaster when a settlement of humans is created.

India’s migrant crisis 2020 was among the biggest exodus since the Partition.

Capitalism has moulded man to live in an excessively conditioned environment over the past century and it has had drastic effects on the human body. It has now adapted to the artificially created environment and has reduced pain threshold and immunity. Even with sophisticated healthcare, the whole world is struggling with a pandemic with less than even 7 million infections as of the writing of this essay.

To answer the question: What kind of future is ahead? Or, Will there be a future? The instinct of a species is to ensure its survival. It is too early to speculate when this pandemic will fizzle out or how many lives it will claim. We could gain immunity to the virus this year itself, or it could wipe out half the humanity like the Black Death. To speak like an optimist, when things get back to ‘normal’, the society would have gone through one of its most traumatic experiences. Society would be hesitant to participate in normal events without adjoining social stigma. The generational gap between baby boomers and millennials has exposed widespread stigma towards technological advances in the former. Once COVID-19 retreats and ‘normal’ life resumes, I’m afraid the barbaric practice Untouchability would be reintroduced to the society — only this time it wouldn’t be based on birth in caste but birth, life (or death) in health. What fun would be a music concert where everyone is social distancing and not crammed up into one another? How would our buses and trains run profitably if they are not jampacked? How will our promises of decongestion of roads ever bear fruit when everyone has to travel in separate vehicles for the sake of social distancing? So much for saving the planet, so much for climate change. Life, as we know it, has changed forever. Nothing will ever be the way it was, this is one of those significant moments in history that are forever remembered and continue to have an impact on humankind for long, like the birth of Christ, the fall of Constantinople, the discovery of the Americas, or the lunar landings. We have been living in the Pre-COVID era all our lives and what lies ahead is the Post-COVID era, where physical contact between individuals would be incriminated and punished.

Image: Reuters

Humankind will change its perspective and approach towards life. Not because it has been moved with self-reflective thought in the quarantine but to ensure its survival as a species. In the last couple of decade, India has seen a booming rise in urban areas, highrises and commercial complexes have increased the population density drastically. India already is the second-most populous country in the world and always under the threat of war with hostile neighbours. The high concentration of inhabitants is a great disadvantage during wars for airstrikes and in the current case, a pandemic. The current population of Hyderabad is 10 million people, with a density of 18,480 people living in one square kilometre. Now pair this population density with a large chunk of the population that just disregards all cleanliness and safety standards in their lifestyle, you get a higher rate of infections in a pandemic even with a strictly imposed lockdown. With the horrible memories of mass exodus, starvation, deaths due to ignorance, people have all but grown to be more attentive to the surroundings, at least for the future if not now. People are more appreciative of the freedom they had to travel and socialise as they please. Social companionship has always been the intimate bond that is created by continuous interaction, with often involvement of physical touch. Rejecting a handshake was considered unprofessional in a business meeting and rude in a casual setting. Now in the Post-COVID era, handshakes are a strict no. Hugs are even more dangerous are you are violating the individual’s safe distance. However consensual physical interaction would still be practised but not without hesitation and second thoughts about it.

Booming real estate industry helped skilled labour earn bread.

Commercial establishments have been hit hard by COVID19 lockdowns, with asking its employees to work from home, the company operations have been running but not with the desired efficiency. The spaces where we work tend to inspire to work. The efficiency of a worker depends on the surrounds, the number of distractions, the comfort or even the perks. Workspaces are specifically designed to maximise productivity and get the most work done in a 9–5 shift of an employee. Sure Zoom and Google Meet has brought the office meeting room and the classroom to your living room. The meetings over these web clients largely depend on the availability of high-speed internet and compatible devices to run them. Additionally, there are much more distractions at home due to various factors and conflict of interest in house members whereas in an office space every individual has a sole interest and it is the interest of the establishment. In developing countries like India, this is not an option for the long run as the majority of the households do not have access to high-speed internet or devices to run them. Work from home would be encouraged only as long as the pandemic goes on. Companies would refuse to pay the employees their full salaries to work from home due to lack of efficiency in work. This would contribute to another economic recession as the world economies are already failing due to various factors. Pandemics and economic instability come hand in hand as it has occurred the previous centuries, the Spanish Flu and the Great Depression in 1929 when Wall Street crashed. In 2020, the world is presently subjected to authoritarian regimes and riots against them, a pandemic, a global recession, World War III scare, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, typhoons, cyclones, racism and starvation. It would try its best to get back on its feet again at least financially and it would not look forward to work from home for the sole reason of work efficiency.

“To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering” — Friedrich Nietzsche

The human race must give up dense urban cities to prevent future disasters. Apartments and colonies where houses are built with no setbacks, no circulation space and natural light are an abomination of the 21st century. Cities must spread out horizontally in the future and break apart from building tall skyscrapers and increase the population density. Evenly spread out homes and cities with proper distance between each house with a lung space in every sector, colony, and locality would benefit not just the environment but also the residents. The practice of planned development needs to be brought to India again, where unmonitored and unplanned development has exhausted its valuable natural resources. During the 1900’s Bubonic plague in Hyderabad State, the disease was brought under control with ease due to the lesser population, lesser urban density, obedient citizens and effective quarantining. When a Pre-Modern state that is considered to be oppressive can win over a much more dangerous plague, Modern India with sophisticated and world-class hospitals and a much higher literacy rate should be able to win over it with ease.

Chaotic evil.

Homo Sapiens have always been evolving, and we have still not reached our final stage of evolution. Our ethics are different than what they were 50 years ago, our technology is different, our beliefs are different, we know more about the planet than ever before, yet we’re still not near the stage of perfection. The values of discrimination have always been deep-rooted inside the society and it continues. Education has been diminished to outdated syllabuses and prehistoric teaching standards. Just a few months ago, hiding your face in a public place was considered to be a security threat and oppressive, now going outside without a mask is subject to penalties and fines. It is just an example of how quickly ethics and principles change in our society. However, no matter how modern India becomes, how much it tries to westernize, her roots still lie in tales of old, in philosophy, in art, in tradition, in religion, in its fields, and most importantly, in its poor.

“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.” — Sigmund Freud

All there’s left to do is wait and observe the most happening course of time in the history of the universe.

by Sibghat Khan

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