Sunday, April 14, 2024

Coronavirus Cogitations: Choices henceforth  

Monalisa Changkija

From where we stand now, it is difficult to envisage a future ~ or so many of us may think. To some extent, it is true because the novel Coronavirus has changed, is changing and will further change everything ~ life we used to know, used to live. Humankind has always effected change and lived through change thereby creating more change ~ but all that was based on our past. Now, the change is unimagined, unplanned and at the speed of light ~ by the second, so to speak ~ and not based on the past. It’s like the past is being totally erased and we have no alternative but to begin from scratch ~ there’s just a blank page to write our lives from here on. True, there was the Bubonic Plague, the 1918 Flu, etc., and recently SARS, MERS and Ebola but none of them had the global proportions of the current Coronavirus. Moreover, in the interim, the world changed drastically ~ and totally unprepared for a pandemic this huge.

All of us are agreed that the world and life will no longer be the same but perhaps some good will come out of it all. And, a lot of bad will also emerge, socially, economically, politically, even culturally. There are numerous predictions and projections of the new world that is likely to emerge ~ a lot of it negative though. And the new world could very well be un-rosy but then when was life rosy, especially for the less fortunate. Still, at the end of the day, I believe the world, life, would be what we make them to be ~ to a certain extent. I say, to a certain extent because there are so many things beyond our control ~ and so many thing we don’t recognize for what they are and don’t know how to deal with them. The reasons, I believe, are basically due to the little political, economic, social, cultural and religious boxes we have been patterned and programmed to fit into. And, to a certain extent, the reasons, I believe, are also due to our individual and collective mental and psychological make-up. Generally, I believe, we make the world, life, due to a combination of Nature and nurture.

Nature and nurture will still continue to interplay in the new world that is already in the making so now the question is: how much of our humanity, our human-ness, will we retain and how much will we discard? Will we discard our morality, beliefs, faiths, ethics, principles, philosophies, integrity and our emotional strengths, especially empathy, to survive in a new world that would likely draw class and caste lines between the fittest and the weakest ~ or would the diametrically opposite happen? In the new world already in the making, what will happen is what we make happen. How we have fared so far is for us to search our souls, which could probably provide a glimpse of the new world we are creating and where we are headed.

The Coronavirus has emphatically underscored the saying: “One for all and all for one”. But now this saying has different connotations ~ it is now forcing us to shed our hitherto cherished concepts and practices of narrow domestic tribal walls. Actually, globalization had made that crystal clear ~ oh, but if only we had seen it; if only we had realized that we may own small pieces of land for which we kill and maim but we don’t own the air, which doesn’t recognize and respect human ownership, much less man-made borders and boundaries. The novel Coronavirus now emphatically underscores and prompts the urgency to shed our biases and prejudices, our chauvinism, our racism and our xenophobia, even our petty little agenda of power, wealth and fame, because we don’t live in ghettos with our own kind ~ and there is no guarantee that some shinning divine or extraterrestrial shield protects us. See, we are all in this together and only together can we see this through.

Economy, particularly the capitalistic economic systems and structures, has always been the fundamental basis of temporal human life and survival ~ let’s say, broadly since the emergence of industrialization. That the Coronavirus has shaken the very foundations of this economic system and its evolved dimensions is inarguable. Today, economies of country after country are increasingly being rushed to the ICU ~ and the ventilators are few and far between. India too is heading towards the same direction. So, what about Nagaland, which is totally dependent on the Centre’s largesse, which will no longer be as generous ~ at least not for some time? How will be manage? The way I see it, there are some probable scenarios to this issue ~ for one, the greater sections of our society have always managed somehow to keep body and soul together by falling on their ingenuity and Nature’s bounty and will continue to do so. Two, the salaried may see some pay-cuts, unlikely though, but they will manage quite well because this section has the maximum investments in land, constructions, businesses, farms, insurance, etc., and of course, the privilege of education and connections to power. This means that they will retain a firm hold on the upper rungs of power. As for the political class, we have no reason to worry because they can take care of themselves ~ and how. So it will be the section of our population, who has no guaranteed jobs, who are not land holders, who has no access to quality medical facilities and education, whose livelihood is seasonal and whose livelihood is also dependent on the vagaries of Nature and political, economic and social upheavals, as also health epidemics and pandemics ~ in short the most peripheralized but ironically the most germane to our middle class and the classes above, the upwardly mobile and generally the aspiring brand-centric sections of society to keep them centre-stage inside the mainstream.

So how do we envisage our society in the already emerging new world? For now, let’s focus on the economic aspects. Prices are already sky-rocketing and it is likely that they will escalate higher, especially after the lockdown is lifted, because of shortages and scarcities of food, essential commodities and other goods for obvious reasons. The other reason why we will see prohibitive prices, especially of fruits, vegetables and herbs, in our local markets is because the get-rich-quick DNA is inherent in us ~ we have seen it even in the pre-Coronavirus days ~ in fact, right from the time we were introduced to the market economy. Also, because somehow it has entered our psyche that “local” is better hence it has to be dearer. See, unless we grow on an industrial and commercial scale, most of our vegetables and fruits grow in our compounds/land-holdings, even on flower pots, with no, or little, cash and labour investment ~ as for our herbs, they are totally free Nature’s bounty. So, we have the choice to charge the earth for them and bring them home unsold to feed the pigs or rot, or sell them at reasonable prices because everyone’s purchasing power has reduced drastically, courtesy the Coronavirus pandemic and let’s not forget that India’s economy was already nose-diving before the pandemic. The need for reasonable pricing applies to all sectors of our economic activities ~ second-hand clothes, dress designing, beauty salons, fast food joints, lounges, confectionaries, whatever our people are into. Clearly, the content, character and the context of our economy, as it were, would depend on either our choice to rebuild it wisely or on get-rich-quick fantasies.

Our state Government could think of forming some kind of working group consisting of people with experience in the dynamics of the very basic local business at the grass root level such as local vegetable vendors and other tiny and small-scale businesses to economically engineer, revive, strengthen and empower the backbone of our local economy, which provides livelihood and sustains thousands of our people outside the organized sectors. Sorry, that was a very long sentence, I know. Anyway, please continue to stay home and stay safe. Never has it been more vital to be public-spirited and humane as now.