By Saheed Meo
In a spurt of the moment, if somebody asks me, ‘What is the date today?’ or ‘Which day is it today?’, it will certainly take me a much longer pause in producing a response than it might take on otherwise normal days. Reconnecting with the wider social reality is what almost everybody is cribbing for. To contain the tragic impacts of Covid-19, the perforce lockdown 1.0, then 2.0, and now 3.0 have taken a toll on our everydayness, its structure, rhythm and liveliness.
We are overwhelmingly engrossed in something which is still beyond our comprehension. Our everyday life is unimaginably disfigured. Both the 9:00 to 5:00 job routine for the middle class and the everyday struggle of the lower class to earn a livelihood stand dismantled. Nonetheless, the reality beyond such pre-scheduled living always seemed as delusional or unwanted. Now, when the hellish pandemic has given us a reality check, we are feeling torn apart. It is both hope and despair that have defined our everydayness during the lockdown. Our everyday world is an unholy mix of fractured familial rhythm, tasting distrust, experiencing uncertainties and having incessant engagements with the virtual world. While reflecting on such micro aspects, especially of the middle class where the author situates himself, this write up tries to explain consequential restructuring of our everydayness during Covid-19 lockdown period.
Fractured Familial Rhythm
The middle class is often perceived to have a set familial rhythm, taste and priorities. In the metropolitan cities, their adherence to a 9:00 to 5:00 work routine is ‘business as usual’. The emergent situation due to Covid-19 has put an unusual check on this everyday-life rhythm, freedom and weekend outings. In the hurly-burly of everyday activities, now procuring the groceries, struggling to work from home, managing children’s online classes and their stress are the soaring add-ons amid the pandemic-induced impatience.
Everyday experiences of compressed-self and loitering of ever-enthusiastic children within confines of home are seriously heartbreaking for many of us anxious middle class parents. Being a parent of two children, aged 2 and 5, I too feel the heat of fractured familial rhythm. Childhood is getting squeezed, though temporarily it may appear, into unbearable sequential phases of lockdown. Children, with their endless questions and insatiable quest, militate acrimoniously. Personally speaking, my younger child is totally clueless, while the elder one attempts to make sense of some deadly disease outside named ‘corona’, now a favourite word in her growing vocabulary.
Amid the lockdown, a distanced social life with the wider society, relatives, friends and weekly visits to shopping malls is unusually disturbing. Almost every other family you talk to will narrate endless everyday sufferings, discomfort and incessant negotiations to procure essentials of their everyday need. Some have got their refrigerator broken, Reverse Osmosis (RO) defunct, and smart phones smashed, while some others got their television damaged, all of which made the life of middle class woefully miserable. Eventually, amidst adjusting themselves with the new levels of broken reality and discomfort levels, the unimaginable zigzag rhythm of daily routine is a far cry for the middle class families.
Withering Trust, Ensuing Uncertainties
Besides constricting familial rhythms, the pandemic has also led to the rise of societal distrust and uncertainties in our everyday world. Presumably, on a lighter note as I do say, the virus is inbuilt with ‘guerrilla tactics’ that means a considerable number of cases go unnoticed due to being asymptomatic, likely to infect innumerable other fellow beings. Thus the enemy being invisible and beyond human grasp make it more scary and dreadful. Everyone suspects everyone. Instead of physical distancing, the ‘social distancing’, a misnomer though, has become a much pronounced social fact. Pre-existing societal norms and values of collective engagements stand partially dismantled. Our everyday life is filled with incredibly unsettling and widely circulated binaries: love and hate, trust and distrust, life and death, and certainty and uncertainty. Every new morning makes us tread into a renewed struggle of hope and despair.
Our days are also dotted with scorching sensuality while witnessing too much ‘othering’ of Muslims, stereotyping and labeling of them on flimsy grounds. Laudable speakers of truth to power like Safoora Zargar, a scholar in Jamia Millia Islamia and a pregnant woman, are dealt heavy-handedly and forcibly put behind the bars under the charges as serious as sedition and inciting violence. The heart feels heavier to record that Covid-19 has witnessed the widening of major fault lines in the society, and an ensuing senselessness with which the state deals with its citizenry. Specifically, my day is torn apart while looking at helpless migrants, including women, children and elderly walking thousands of kilometers barefoot, some in a very inhuman way by hiding in containers, water or oil tankers or concrete mixer machines, and, some getting killed gruesomely en-route. The shell-shocked news of discrimination with frontline warriors such as doctors, nurses and airhostesses, and opposing of formation of quarantine centers and cremations/burial of corona-infected dead bodies in certain residential areas are soul-crushing moments. Naturally, the deeper-self whispers with a sigh, ‘Where is the state?’ Have we, even as a society, lost all our humane sensibilities and/or what a French sociologist said ‘collective conscience’ to caring, loving via collective morality?
Nevertheless, in the midst of all this, the innumerable bright spots, unfolding of love and humanity, must not be overlooked. This is the hope, a possibility of rejuvenating humanity on earth. My day is made when witnessing police in different avatars, distributing food and essentials to the people, carrying frail bodies to the hospital, and, yes, most lovingly, Muslims carry dead body of their Hindu neighbour on their shoulders in a ceremonial procession to the cremation ground. The country-wide demonstrations of support and love for the frontline warriors, equating them with the God, are equally heart-touching.
Everyday Engagements with the Virtual World
The everyday shocking spectacle of deaths via media, news of innumerable life-threatening hardships of the destitute and the marginalized, hate mongering via television news shows, WhatsApp forwards and Facebook posts have now become a new normal.
Well-informed and much advertised Twitter storm is launched to spread competing information widely and wildly. The post-truthness got its full life in the time of Covid-19. It is no more a hollow slogan of postmodernism. Our days also witness virtually immeasurable speed with which all sorts of probable causes, carriers and life threatening cures of Covid-19 are produced and pushed into public consciousness. It is an ensuing infodemic amplifying myths leading to heightening the stigma and dreadfulness of the pandemic causing much harm, as the virus is doing. Fakeness has gained undue currency, and the real has become rare. The difference between science and myth is now blurred. In all this, the virus got its edge! Nonetheless, the world bodies like World Health Organization (WHO), states, and certain responsible media organizations have started fact-checking apps/sites. However, a significant number of us are in such a tearing hurry in our everyday engagements that we don’t have time to self-verify the information we receive via different social media.
Presumably, the pre-Covid-19 time and the post-Covid-19 may be two different worlds. As per the reports, while nature is vociferously rebooting itself, the societies all across the world also need to ponder to re-set their priorities. Let us hope that in the post-Covid-19 world, insanity loses and sanity survives, true democratic spirits make a comeback and the multiple ‘isms’ dwindle, our egos get subsided, while selfless love with widespread liveliness triumphs. Let’s wish and pray that that world is not too far.
Saheed Meo is working as Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, School of Arts and Social Sciences, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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