The coronavirus pandemic is our Harry Potter moment. One event that changes life irreversibly. Unfortunately, unlike in Harry Potter, there is no magical solution. Only an indefinite period of waiting and uncertainty ahead.
When Hagrid exclaimed, “Yer a wizard, Harry” at 4, Privet Drive, the life of a young bespectacled boy transformed completely, so did the lives of many teenagers across the world who were reading J. K. Rowling’s books for the first time. Similar points of inflection are rife across young adult dystopian and fantasy novels when that one moment changes your life forever. Perhaps, one of the reasons why those fantasy and dystopian novels were so well-loved across age groups was because we assumed that something like that will never happen to us.
But lo and behold, we are now at a historical crossroad again because of the flu. The coronavirus pandemic has changed life as we know and for a long time, we didn’t even realise it.
‘End of the beginning’
The new reality during the Covid-19 lockdown now comprises the four walls of our house, friends replaced by phones, offices by laptops and meetings by awful video conferences. But perhaps the most bewildering aspect of the current situation is the uncertainty, which obviously breeds fear. It seems foolish to say “when this is over”, because in the end we are all asking the question, “Will this get over?”.
A question that Dr David Nabarro from the World Health Organization (WHO) answered with a terrifying possibility. During an interaction with India Today, he said that while we may be able to contain the virus, we might never be able to eradicate it completely. Thus, in effect, according to Dr Nabarro, we may have to learn to live with the virus. Our future may just be dictated by this unknown, unfettered enemy and the only thing we can do is adapt to it. And wash hands.
Even if we emerge from this crisis unscathed, it will not be the same for everyone, something that physicist Yangyang Cheng argues. Cheng notes that with businesses crumbling, several people unemployed and anxiety at an all-time high, it is difficult to see what is beyond the corona horizon. “There is no going back to normal. Even when the disease is brought to heel, it would only be the end of the beginning,” she says. And no one really knows what this new beginning will consist of.
However, we do know that it will be in the after. For American political commentator Thomas L. Friedman, we are on the cusp of a historical divide — B.C. (before coronavirus) and A.C. (after coronavirus). What characterises this A.C. is the fear of the uncertain, especially since institutions, as we know them, are disintegrating in the face of the pandemic, and it’s only a waiting game to see which ones survive in the after.
We may survive, but at what cost
All movies dealing with end-of-the-world scenarios, conclude with humanity reigning supreme. Perhaps, this is not the worst time for ideal optimism and we may actually get through this. But the choices we make now and in the next few months will invariably decide the path society and the world at large will take.
Israeli historian and author Yuval Noah Harari sees this in terms of the practices the government is undertaking — particularly the increase in surveillance. The very nature of ‘privacy’ will be altered as the social practices and habits of others take dominance now. Advocate and author Abhinav Chandrachud has warned against laws that outlive the crisis and take on a life of its own. Some say, coronavirus has given China’s state even more power, permanently.
No one wants a Big Brother watching over their moves to ensure that citizens comply with rules. It did not work in the dystopian world of George Orwell’s 1984 or Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, and it definitely will not work here. Something perhaps our own police personnel should take heed of.
The one change that is going to have a lasting impact is this categorical shift to the virtual. With the virus impeding any actual contact between two people, the virtual has now become the new real, for many. From information, work, entertainment, therapy — everything, and I mean almost everything, is unequivocally online. And this can lead to two possible conclusions — a shift away from regular human interactions or a reinforcement of the importance of these interactions.
Either way, one thing is certain — the normal that we will encounter in the future will be a fundamentally different one.
Views are personal.