Over the last fourteen months, we have probably heard the term 'lockdown' more often than our own names. It's a term that initially elicited our curiosity; a term that has now come to inspire feelings of horror, boredom and deep malaise. Etymologically speaking, in 19th century America, 'lockdown' referred to "a strip of wood or peg that secured the poles or a raft together, when timber was transported by river" (Steven Poole, The Guardian). Later, in the 1970s, the term acquired a different meaning- "an extended state of confinement for inmates of prisons or hospitals". However, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has majorly redefined the term, and what does such a redefinition mean for us?
Under lockdowns, our lives have undergone a dramatic change. Confined to our homes, we were forced to engage with our family and our residence in a different way, and this novelty has translated into quality family time and renewed relationships. On the other hand, it has also had a negative impact. By spending an increased amount of time with a person, we began to see them truly for what they were, and we discovered things that were entirely unknown, leading to an irretrievable breakdown in many relationships. Our typical outdoor routines were replaced by indoor ones, and this change was significant. We were left to fend for ourselves, to do things we've never done before. The domestic space that was entirely consigned to the females in many patriarchal societies, gradually became a shared space, with each family member needing to pitch in. The news became our crucial connection with the outside world and its ever changing situation. We witnessed panic buying, and grocery store shelves became empty within hours, a sight that was new and shocking for most of us. Some of the busiest and bustling landmarks and cities went completely still, wearing emptiness and desertion like clothing.
The lockdowns made their statement very clear from the beginning: Change was, and continues to be, the only permanent thing. Like Darwin's Finches, we made changes to adapt. Our formal clothing and outdoor attires were completely replaced by homewear, a trend that launched a revamp of the global fashion industry, and prompted fashion labels to invest in comfortable home clothing ranges. We became extremely reliant on technology- Zoom and Google Meet became our major tools for communication. We used them for everything, right from organizing meetings, parties, graduation ceremonies to international festivals. Our social lives migrated from in-person interaction and physical meetings to WhatsApp messages, video calls and phone calls. There was also a shift in our entertainment. With malls, cinemas, amusement parks and restaurants being shut, we took to OTT platforms, audiobooks and paperbacks. For a brief period, even sporting events were canceled or pushed back, including the iconic Tokyo Olympics that is scheduled for later this year.
In Education, the changes were rather unprecedented. Asking a field that thrived a lot on person-to-person contact and interaction to replace that with online learning, was quite a difficult ask. However, online education was quick to pick up. Soon, schools and colleges were making use of Google Meet, Zoom and educational apps like Google Classroom to impart learning. Online learning had its perks: it gave educators a chance to experiment, make use of audio-visual tools and get creative to the core. But, the advantages notwithstanding, the disadvantages were plenty as well. Online learning meant an increased exposure to the computer screens, short attention spans, difficulty in understanding concepts, and so on. While online learning might have substituted for traditional classes during the lockdown, there can be no substitute for the loss of school and college experience, an experience that is crucial in the lives of the students.
During the lockdown, we have all suffered immensely at a psychological level. Coming to terms with uncertainty was extremely difficult, and the fear was accompanied by severe anxiety. The human mind is a creature of habit, and a constant upheaval of established routine can cause mental health issues. The current lockdowns, especially in India, are particularly hard to handle, as this time around, there is a rampant sense of hopelessness, a marked absence of the "light at the end of the tunnel". The psychological issues that stem from financial worries are especially worrisome.
The lockdowns have considerably slowed down the economy, with many sectors taking a huge hit, like the airlines, travel and tourism, small businesses and daily wage occupations. The lockdown resulted in many layoffs, and unemployment rates shot up. Many people lost their jobs, forcing them to compete for new positions, even those at entry level. This made the job market extremely competitive, and left the fresh graduates with an arduous uphill climb. The economic effects of the lockdown were primarily felt by the lower classes of the society- the migrants, the daily-wage laborers, street vendors, shop owners and small restaurateurs. Surely, none of us can forget the gut-wrenching images of migrants collapsing on the streets, dying of hunger and thirst?
The lockdown prompted most of us to reflect and introspect, to evaluate our choices. Some people realized that they didn't like being around people, while others realized that human company was what they cherished the most. Many of us decided to invest in ourselves, to work towards our happiness. Many artists and musicians produced some of their best works, by channeling their new-found creative spirit. We all made choices, depending on our circumstances. It can be assuredly said that most of us are a far cry from our pre-pandemic selves.
For me, the lockdown achieved something rather unique. The pandemic forced us all into wearing masks, leaving our eyes as the most prominent feature of our face. Whenever the lockdown afforded rare glimpses of other people, I have looked into their eyes and formed a deeper understanding with them, perhaps a more profound understanding of the fact that, more than anything else, it is the knowledge and experience of suffering that unites us all.
More than anything else, the lockdown made us acknowledge the binaries and inequalities that prevail all around us: the poor people struggled for food, while most of us could afford the luxury of ordering via Swiggy and Zomato. While some sectors enabled their employees to work from home, the frontline workers had to put our needs before theirs, and they've worked tirelessly to ensure that we remain safe and healthy. Some of us lost our dear ones, while others formed new, life-changing relationships. The lockdown exposed all our disparities. As India collectively battles a shortage of oxygen, we realize that our concrete jungles and skyscrapers cannot help us in any way. During the lockdown, the environment has greatly improved, and it speaks volumes about the human-nature relationship. For lockdowns to work, we have understood the importance of moral and social wisdom. The pandemic and the lockdowns have written a tale full of heterogeneity and diversity. While their effects have been different at different places and on different people, the fact that we continue to be in this together, unites us.
The pandemic redefined the very meaning of 'lockdown', and in that process, it has made us take stock of our blessings, of our communities and our countries. It has redefined our lifestyles, and it has shown that change cannot be denied. It has shown us that plans, however perfect and foolproof, can fail. Most importantly, it has shown us the value of cooperation, of working together and helping each other in times of need. The pandemic and the lockdowns have provided us with valuable lessons, and it's high time that we learn from them.
Image Source: The Cambridge International Blog
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