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‘Covidian’ Times

‘Covidian’ Times

‘Corona virus has a silver lining’! I am afraid, one would be shocked to hear such a statement, especially in the wake of the humans being massively dispirited at the uncalled-for havoc the virus has been causing all over the globe. All the same, I believe, the caption applies to the entire world, to Indians in special. Before going to the point, I think I should make it clear what ‘silver lining’ is all about. ‘Silver lining’ is an ‘ advantage that comes from a  difficult or  unpleasant  situation’. Without doubt, corona virus has spread all over the world a ‘difficult and unpleasant situation’, beyond compare. But, the ‘advantage’ that comes home is a grand ‘discipline’ in life. And that should be an opportunity in the place of a crisis. Yes, it is a ‘blessing’ for the world, rather than a curse, indeed so.   

I don’t think the world outside entertains an opinion that ‘India’ is a disciplined country. Instead, it would be more honest to state that Indians, for the most part, are notorious for being ‘undisciplined’ in life, both public and private. A ‘sense of ethics’ or a ‘rule of law’ in life hardly occurs to a vast majority of people. ‘Convenient logic’ is the norm that seems to run through, almost all over. I suppose I won’t be considered wrong if I state that, more often than not, people are ‘intelligent for themselves, but foolish for others’ or the society. By and large, people know what is best for them, but they are at a loss when it is a question of others. No wonder, hardly anyone thinks that a meaningful human life is grounded in a certain ‘discipline’, both in public and private life.  

Let us for a while consider what the nuts and bolts of ‘discipline’ are and why human life cannot make sense without it. ‘Discipline’ entails ‘code of behaviour’, ‘complying with rules and regulations’, ‘corrective procedures’, and the like. It includes both ‘preventive and curative measures’. Discipline is oriented to a ‘sense of order, balance and harmony’ in social life. It involves refraining from certain dangers and availing oneself of certain benefits, both for oneself and for others. It is an educative process, in view of training people to behave in a certain way and not to behave otherwise. Discipline is to be acted upon at the individual level, but beneficiaries are both individuals and the society at large. In short, discipline is the quality as well as the fruit of human life and human life is next to impossible without it.           

The very first dimension of discipline corona virus teaches Indians is ‘hygiene’. The corona era is known for instructions on hygiene. There has been a national scheme of ‘Swatch Bharat’ (Clean India) in the air for quite some time. It has certainly created some awareness among the civilians. But, hardly anything much has taken place in the lives of the people. Keeping the whole body, hands and face in special, clean; maintaining one’s room, house, office, premises, road and public places dirt free; not spitting or throwing waste outside; and having practices, like wearing gloves and head cover for certain types of work; keeping up conditions conducive to health as well as disease free and sanitary are the main tools of hygiene. The dictum ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ signifies the sense of sacred that is around hygiene. Covid 19 invites the humans in India to make sanitization and cleanliness a personal and public culture. By and large, India has a long way to go in this direction.

Another aspect of discipline from corona virus is ‘social distancing’. This would mean ‘maintaining a physical distance of at least six feet from the other person outside of one’s home’. Manifestly, this is in view of avoiding the spread of the virus. But, it has a stable message, too. India is an over-populated country, with a high density of inhabitance. Besides, Indians have a habit of crowding up. Even while standing in a queue, they literally rub shoulders against each other or stick to the other person, unnecessarily so. The ‘physical distancing’ required by the corona regime is not easy to sink into the minds of the common people in India, who are mostly crowd-like and therefore unruly. No wonder, shocking news of madly crowding is heard from several places even amid the stringent checks and policing due to corona virus. In the post corona period, if some self-discipline in this line remains back in our Indian society, that should be considered a creditable ‘bonus’ of Covid 19. I am sure, it will.           

The ‘lock down’ has been a significant characteristic of the corona times. Although it has been a very awkward experience, a ‘lock down effect’ could be a good discipline for even the post-corona age. The lock down forced people to remain inside, home or house whatever. This was a timely response to the complaint of the modern times that most people have hardly any time to spend with their family or relax. It helped people refrain from a lot of wasteful going about and shopping in the outdoors. It saved loads of crowding in markets and public places, mad rush, traffic jam and outrage on the roads, carbon emissions and pollution in the air, and the like. It contributed to clean air, which even ‘odd even’ provision could not ever achieve. An economy of time, money and energy as well as applying ‘self-restraint’ on one’s movements is a major ‘take away’ from the corona lock down.

One of the most important regulations of the covidian times has been ‘masking the face’. This has indeed been nothing less than a torture for vast majority of people. ‘Face’ would mean ‘expression, features, appearance, and the like. Face is the mark of being recognized and of obtaining one’s dignity. Facial expression is the main means of communication. Women spend a lot of time beautifying their faces, even with colourful lipsticks. Given all that importance, it is indeed unfortunate that face is mandated to be covered. Masking the face, for fear of spreading the pandemic, gives a message that things ought not to be taken for their ‘face value’, because appearances are often deceptive. People should not be discriminated in terms of the face value, too. Beauty is in the character of the person. Too much time should not be wasted for putting on an artificial face. The ‘spirit of equality’ among people is indeed a ‘carry off’.       

The corona era, I believe, has helped evolve a ‘family-based faith’. The compulsory lockdown of the churches, temples, ashrams, mosques and gurudwaras has suspended visiting places of worship and religious heads for participating in rituals intended for worshipping God. Those who were obsessed with ritualistic ways seem to be taking the help of audio-visuals to satiate the age-old habit of rituals. But, it has been a golden opportunity for re-inventing a home-based way of celebrating and living faith. Sharing spontaneous prayer, scripture-reading, meditation, good thoughts and insights are some of the family-based ways of experiencing God. The entire family spending time together, along with the ensuing spirit of love, unity and harmony, is not only humane and godly but also mutually strengthening. As family is the most basic and real unit of the society, engaging with faith has to be more at that level, much more than the sophisticated observances at the superimposed places of worship.          

Corona has taught the humans to ‘reach out to others’ in service, in a major way. The epidemic has taken humanity into its brutal grip, confused it thoroughly and even demoralized it, to a great extent. All the same, the best part of the fatal episode is ‘the way humane sentiments of millions of persons have been awakened across the globe, by way of bigheartedly reaching out to the pandemic-inflicted’, in diverse novel ways. It is indeed edifying to note the disinterested service of doctors, nurses, police, social workers, officers, staff of different departments and researchers, even of simple human beings. ‘Crisscrossing the religious, social, cultural, national and ideological borders’ in dedicated service as fellow human beings has been the culmination of the coronian culture, for the humans of all the times to come. Yes, ‘corona virus has a silver lining’, which is even golden, indeed so!

(The author is Founder Director of Institute of Harmony and Peace Studies, New Delhi. He can be contacted at ‘mdthomas53@gmail.com’)

(Published on 8th June 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 24)