Of COVID-19’s first anniversary- The New Indian Express


Making rules and breaking rules is how we sum up the last 12 months since March 2020 when the lockdown began and changed the world. The pandemic divided mankind into those who cared and those who didn’t.

The rich took off in private planes to private islands and drank Dom Perignon in underground bunkers while the poor and the middle class perished in millions.

The pandemic also showed humanity’s hidden heart: thousands of Corona Warriors – frontline health workers – who risked their lives to save patients, often losing the fight. Intimacy portended horror and separation.

The world was plunged into a surreal twilight where disease, death and despair were the horsemen of the Coronacalypse. National economies collapsed. World leaders went into denial and then tried desperately to stop the viral culling of their old folk and youth.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked Indians to beat their steel plates and switch on cellphone torches, and citizens obliged to scare the virus away. Yogapreneur Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali was quick to cash in on with a Coronil kit that promised a coronavirus cure and immunity boost earning him a quick rap on the knuckles from the Union Health Ministry. India got on the wrong side of the news on its handling of individual and media freedom, but vaccine diplomacy has brought it instant kudos.

Even terrorists took a break, more afraid of death by coronavirus than by suicide. It was 12 months of new phrases and actions that was oxygen for lexiconists – dictionary.com, wordhippo.com and the like got into the act with gusto.

Phrases like ‘herd immunity’ were no longer referred to sheep. People worked from home and students took online classes along with online games.

The Yale happiness class, one of the varsity’s most popular classes, offered “The Science of Well-Being”, which saw over 3.3 million people signing up. In the shadow of a second wave, vaccines and dosages are being debated. Optimism is turning out to be the best antibody to fight COVID-19. A light-hearted look at the times on the anniversary of the lockdown.

Masked and Awash

As 2020 staggered in awash in war, climate change and Donald Trump, it was Musk to Mask never has Elon Musk’s Mars colony felt so appealing. Turns out, as the year ended, people were still learning how to correctly wash their hands.

Take a bow, citizens of the Earth. This past year has truly taught us the meaning of 20 seconds yes, that’s how long you should be washing your hands. And about that mandatory mask, well when Gucci makes masks and the bride enters wearing one, you know the world will never be the same again. And Corona wasn’t something you smoked any more.

The China Shop

No other country has got more bad press than China during the pandemic. Donald Trump kept calling it the Chinese virus since it is believed to have originated from a batty Wuhan wet market. Indians decided to junk buying Chinese (However, Zomato delivers chowmein and wontons as if China is closing down) though it is during this period that exports to China in 2020 touched USD 17.12 billion and Beijing took its slot back as India’s top trade partner.

This is How We Rock It

The coronavirus hit butter chicken and bhangra right in the solar perplex. The celebratory spirit went back in the bottle. But there is only so much one can do without a ‘pawry’. The Big Fat Indian Wedding shrunk to Size ‘S’ – S for snazzy, smart, sexy – with a virtual upgrade; birthday parties, kitties, and family get-togethers went Zooming. As celebrations went digital, the show-sha went on, complete with bubbly, cake, designer wear, and of course muah muahs.

Shop and Shop Some More

Restaurants shut. No pubbing or catching up with friends. Not even bitching the boss out at work or dissing that know-it-all colleague. Home alone with work and chores. What can one do in this situation? When COVID-19 times go tough, the tough go shopping. It was then ‘fastest finger first’. The question whether you ‘really needed’ it will happen only later when the credit card bill drops into your mailbox. 

Bow, Bump, Namaste

The Japanese and the Indians had figured out social distancing long ago. The bow and the namaste became the ‘greeting shield’ when maintaining the two-hand distance became de rigueur at ATMs and supermarkets. Or did the elbow bump for dudes.

People schmoozed less with less, and as a result got to know each other better. Parties became dinners and lunches with no more than six people who sanitised their hands before sitting down. Here’s a tip: If you think others are getting too close for comfort, clear your throat noisily and wipe your nose not so elegantly. Voila! You have your space.

TikToking

While we self-isolated and stayed indoors, our smartphones were our windows to the world. Till we decided to flip the camera and let the world look in as we doled out beauty advice, cooking tips, forgotten grandma’s recipes; picked out what to read, what to watch, how to live, how to beat COVID-19, how to laugh, how to… the list is endless. It seemed the world had collective amnesia overnight and social media influencers had to teach them all the tricks before 2021  dropped.

One never knew there are so many influencers peddling their wares. Narcissism got an upgrade as people togged up and FaceTimed. All dressed up and nowhere to go became the new normal as photos and videos of rigged out himbos and bimbos flooded Instagram.

TikTok became a quarantine subculture’s pack leader with videos – some funny, some moody – that took your mind off the bad news. Though stand-up comedy is a serious business in India – not cracking a joke can land you in jail in the age of COVID-19. 

DIY is the Name of the Game

With most services staying shut for a long period due to the lockdown, people took to doing it all themselves. From coming up with DIY beauty secrets, gardening tips, to even making coffee tables and garden chairs with scraps… everything and anything is within reach. All you need is a YouTube tutorial or two, a creative mind, a handy glue gun and you could almost float your own home business.  

Turbo-charging Fitness

Remember how we would always make excuses for our weight by saying: “Oh, but there is no time to go to the gym.” Well, in 2020 there were no excuses as the gyms came home to you. Literally. Experts say the pandemic has seen a surge in gym membership, never mind the fact that it is digital.

In fact, virtual classes allow for in-person and targeted coaching. And in these uncertain times, who doesn’t want that? Weight loss by video went a step up with walk at home videos.

Keyed In

The lockdown also brought with it its share of happiness. When was the last time you got to spend so much time with family? Locked in together at home, it was time to reconnect and revisit old memories and make new ones.

With no office to go to, no parties to attend, no schools and colleges to keep you busy, family took centre stage. The unstable times stressed the importance of relationships and cherishing those close to us. It also made people sit up and break up: many realised that relationships suck.

COVID break-up is a recognised lifestyle condition. Domestic abuse rose across the world as couples were cooped up for months, and a dedicated hotline to deal with domestic violence was launched during the lockdown by yes, you read it right Uttar Pradesh Police.

Education without Borders

Quarantine was a brown study after schools showed no signs of opening. Physical classrooms became somewhat redundant after e-learning brought schooling home. Digital tools such as Google Classroom, Khan Academy, ePathshala and others broadened the scope of pedagogy and made knowledge-sharing dynamic.

Pandemic-jolted professionals invested time in upskilling. Engineering/IT, BFSI, manufacturing, among others, were the sectors that generated the maximum traction, according to Great Learning, an online higher education portal, that recently released its user trends assessment. 

Fashion Forward

It took a pandemic to shake up the industry and make designers cognizant of the importance of e-com. Finally, many retailers took to launching websites or partnered with popular online shopping portals to drive in revenues.

Given that India’s e-commerce market is expected to grow from USD 38.5 billion in 2017 to USD 200 billion by 2026, according to a report by the Indian Brand Equity Foundation, established names such as Gaurav Gupta, Kshitij Jalori and others opened portals to channel your inner shopper.

Health in Your Hands

With the unprecedented loss of normalcy, 2020 was the year of collective bereavement. The meteoric rise in the number of anxiety and depression cases was the biggest sign of doom. Mental health issues came out of the shadows to haunt people in broad daylight.

As many as 68.6 percent of therapists reported an increase in patients and time spent with them, according to a study conducted by the Delhi-based mental health service platform, The Center of Healing (TCOH).

Fitbit noted a 38 percent decline in the average steps taken by individuals worldwide. It also found that 74 percent reported stress and 88 percent reported anxiety. Having said that, this state of emotional emergency gave rise to people seeking help.

Psychiatric counselling went online, with more people being able to access it. Digital health tools emerged as constant companions. A 25 percent rise in health app downloads was noted since the pandemic broke out. Specialised ones for pregnancy care, geriatric issues, sleep monitoring, and heart and stroke care offered instant updates.

Home is Where the Office is

Within the landscape of uncertainty with downsizing, pay cuts and layoffs, work from home came as a saving grace for businesses. One could now ‘go to work’ in pajamas. Words such as ‘workations’ came into existence with people travelling to popular holiday destinations in the latter part of the pandemic months, such as Goa, Kerala, Mussoorie, Shimla and others, and setting up ‘office’ there.

Automation technologies boomed. According to a PwC study in December 2019, 74 percent of companies planned to increase spending on HR tech in 2020 to address pressing talent needs.

Travel Smart

Urban mobility patterns saw a dramatic shift as the use of public transport came to a grinding halt. This was seen as an opportunity for improving walking and cycling infrastructure. Many argued the need for reassessing priorities about road transportation systems, given that the pandemic had exposed several inefficiencies such as the burden of population, toxic emissions, noise pollution, absence of safe pedestrian paths, lack of cycling tracks, inadequate last-mile connectivity, and an overall state of dilapidation with regards to public transport. 

Take Care

With upended routines, self-care became about survival. The pandemic put the ‘I’ in COVID as self-care became a priority. People woke up to the merits of afternoon naps, meditation, journaling, gardening, cleaning, drawing, baking and more. Also, with salons shut, women began ordering beauty tools and kits at home, saving both time and money.

Truly, Essentially Yours

Behavioural patterns among manufacturers and consumers changed with regard to essential commodities. For the first time masks and sanitisers became essential. You cannot enter a shop without stepping on the hand sanitiser.

The oomph went out of flying as attendants donned PPE kits, and gave plastic plates and forks in Business Class. Manufacturers of drugs, medical devices and foodstuff cashed in on big and their e-wallets were bulging. Meanwhile, the humble neighbourhood grocer came to the rescue – albeit by hiking prices – as 2020 saw a kirana comeback. 

Green Peace

The pandemic was a warning to us not to mess with Nature. Lockdowns ensured a drastic improvement in air quality, bringing respiratory diseases down, according to some studies. Policymakers and establishment leaders zoomed in their attention on the resurrection of the planet by rethinking environmental policies and overhauling existing protocols to reverse and recover damages in a post-COVID world. Delhi saw blue skies and birds on the lawn. The Yamuna got dolphins. Now we are back in the business of mass seppuku by getting back to engineering climate change.

Touch me Not

Touch me not is no longer a flower. The ‘Tap and go’ model of sale and purchase came into vogue, and people suddenly realised there was merit in DeMo after all – currency notes carried bugs and e-wallets became popular.

There were approximately 21 billion digital transactions in the financial year 2020. And 79 percent of participants of a recent global consumer survey said they preferred contactless payment due to sanitary considerations. Wearable devices emerged as smart payment solutions wherein the smart device connects to your credit, debit, or prepaid cards.

Less is More

The quintessential materialistic mentality gave way to mindful living. ‘Smaller and fewer’ became the mantra. When the means to get even basics was threatened, minimalistic living became a necessity.

Clothes swapping clubs sprang up, jewellery was refashioned, books were shared rather than bought, household things were fixed rather than trashed. As exertions stopped, children and adults alike took to entertaining themselves at home. Some played board games, while others painted. Frugality prepared us for uncertainty.

Turbulent ‘Landing’

The meltdown was inevitable. With real estate being the country’s second-highest employment generator, the pandemic-led recession hit lives and livelihoods. Commercial real estate saw unprecedented overhead cuts. Renting terms were re-negotiated. Office leasing volumes plummeted exponentially. All this has given rise to the idea of setting up satellite offices. Micro market districts emerged as lucrative investment options. 

Deliver Us from COVID

The prize for the ubiquitous face of COVID-2020 goes to the delivery boy. In cities big and small, young men zipping along mobiles with home deliveries from Zomato, Swiggy and Amazon are a common sight. The Zomato valet in Bengaluru even got anti-Karen Parineeti Chopra arguing his case on Instagram.

Spoilsport

Sports, especially team sports, hibernated for a long time before getting reinstated, albeit modifications. The Tokyo Olympic Games were moved to 2021. Test cricket was played in empty stadiums for the first time in 143 years. Sporting tournaments were called off. No congratulatory handshakes nor any victory-filled high fives among sportsmen or spectators.  

Have a Heart

The pandemic brought out the best and the worst in people. Migrants walking hundreds of kilometres to their villages is one of the pandemic’s enduring images. India stepped up as ordinary people distributed food and set up roadside kitchens.

Of course, you cannot keep politicians from exploiting any opportunity for self-aggrandizement – the very public quarrels over hiring buses for the migrants became career boosters. State administrations rose to the occasion, some by spraying chemicals on the hapless walkers. Caste and community no longer mattered as migrants shared food and water. Covid was the great leveller and unifier in 2020.

My Word!

Every crisis throws up new phrases and words, as language accumulates new experiences. No other phenomenon has affected the 21st Century than COVID-19 and dictionaries are having to add pages. Dictionary.com chose ‘pandemic’ as the word of the year.

Gone viral are phrases such as asymptomatic, contact tracing, flatten the curve, fomites, frontliner, furlough, herd immunity, hydroxychloroquine, infodemic, lockdown, long-hauler, essential/nonessential, PPE, pod quarantine, shelter in place, social distancing, superspreader, twindemic, and viral load.

Streaming Delight

The pandemic, which forced entertainment avenues to down shutters, was nothing short of a Black Hole for the bored. ‘Small Brother’ OTT became the ‘big daddy’ of all, which of course had the moral brigade screaming for regulation.

Physical audience-driven acts such as musical events and theatre slayed it digitally. As entertainment streamed into each house, online became mainline as artists across borders held crossover virtual events to raise money. 

Bite of the Times

2020 metamorphosed the food business. A baker was born every minute. While homemakers, bachelors, men who had never stepped into the kitchen so far, and even kids as young as six, donned the chef’s hat, restaurants got innovative with DIY kits, limousine-delivered food, virtual cooking classes and more to stay in the good books and memories of their patrons cowering behind closed doors.

As the pandemic brought forth a burst of flavour into humble home kitchens, the food industry got a lesson or two in upskilling. Who won bigger is anybody’s guess. 

World Wide View

“Imagine there’s no countries, It isn’t hard to do…”sang John Lennon in 1971. The world dismissed him as a ‘dreamer’. 2020, however, proved the world was indeed without borders. Even though travel was grounded, you did not need visas and passports to take wing. You could pick any city, and your smartphone or laptop would take you around on a virtual tour.

But as the sector opened up toward the end of the year, it is now a changed world. Along with other requirements for travel, there is another added one – hygiene and medical safety. Some countries are issuing vaccination passports.

The Zoom Boom

As per Zoom’s internal user statistics, it hit its peak in April 2020 with 300 million-plus users logging in daily. While the surge was dialled back due to privacy concerns, one thing was certainly clear—Zoom was the boardroom of the future.

It had its moments too like lawyers arguing in their underwear and doing unmentionable things when the camera was still on. While many other services tried hard to replicate Zoom’s success, the platform had timely and confidently zoomed ahead.

From offices, academic institutions, conferences, to parties, weddings, family get-togethers and even government meetings, it was time to Zoom. Webinars took the place of seminars, blitzing NGO junkets. The government, prone to find an anti-national under every academic stone, decided all webinars with foreigners needed its permission, until good sense prevailed.

Heavy Petting

Quarantine became a pet obsession in 2020. Pets are the best stress busters, and it was a stressful year. Dog trainers have their kennels full and every second shop is now a pet shop. Suddenly people have discovered the cool cat in them.

Adoptions have gone up with cats and small dogs like Spitzes and Beagles getting top billing, since they do better in apartments than a GSD or a Rottie. Pet food sales are vertical and so is variety; a boutique pet bakery selling dog ice creams and muffins is doing brisk business.

Hot dogs are quenching lonely singles as well as kids with energy to burn. Breeders have never been this happy.

Coronagraphy

Coronnial (Corona+millennial): Born after the pandemic’s outbreak

Coronababy: Child born after December 2019 

Coronasomnia: Can’t sleep because of coronapsychosis

Coronacut: When you cut your own hair during lockdown

Coronacation: Staying away from work and school

Coronacoaster: Intense emotional life during 2020

COVID-10: Weight gain by staying at home

Covidiot: People who defy protocols and don’t wash their hands

Chloroquine, Fabiflu, Remdesivir: Utter these tongue twisters to sound like a corona pro

Anti-masker: The pandemic heretic who thinks the coronavirus is a rumour concocted by aliens and liberals

Bubble: No meet or greet, and stay away from the virus in it

The Before Times: The nostalgic good times before the pandemic became the killjoy of the year. Appears both in the original Star Trek and the Bible.  

Zoom mom: The COVID mom who works, holds conferences and even does parenting by video

Asymptomatic: A desired state of body and mind if you get the virus

Karen: Pejorative term for white women calling the cops on harmless blacks and coloureds. In India, it could be someone bullying the maid or boffing the delivery boy.

RT-PCR: A form of coronavirus testing. Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction that tortures the tongue.

Quaranteam: Quarantine+team, a pod or bubble where you hang out only with people of your choice in a confined space during the quarantine. But with social distancing (six feet away). 

WFH: Work from home 

Maskne: Acne and other skin irritations from wearing a mask

Quarantini: Martini mixed with Vitamin C and other immunity boosters

Superspreader: Corona-undesirable with an infected chain



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