Coronavirus lockdown: Let’s limit ourselves to needs

The question really is, what kind of normalcy would we like to return to. How different should it be from our previous normal?
Image used for representation only.
Image used for representation only.

Over a call, a friend asked me what I’d like to go out and eat once this lockdown was over. With COVID-19 cases surging in India and amid extended lockdown, this seems like a moot question. It speaks of two things, however. Our very human tendency to hope, to believe that we would overcome adversities, and be able to enjoy a time of normalcy again. And the second is, of course, privilege. The very fact that my friend and I have a possibility to eat out, purely for enjoyment, is a completely different scenario from the thousands of migrant workers stranded in various parts of India, dependent on handouts for survival.

The question really is, what kind of normalcy would we like to return to. How different should it be from our previous normal? On social media there’s a glut of recipes: to while away the time, but also to make use of limited food resources—a friend recently posted pictures of sweets made out of split milk, another of re-used stale bread. I’ve cooked lentils three different ways in order to be able to throw in vegetables that might spoil otherwise. At Zoom parties, people show up unkempt.

Not bothering to iron their clothes, reducing activities to necessities, they’re amazed at how little they need to get by, and how much the resultant quiet frees up creative exploration. One of my friends is growing mint in pots, another corporate honcho has created racks for coriander and thyme and basil, becoming quite the spokesperson on wholistic living and cooking from scratch.

Would the normal we return to include tossing away that packet of stale bread? Back to getting our household chores done by a massive army of domestic workers (some I know of directly in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata have gone unpaid during this time); following the latest fashions, allowing our children to be parented by others, climbing back on the rat race to chase the biggest and shiniest, the life of pay-packets, bottom-lines, continuous meetings and making nice again with those with whom it was a relief to go into social distancing. 

When it is finally over (and it will be), would we think of this as a wartime aberration, as a time of caving into compulsion? Or will we remember the clear skies, the air (as crisp as in Europe! as some of us have said), and that after decades, our Ganga maiya is back to being a river again instead of a sacred, massive sewage canal?

Will we finally make the environment, the healthcare and education system, and not religion, an election issue? The benefits of religion are private, and might arguably be immense, but the benefits of sustainable environmental practices, strong healthcare and an educated population are no longer a matter of conjecture. We can see the states that have invested in education and healthcare lead by example in these COVID times. At a personal level, will this time help us figure out that what we want is very different from what we need? That our needs can sometimes be better guides to happiness? 

This pandemic has made it clear that only by taking care of our most marginalised can we all be protected. If we continue to force the ones who build up our economies and keep it going to survive on the dregs, it will inevitably bite us back where it hurts, sooner than later.

If we are able to stay home so that when we gather again fewer of us would go missing, we are capable of those cheesy-sounding concepts, sharing and caring. By learning to limit ourselves to our needs, we might just be able to sustain ourselves on this planet that seems tired of our rapacious wants. And yes, if we’re willing to learn, we might find that we don’t need heroes and wars and wide chests to save us. We can all be heroes, and save each other.

(Twitter: @damyantig Author and activist) 

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