For some time now, we have been speaking about the “new normal”. We speak about it rather lightly, as if it were a dystopian fantasy. We imagine that soon enough, we will go back to our regular lives, that we will be able to socialise as before and eat out and live maskless days.
The fact is, so many industries have been so crippled within a few months that they have had to make “tough” decisions. These decisions are usually measures they have been trying to execute for years without the bad press, and which they finally have had an opportunity to carry out – firing their non-essential staff.
It is clear that unskilled workers have nowhere to go except the villages from which they came. Some die on the roads, others die on trains.
But even skilled workers will find themselves with new challenges. Salons and gyms are closing in hordes, with small businesses unable to afford the salaries of beauticians and trainers and the high rents without income from customers.
Restaurants are working with skeletal staff, and are only open for takeaway and delivery.
The manufacturing industry is on its knees, and most companies have asked their senior staff to take large cuts in salaries until the crisis is over.
With public transport and cabs off the roads, taxi and auto drivers are in dire straits. The problem is compounded by Ola and Uber collectively laying off more than 2000 employees in India.
Other industries, such as the media, which were struggling to make ends meet even before the virus sent the world into a spin, have let go of hundreds of employees globally.
Education, medicine, software, information technology, finance, and some of the arts have perhaps not been so badly affected. Of course, it remains to be seen whether people will still make the time and money to spend on books and dance and music.
Some of the arts will struggle for a long, long time. The entertainment industry will take years to come back to normal, with no sign of cinemas being allowed to open any time soon. While films which are already or almost complete are releasing on web platforms instead of theatres, there are others which are midway through their shoots, or which have not yet started shooting. With restrictions in place on how many people can gather at one spot, it is hard to imagine film shoots – which have tens of technicians and sometimes hundreds of cast members – resuming. At a time when it is hard to imagine people walking about without masks, let’s not even go into how romantic scenes will be filmed.
A report by the SBI Ecowrap estimated on May 26 that Indian states have lost about Rs. 30.3 lakh crore, more than one and a half times the relief package announced by the government.
There are millions of people whose immediate future relied heavily on the steadiness of the job market – students who have just graduated with expensive degrees, families which have just invested in houses that are no longer being built, people who have migrated to healthier economies hoping to start new lives.
It is a terrible thing when the best laid plans of men fall prey to nature. Humans have found so many ways to subdue nature and bend the world to their will that they were unprepared for a tiny form of life overcoming every contingency.
This is a time when we will have to change our plans drastically.
There are dreams we will have to give up.
And yet, perhaps, this is a time when we can give space to the things that we did not consider feasible earlier. It isn’t a terrible time to be an entrepreneur, as long as the investment is minimal. And it isn’t a terrible time to figure out whether the kitchen is one’s forte either.
All of a sudden, people who barely had the time to place food orders on an app find themselves baking bread and making wine.
All the calls for a social networking detox, or even tech detox, died down as technology became the lifeline for both companies trying to function and families trying to make sure their constituent members were safe.
The physical manifestations of the lockdown may ease in bursts. One fine day, public transport will be back on the roads. One fine day, restaurants will open. One fine day, we won’t have to thread our own eyebrows.
But then, the impact of these months will last a long time. We have certainly flattened one curve – economic growth. We will have to make our own tough decisions, whether it is going back to lucrative but draining careers we were hoping to leave behind, or moving to less expensive lodgings or even cities.
We often think this situation is unprecedented, but it is only unprecedented in most of our lifetimes. Wars created similar situations. Other pandemics in earlier centuries created worse situations, at a time when medical expertise and communication systems were all but absent compared to today’s world.
We do face a challenge, but it is not insurmountable.
More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:
Nobel for economist, tailspin for economy
Why the Diaspora has so much love to give
Hindi debate: We are all obsessed with homogeneity
We are choking the earth
When Kamal Haasan endorsed harassment
The Dalai Lama and the death of humour
The delusionary Indian intellectual
India's culture of worship has to end
Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com