Come December, and it has become quite the refrain, a reprise of the hashtag that started doing the rounds back in the middle of the year, “Cancel 2020”—only, this time everyone has been speaking of the relief that the year is finally drawing to a close, uncancelled though it stands. It is almost as if they believe that the year that “brought the pandemic”—although to be precise, it was December 2019 when it made its way out of Wuhan—will take the virus away with it.
Yes, it has been a terrible year for those who have lost family, friends, and jobs. But it is also a year that has been immensely educative, at a time when we desperately needed the education. The blessing was almost unrecognisably disguised, and certainly mixed.
For those who had the privilege of retaining their jobs and working from home, it might have been the longest they have ever spent surrounded by their immediate families, and understood each other’s routines even as they worked around the inevitable conflicts of sharing space. For some, it was an insight into a household routine from which their workday had alienated them.
As for the less fortunate, those who trudged through highways with their belongings in bundles, the year brought with it a cruel lesson—it made them question the idea of home, and the fact that they had in fact sold themselves into something worse than slavery, into a life where they met only indifference, and in which nobody was willing to take responsibility for them. “Home”, too, had become indifferent to them. The warm welcomes from family would have to wait until they had first been sprayed with chemicals.
The larger problems we face in this country, and perhaps in many other countries, were starkly visible—the absence of any kind of support system for people below the poverty line at a time of crisis, the abysmal standards of hygiene, and our general unpreparedness for any sort of countrywide emergency. Businesses went bust. The airline industry was reeling. As embassies shut down, families were split down the middle by seas.
For the first time in years, sanitation workers were supplies gloves and masks every single day. The garbage piles on roads reduced.
But also, with this sudden and unwelcome pause from the breakneck speed at which we live our lives, conversations began about mental health—a taboo subject in most homes. It was as if the long hours spent locked in warranted some level of reckoning with one’s own anxieties. It did not matter that it was not so much about not being able to get out as not being able to drown one’s problems in alcohol or brush them under the carpet. There were no subordinates to scream at or classmates to bully or maids to blame. And this became some sort of excuse to consider asking for professional help.
For those who did turn to therapy at the time, or at least spent some time reflecting on what was eating at them, the months threw up triggers and solutions that were entirely unrelated to the lockdown or the fear of contracting the pandemic.
It has also drawn our attention to personal expenses. With everyone, or nearly everyone, having to take pay cuts if not suffer worse, we have been forced to think about how we spend our money. Where can we trim our budgets, and how much are we spending on nonessentials? What did we consider essentials that are no longer essentials?
We have also been forced to think about the environment. During the first weeks of lockdown, when the silence was almost deafening to humans, nature began to wake up to itself. Animals that had not been spotted in the open in decades began to feel safe. The environment began to repair itself, and pollution levels dropped drastically. Not only was the air unchoked, so were the roads. And we began to think about just how much time we spend commuting and cursing.
Work From Home has actually opened up new avenues for many, and highlighted how very unnecessary it is to rent huge commercial spaces and fight our ways through glass doors and then spend hours closeted in conference rooms.
But perhaps the greatest effect the year has had is that we have become kinder people, or at the very least, we have begun searching for kindness. Social media, with its toxic virulence, has taken a backseat in the lives of most of us. In my own case, spending even more time with my ten dogs and twelve cats than I usually do has brought home to me the fact that I only turn to social media when I’m bored, and with so many furry legs and paws asking for my attention, I’m rarely bored.
Of course, it would be ideal for the government to start thinking about nonessential expenses and essential infrastructure too, and one is just about optimistic enough at the end of all these months to think that just might come to pass.
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