After a two-month postponement, schools in several states have finally opened their doors, some for exams and others for classes.
A year of dependence on OTT platforms for movie releases is set to end, it appears the film industry cannot wait for cinema halls to open their box offices—to the extent some states were keen to allow 100% occupancy, a move that was rescinded after being termed “homicidal” by doctors.
Even as vaccines across the world are beginning to be administered to high-risk populations, there is some panic over a new strain spreading and several countries are imposing fresh lockdowns.
However, as governments are forced to walk the tightrope between stringent safety measures and desperately needed economic impetus, the onus of protecting oneself from the virus has shifted to citizens. The centre’s nod to unlocking more doors does not imply that we can go back to the “old normal”. We do have a “new normal” to negotiate.
Unfortunately, masks have already been discarded by most people, and some do take offence at basic safety measures followed by their interlocutors.
In some ways, the pandemic has made us aware of just how filthy we are—of how easily we spread germs, how unhygienic our habits are, and how much we expose ourselves to the respiratory waste of others.
This could have been an opportunity for us to make the world a cleaner place, but it appears we simply cannot wait to go back to turning our environment into a giant petri dish.
The challenge is not only in keeping ourselves safe, but also dealing with problems that we were able to evade all these months—such as a full day at work or school, commuting through traffic, and interaction with people in a non-virtual environment.
It is hard enough for the adults to change routine quite so drastically, but one can barely imagine the impact the lockdown must have had on children who had to adapt to lessons online, were deprived of regular playtime, and spent an entire chunk of their lives in near-isolation.
For parents, it will be crucial to remember that it is as big a challenge for their wards to return to school as it was for them to shift to a virtual learning environment.
We are often in denial, but every school has its bullies. Every bully had his or her victims. The bullies, who tend to band themselves into groups, have spent nearly a year away from their targets and how they will react now is anyone’s guess. For children who are susceptible to bullying, it could be a nightmare—particularly now that they have gone so long without having to deal with the daily terror of school.
It might not be a bad idea for parents to turn to professional counselling for their children, or for schools to arrange for counsellors to speak to each child privately, at least for a few minutes. All students are likely to face problems on their return to school, not least because they will have to get used to more hours of continuous study than they have had all this while. They cannot snack when they wish to, their sleep timings would have changed, and they will have to ask permission every time they need to visit the restroom. Schools and parents would do well not to dismiss the significance of the change.
As for the adults, it is crucial to be more careful than ever where we go, with whom we interact, and how we do so. We got through Diwali without a spike in infection, and the Christmas-New Year season has passed without fiasco.
But as institutions begin to open up, organisations will be less inclined to allow work-from-home. We might be forced to get out more than usual, and this will necessitate putting protocol in place. The next couple of months should be a time of reckoning for us. We should ideally avoid vacations and even meeting friends and relatives who may be immunocompromised, until we figure out whether we have really acquired herd immunity, whether this is a lull before a second wave of infection, or whether the downward curve will continue.
We cannot underestimate the mental, emotional, and physical impact the change will have on us either. While we have spent a while complaining about how we are tired of staring at our screens, we have taken for granted the time we save on the commute, and the convenience of working from our homes.
If lockdown brought with it a Pandora’s box of emotional turmoil and depression-related illnesses, the return to a new version of the old normal will have a similar effect too. And when one has trouble coping with it, one should not hesitate to turn to mental health professionals for help.
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