Devastating is the word that comes to mind when one visualizes the kind of after effects a world war, or, for that matter, any major war leaves in its wake. Never mind how many world leaders procrastinated and dangerously dithered while avoiding and ignoring professional advice on how to protect their fellow citizens from Covid-19. The dark and foreboding signal of looming economic devastation in the short to medium term is quite straightforward to predict. The initial shock and awe wreaked with great success by the newest virus, forced people to stay at home and take mandatory rest for at least the first few weeks.
Thereafter, as professionals and laymen alike struggled to find satisfactory answers on the origins and, more crucially, how the unprecedented worldwide lockdowns, engineered by an invisible enemy, would end; and when would governments confidently announce one fine morning that a vaccine has been found and we have won the war on Corona. Or better still, some of us secretly yearn for the leader of the First World to triumphantly announce victory while standing in the shadow of a banner saying ‘Mission Accomplished’. But, guess what, no such luck either.
The decision to lockdown entire countries has pressed us closer to nature by accidentally providing us with much cleaner air, made us listen to the sweet sounds of birds chirping without straining our ears on empty and eerily quiet main roads. The giant, veritable wheel of the world shuddering to a screeching halt is a frightening thought in its own right. Never mind the haunted sights of deserted beaches, shopping malls and airports which hummed with activity only a few months back, as if someone had sucked life out of the hustle and bustle of this planet. After the initial euphoria of not being required to get up to go to school/university etc., even parents and children had started exchanging anxious glances as if to say, “is this the apocalypse that we have all seen in a wide variety of ‘end of days’ movies but never encountered and never thought we would ever encounter ourselves, is the world going to end now?”
It is said that dark humour and satire are a man/woman’s best companions in moments of crisis. It would not be an exaggeration to say that virtual gathering of humans and connectivity on account of technological advancement has made it possible for the human race to weather such crises for months or even years which may also help in keeping a certain level of sanity. The latest invention in the hands of billions, social media through a smart phone (milked to the fullest during the current pandemic, incidentally), made sure we had access to all kinds of information. Having said that, the unusual nature of the never-witnessed-before stoppage of human activity has tested the human resilience and the inbuilt quality of adaptability to its hilt. In addition to the power of social media, the age-old habits of humans are also at work. Innovations disseminated through social media are being mindlessly followed. For example, athletes filming certain exercise routines for a couple of minutes in their living rooms and later broadcasting them to the world.
A tall and wiry fast bowler whom I had seen in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) seemed a perfect such example. In a small park inside the housing society where I live, the lanky cricketer, fresh from his latest exercise video uploaded on instagram, was just making small bursts which could only to be described as half sprint-half jog. He would later sit down on the bench and check his smart phone for an unusually extended period of time before resuming his exercise. Perhaps, the combined effect of Corona and the irresistible urge to fiddle with smart phones every few minutes has irretrievably transformed our behavior patterns, for the worst, I fear.
The scenes on the political landscape have been quite chaotic if not outrightly depicting a rowdy classroom without a teacher. Instead of issuing a comprehensive, nationwide and easy to follow awareness campaign; and then vigorously pursuing it in order to implement policies to limit the spread of Coronavirus, the race is on to show the PPP government in Sindh in bad light. The annoyance of the federal government seems to be based on its strange stubbornness of decidedly not bothering to learn from a provincial government which has been pursuing a logical and sensible approach this far.
But it has not been all doom and gloom. President Trump and his Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, for instance, have been providing their worldwide audiences with instant comic relief. Their incessant tirades against China did exactly that but have also raised quite a few eyebrows around the world and outrageous theories about bio warfare have gained momentum as a consequence. Donald Trump’s Jesse Owens moment with a Chinese American journalist in the White House would win him an Oscar hands down, is a real worry. Whether his performance would prove to be as destructive or even more so for the world in its wake only time will tell.
Coming back to Pakistan, bio warfare or no bio warfare, the public at large, quite oblivious of such fancy conspiracy theories, have decided to embrace the virus in their daily lives. Equipped with the herd immunity that their political masters never tire of telling them that they are blessed with, they look quite resigned to fighting the virus merely with their face masks slung low on their chins while riding a motorbike or driving a rickshaw.
Tariq Bashir is a Lahore based lawyer. Follow him on twitter @Tariq_Bashir