The City of Lights & Laughter is Now Silent
The lockdown makes us feel an eternity that we haven’t laughed with our friends at a chai khaana and haven’t really enjoyed in this city of lights, Karachi. Many of us have been confined to our homes and the only time we go out is for house chores. The city does not feel the same with most of the places closed. The nights are not the same as you don’t see people sitting late at dhabbas and streets echoing with the laughter and discussion of the people. The dynamics of this changed life resulting from the spread of COVID19 has dismantled the structure of daily life comprising of long walks and sitting sessions of university friends together. The loss of families sharing moments of joy and people walking without worrying about bumping into others are byproducts of these changing times. A trip to Saddar made me realize the lacking that this pandemic has brought and the longing for the evenings and nights free the waves of COVID19.
Longing for Old Times
The necessary items in our journies have become masks and gloves. The worry of returning back also accompanies us as we know the longer we stay out, the higher there is a chance of contracting this virus. When I went to Saddar, it was a completely different sight than it used to be. The shutters were closed and many shops that served food were closed. One of the shops famous for serving tasty ice-cream ‘Baloch ices ‘was closed. There was a strange feeling of anxiety on people’s faces which can be a possible result of economy being on the brink of collapsing.
I could reminisce how the shops were opened with people roaming freely. We could easily detect a lot many expressions on people’s faces without masks covering them. The lights streaming through the shops at night had a completely different feeling. The feeling of things being normal and economic activity being conducted without any hindrances was prevalent. Unfortunately, the changed circumstances demand change to be observed in the activities of the people. The spread of this virus has brought a complete shift in our lifestyle of being confined to homes and avoiding physical interactions with others at all costs. This new shift has taken a toll on the lives of people and the poor are constantly pressed underneath economic burden due to the closure of businesses where they were employed.
Reminisce About the Days When People Were Together
The office and educational activities have been shifted to online platforms. Teachers often mention how they are missing teaching online where they could see and observe expressions of the students. There are connectivity issues, coordination issues, and operational issues faced by teachers. These virtual platforms are so complex that some of the teachers resorted to podcasts and voice notes. The teachers mention how they miss having students in the classroom and interaction with them. The number of students attending classes has decreased as there are anxiety and distress resulting from the current situation. Mental fortitude is required to face the mental turmoil that students experience as they hear the number of demises and deteriorating mental health from this virus.
Even the office employees reminisce about the times they shared with their colleagues in high tea and in smoking breaks. The clarification and feedback provided to employees on their tasks are lacking in the virtual system. This new system has also segregated employees with some employees asked to work from home and some asked to report to office. The feeling of everyone taking part in tasks together and being in the office environment physically has disappeared. Small moments during these times make people remember the moments spent in the past when things were normal. The current rainfall stirred memories of the past among students as they posted pictures on social media of rainfall in schools and universities. This reflects how much the aesthetic scenes and physical interaction are missed by people when the weather was enjoyed to the fullest without the stress of the spread of virus.
Zoom Tries to Rehabilitate
The online platforms like ZOOM did manage to avoid the connection from being broken down between people. There were office meetings and classes conducted through this application. It couldn’t imitate the feelings and the connection shared in these places. This can be seen in the number of students showing up to attend classes and the enthusiasm in the class during discussions. Many attempts were made by students to keep the bond strong among friends by having frequent zoom sessions. This couldn’t replicate the physical meetings and the discussions at cafes and foyers. This is one reason why a number of snaps and pictures were seen of friends meeting each other during lockdown while observing the SOPs. This is why people are planning what they will do once lockdown is over and situation normalizes. Zoom is considered a facility but it doesn’t fully bridge the gap in terms of physical meetings and emotions.
New Normal, A Better Mode Of Life?
There are many reasons why physical interaction with people is so important. When things were normal, people noticed the stress of others from their actions. There were times when friends asked if you were doing fine. They even figured if you were trying to hide your emotions. The change of environment was necessary to change the monotonous routine. But now, this change of environment with different social actors enabled people to forget about their worries for the time they were sitting in the canteen or in library. The interaction with people was not awkward because there wasn’t any difficulty in hearing the person due to technical difficulty or cameras of people turned off making you speak to screen with names only. When a person goes into another environment he is physically and mentally prepared to meet people and his body language responds accordingly. Now the physical interaction proves to beneficial for someone who finds his home environment to be toxic or he feels this constant irritation because he doesn’t have the freedom to do what makes him or her happy. The change of environment provides him with that freedom and an escape route to a place where he can practice what he likes. This might include sitting in the canteen for some time with friends.
One of the unfortunate evidence of how the same environment affects people is the rise in the number of cases now in domestic violence. Domestic violence can in no way be blamed on the circumstances or environment but we can’t deny the fact that increasing interaction with family members is abnormal for some people and their animalistic behavior might just come out. UN has called the domestic abuse to be ‘Shadow Pandemic’ alongside COVID19. There is an estimated increase of 20% of domestic abuse cases during the lockdown. Lockdown has entrapped people with the abusers. If they decide to go out, there are likely to get infected and if they decide to stay inside, they might be beaten to death.
It Will Get Normal, Eventually
The current situation with lockdown prolonging day by day seems to go on forever. There is a steady rise in a number of cases every day. We might not be returning to our old way of life anytime soon. We will have to wait a little longer for long conversations in dhabbas, universities, and offices. We will have to wait a little longer to get drenched in rain again on campuses and have some pakoras out in light showers. In these tragic times, we must adhere to the safety measures announced by the government especially for the coming Eid-ul-Azha. We must not lose hope for things being back to how they were with smiles sparkling as the saying goes:
“The best thing about time is that it always changes”.