Our journey so far

On December 31, 2019, WHO declared that an emerging new disease had been reported by China. The Family and I were on a trip, and like most others across the world, did not pay much attention to this news. Within a few days, the news from China began to take up more of the news cycle. The disease acquired the name COVID-19, and the virus that caused it was gene sequenced in China, found to be new, and dubbed SARS-CoV-2. I had a full year of business trips and vacations planned, and knew that I had to keep an eye on this. (New words: COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2)

It was hard to see the big picture in early 2020

On 30 January, 2020, WHO declared that the disease was a pandemic. On the same day, a traveler returning to India was found to have the new disease. This was the first reported case of the disease in India. Wuhan and its surroundings had been locked down for days. I’d already talked to my colleagues in Wuhan, and they told me of their tedium. It was hard to imagine spending weeks inside the four walls of a flat, energetic children cooped up in the same space, looking out at deserted streets. Little did we know that the world was to follow suit. (New word: pandemic)

The world was beginning to close in

In February we made a small trip to see the winter’s birds (the featured photo of the black-shouldered kite, Elanus caeruleus, comes from that trip). The news was beginning to get dire. Countries were locking down flights. Italy was badly affected; on a call with her sister in Milan, The Family heard sirens from racing ambulances in the background. I was on conference calls with colleagues across the world trying to decide whether to move schedules for meetings. A divide was perceptible: people from Europe, the USA, and Australia were sure that this would pass in a couple of weeks, and no long term measures were necessary. People from East Asia were convinced that it would take longer to normalize. Indians and South Africans on these calls were not sure, but tended to be cautious. (New phrase: contact tracing)

Everyone was captive in their own houses

When the first large cluster of infections was detected in Punjab, it had been brought in by a traveler returning from Europe. Soon a clutch of cases brought by tourists began to spread in Rajasthan. The Family and I shared a laugh with our extended families about the passing phase of reverse racism on the streets: any white tourist was given a wide berth, and there were mutterings about why they should stay home for now. I began to teach myself epidemiology just in time to understand the advise that was soon being offered on safety. But then, the government of India decided to shut everything down very suddenly. (New word: lockdown)

Wild oscillations between euphoria at remaining healthy and tedium at being locked down

The resulting human tragedy of unemployment and displacement was enormous. For a while we, like the rest of the middle class, remained hopeful, because the skies cleared up due to the lack of new pollution. Then the monsoon storms reminded us that planet was still warming from older pollution. And the new obsession with cleaning meant that more plastic and detergents were being pumped into the earth. In the beginning we cleaned obsessively. The Family brought her professional expertise to the matter and found safe ways to disinfect food: soak fresh food in brine for half an hour. Sealed packages could be dunked in soap water and then washed. Brine and soap water could be reused, since they do not allow the growth of bacteria and viruses, so buckets full of them could be reused, saving on water usage. (New word: social distancing)

A grey and colorless world

Locked down at home, we realized how important our internet connectivity was. New services for video conferencing were quickly adopted. Our meetings went online, and suddenly that part of our work had been revolutionized. We forced the pace of moving work on-line. The Family and I decided early on that we had to fight back at the black depression that threatened us. We decided to keep a strict routine, and eat only healthy food. We shared household chores, and cooking, learnt new time-saving techniques, and set aside time for watching movies and TV, and meeting friends and family through video conferencing. (New word: Zoom)

It is hard to see the big picture even now

Now, one year on, Mumbai is opening up. Today, on 1 February, 2021, the local trains are starting up again. What did we learn? What did we change? First, that when you are afraid of a respiratory disease, mask yourself. This would be enough to slow down the disease. Quick deaths, although in the millions now, turned out to be not the most likely bad outcome of the infection. People have reported recurring breathing difficulties, heart disease, extreme fatigue. These symptoms pass in a few weeks, or months, for most people, but others have continuing problems: the COVID long-haulers. With all this knowledge, the second lesson is internal, one that most people I speak to seem to have learnt. It comes out in little ways: your life is important, its quality is important, family and health are important, socializing is important, being chained to a machine is secondary. We do not yet know how things will evolve. Vaccines are available, but it will be a decade before most people get it. In the meanwhile new variants of the virus are appearing, cases of reinfection are being discovered. Perhaps the disease will be a thing of the past in another three to five years. Or perhaps we will learn to live with a deadly disease, as earlier generations had learnt to live with small pox. New ways of working, new politics, new power groups have already begun to emerge, and they will be part of the new normal. (New phrase: new normal)

For all of us this has been a journey into ourselves, finding what we are capable of, learning new skills. Like most people, we spent more time cooking than before. I tried to learn how to identify the birds around me by their calls. I kept a record of the days through my photos (the ones above are my photographic journey through the year) and through occasional blog posts.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

20 comments

  1. I really like this take on the LAC theme. I hesitate to say that I like your post, given the subject matter, but I certainly found it a compelling read. I empathise with your oscillations between joy at staying healthy and the tedium of lockdown. And it’s interesting to read a perspective from India. In the UK the vaccination programme is going well, but this is a global pandemic and every country’s progress matters to us all.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well I.J., this post is probably the best read I’ve seen as far as covering the evolution of the pandemic and its impact. Your inclusion of the “new words” is excellent. Your journey “report” is a wonderful summary of a difficult time condensed down to its most important elements. Really well written. Loved your birds of course, especially your opener, but your text is outstanding this week.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I certainly can relate to what you said here. Well written journey. The best read of this pandemic. New words, new learning, New ways of working, new politics, … so much we have learned to adjust.
    Insightful. Thank you for the post, IJ!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi, IJ. I really enjoyed your perspective on the pandemic and your thoughts about the “new normal.” So many weaknesses–in our political systems, our countries, our people–have been revealed throughout this past year. I’m hopeful that some of these “lessons” will evolve into real change for the better–at least in some areas. How nice that you have your bird collection as a momento of this time. I love that idea. I wish I had been better about a schedule. I’ve done that for the most part, but feel like I’m wasting too much time, still. Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts and your wonderful bird images. Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is my take-away gem from your well-written and thoughtful piece: “With all this knowledge, the second lesson is internal, one that most people I speak to seem to have learnt. It comes out in little ways: your life is important, its quality is important, family and health are important, socializing is important, being chained to a machine is secondary.”

    People talk about returning to “normal,” to life as it was pre-pandemic. I argue that’s not the best goal. Maybe we’re meant to have realized what’s truly important and how to better incorporate those aspects into our daily lives.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. An insightful and well written post – with everything “new”…that we didn’t want in our lives. I cannot say I “loved” reading it, but I have to. You opened the door again and made our life and feelings tangible. And here we are. The world 2021. We do not know what will happen next week, next month, next year. Let’s hope the world have learned new, valuable lessons and can use them wisely further on. We cannot go back to what was “normal” before the pandemic.

    Liked by 2 people

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