As I put on my mask, and step out of my house for the first time in five days to get groceries, I cannot help but keep thinking about these last three months of 2020 that have reshaped society in lasting ways. Right from how we travel, to whether or not we invest in mutual funds, how much government surveillance we are willing to accept, and even how much compassion we show to our maids, drivers and other caretakers.
A serious virus has kept us all imprisoned in our homes for more than a month now – and maybe for more weeks to come—and has completely reoriented the common Indian’s relationship with its immediate ecosystem, its businesses and economy, its own government, governments outside of our borders, and more importantly, with each other. These changes feel extremely unsettling, but more than that, they raise questions like – will this permanently change the notion of what India is?
Take for instance our relationship with our government. Over the last few years, Indians have become more polarized than ever. After winning the general elections last year, the BJP-led government managed to conveniently put governance and economy on the back burner, and leverage its political capital to stay relevant and sway the masses. A key religious dispute – Ayodhya Ram mandir – that kept dividing us over decades also saw closure. But now, amidst this global pandemic, we have now all turned towards a common enemy. It has brought governance and economy back in the limelight. So much that even Yogi Adityanath was heavily criticised for shifting a statue of Lord Ram amid the lockdown, and even the ‘Hindu card’ that is used so often couldn’t help the politician. Not that we will become les communal after all this ends, but maybe we will be better able to see how all our fates are actually linked.
The virus is also changing India’s definition of patriotism significantly. Once completely reliant on our armed forces, we have now started to recognize other heroes too – doctors, nurses, pharmacists, grocery vendors, farmers, teachers, caregivers, small-business owners. Perhaps, this shift will be more permanent, and help us cultivate the idea of peace and health, over war with other supposed enemies.
This crisis has also fundamentally changed the way Indian businesses operate. It’s not to say that we don’t function the same way as our global peers – we are a hotbed of business innovation. However, as Indians, our dominant method of working has always been heavily reliant on physical interactions with employees, clients and other stakeholders important to our business. Of course, we consider the digital as an important part of growing business, but never have we been forced this way to completely reorient our style of working. It has made us realise the benefits of remote working, the flexibile use of technology, and how a WhatsApp call can also be used to connect with colleagues and clients, and not just our friends, or our grandparents for a tête-à-tête.
And above all this, what Coronavirus has definitely changed for Indians is our social interactions. We now share a revived appreciation for the outdoors, conversations with neighbours, gossips over evening tea and life’s other simple, but delightful pleasures. Indians are used to placing a certain amount of mistrust in everyone they meet; what if they are talking to us with the intention to steal or harm? This is our common worry. But now, everyone has suddenly developed a shared sense of empathy, probably arising out of a shared misery.
I don’t know what will come in the time ahead, but I am sure that we are all currently taking the best strike at the unknown. When the crisis ends, I hope that we will be able to reorient our Indian ideologies to make substantial new advancements into a better future. And even, hopefully, help us rediscover the best version of our Indian-ness.