Ring in the new

Mathai Joseph | Updated on December 31, 2020

PTI   -  PTI

The year 2020 has shown we can endure a lot, for longer than we thought possible, and that we will find a way through whatever 2021 throws at us

Looking back, 2020 had one good thing going: Those of us who didn’t make New Year resolutions escaped the ignominy of seeing them crumble under the onslaught of Covid-19.

Like many others, we heard murmurs in January, mixed messages in February and more definite news in March before the first lockdown hit us. “Sounds bad but won't last,” we said reassuringly to ourselves as we postponed plans for our usual June trip to see our children in England; “It’s sure to be over in two months, then we can plan.” Come May, a WHO expert’s prediction that India would not hit its peak before July sounded unduly pessimistic (“What do you expect from experts?”); even with this, “by September things should be back to normal”.

September-October was the peak period for cases in India. Numbers hovered around 90,000 new cases a day registered (and who knows how many off the books). Then, very slowly, the numbers started dipping and slipping. Down to about 20,000 new cases a day by mid-December — hardly good news but we can cheer believing that with several vaccines round the corner, the virus may be losing heart (or whatever else discouraged viruses do).

From an assured, “It can’t last” to “Over in a few months”, then, still hopefully, “When it's over” ... today even “When we’re past the worst”, it all sounds more optimistic than cautious.

Apart from isolation, distancing and endless housework, shortages brought heady new excitement. Masked to near anonymity, we scrambled between erratic, itinerant vegetable sellers and empty-shelved stalls (“No potatoes today. Will beans do?”) but eventually the supply of perishables improved. Other things kept disappearing. I stood in the sun, suitably masked and at the prescribed two-metre interval outside the neighbourhood grocery, to find when I got in that they had no soap of the perfectly ordinary kind I wanted. This roused the passion of a hunt and I queued in front of the few other neighbourhood stores determined to get my soap, and returned empty handed. When supplies were finally resumed, I bought enough to last six months. We now have absurdly large stocks of some things, survived temporary shortages and learned to do with far less of what we had thought essential. ”No butter. Try ghee instead on your toast. It may be quite nice.”

The year 2020 was that of Skype, Zoom, Teams and FaceTime. We watched and talked to friends and relations through small windows in cyberspace and imagined life on the other side. Some people threw virtual dinner parties where those invited cooked the same menu and conversed as they ate together in front of a screen — “Your brinjal looks a lot better than mine”, and so on. Schools and colleges replaced live classes with online courses. Students became small oblongs on a screen filled with faces or blanks while lecturers valiantly declaimed into the Cloud.

Restrictions were slowly relaxed — but only for some. Over-65s, and often under-10s too, found entry barred to public parks. And to public transport. And cinemas, and malls, and gyms. They could not take international flights but anyway there were few enough of those. Was this to protect the over-65s and under-10s? Or to protect society from them? Did the fault lie in their delinquent minds or their wayward bodies? “In everyone’s best interest,” murmured an oleaginous public servant without explaining how or why. Why not instead have a 5-km race and bar those who cannot complete it in less than an hour? Was it to avoid the embarrassment of seeing some under-75s, and under-60s, even under-50s, perhaps under-40s or under-30s … fail the test while over-75s went chuckling past?

Laughs aside, we are all, young and old, trapped in the tyranny of sameness. We must be grateful there is food on the table but it is always the same food. We see the same few people unmasked and do the same things every day. We live in hope that events in the world outside will give us enough to talk about and briefly take minds off the virus. Sportspeople, like the rest of us, are playing for safety so matches are rare and there is little to watch on television. Even cricket, hardly a contact sport, has suffered from isolation and quarantines. Actors and producers tell us of their plans for the future but have little to report on their daily doings.

The safest thing to say about 2021 is that it cannot be worse than 2020. Yet if it is, the last year has shown we can endure a lot, and for longer than we thought possible. So we know we will find a way through whatever 2021 throws at us.

Indeed, 2021 promises to be more of a fun year than 2020. Who knows, we may even reach some sort of equilibrium and, bemasked and bemused, perhaps even guarded by multiple shots of a vaccine, be able to peek round the corner at what lies outside a world curtained by Covid-19.

Mathai Joseph is a retired computer scientist living in Pune

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Published on December 31, 2020
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