By now it should be fairly evident to all of us that life will never be the same as it was before the pandemic. The world has altered in so many radical ways that to imagine we can seamlessly slide back into life as it was a few months ago is a pipe dream.
Those who live in denial will have a rude awakening when the world is finally unlocked, so be prepared and learn from the lessons this long lockdown has taught us. The first is to become as self-sufficient as you can be. Depending on a helper to perform every small task out of self-indulgence or laziness will be a hideous mistake. Those hard lessons learnt in the kitchen and sweeping, swabbing the home must become a way of pitching in with your wife in running a home. Gender parity was never so keenly felt, and a mutual respect for each other developed over shared worries and work must become the foundation of a new and more meaningful family relationship.
Second, treat your staff with the respect and dignity they so richly deserve. This means not just paying them a fair wage, but giving them a day off for their own families, taking care of their health and insurance and generally being kind and compassionate. How many of us even bothered to find out how they lived and where? Some did not have a name: driver, guard, sabziwala, bartanwali. This must change. Think of the great support the local grocer and vegetable vendor gave you throughout the time when the grand retail outlets were unable to reach customers. The humble sabziwala braved police barriers and infection to go to the mandi and keep you supplied with fresh fruit and veggies. So do not abandon him now when things are changing. Your money has helped him ride out this lockdown, so what if he charges you a little extra?
Those of us who are retired and spent a lifetime in one job with pensions and health insurance are the lucky ones. The young are going to be the hardest hit: all the fancy management degrees earned after hard toil and huge financial loans may not translate into a cushy high-paid job in a blue chip company. In fact, many such companies are struggling to stay afloat and what was on top of the Stock Exchange has tumbled out of reckoning. The small and medium entrepreneurs may well turn out to be winners even as mighty oaks get uprooted. Hotels, airlines, travel and tourism — heaven knows when they will find their feet again.
The young are facing the biggest challenges as far as I can see. Cushioned by indulgent parents and a system that worshipped money and looks rather than brain and merit, these spoilt and sullen brats — visible in every strata — may no longer be able to lead an irresponsible life. This goes not just for us middle class families but even for our maids and drivers, who have made sure that their children are given all the advantages they themselves were denied. I have seldom seen a child who has hesitated before demanding a new pair of jeans or a fancier mobile phone from his hard-working domestic worker parents, or a child from an affluent home who wants the latest iPhone if only to use it for impressing his peer group or downloading a new app. This is the pollution that came in the wake of the great digital revolution and the damage it has wrought in young people the world over is truly frightening.
Many who were afraid to argue with strict parents swung in the opposite direction and gave in to the children even when their own conscience was never at ease. Now when the world will change and only the fittest will survive, these soft-bellied children, fattened on junk food and junk watching, will be the first to fall prey to the post-Covid world.
So while there is time, pull yourselves together and adopt a simpler life. The beautification and grooming of the body must never become more important than the beautification of one’s mind. If we look around us, there is so much that each one of us can do to build a better tomorrow. For the government, it is investment in education and health care. For parents, it is the courage to teach children to swim upstream and for children, it is the need to not drift along. Just a few generations ago, Gandhiji taught us life lessons that we have forgotten: his talismans and way of life were his greatest gift to all of us. Until we choose the path ahead wisely, we will falter at every step.
Finally, a tribute and goodbye to a great teacher and a dear friend: Rekha Jhanji. Once long ago, we were all colleagues and friends in Panjab University. We shared a love of teaching and laughed and shared coffee mornings. Sadly, she was struck with Alzheimer’s and slowly that beautiful mind dissembled. I also know that her husband, Bhupinder Brar, her countless friends, students and admirers will never forget her beautiful mind.
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