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Dubai: Who says coronavirus is all about gloom and doom? Life amid the pandemic has had its share of triumphs too, not just trials and tribulations. As we settle into a new normal, there’s no denying that the three-plus months of staying indoors also pushed our thoughts inwards — giving us a rare chance to learn and unlearn many lessons.

The lockdown, if you can call it that, shook the very foundation of our values and belief systems, yielding many Eureka moments and enabling us to realign or kick some stubborn habits, while developing new ones.

Gulf News staffers share their biggest takeaways:

There’s no room to play solo

By Sharmila Dhal, Assistant Editor

Lessons - Sharjmila
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As life lessons go, COVID-19 is perhaps the mother of all courses. An invisible teacher, coronavirus has some glaring truths to share. The entire world, for the first time ever, is on the same page, facing the same questions and looking for the same answers.

For far too long, we skimmed over words like global warming and climate change — the litany of jargon was simply lost on us. Even when we first read about coronavirus striking Wuhan in China, it didn’t bother us.

After all, how could something happening at a nondescript market in a faraway Tier-2 city possibly matter to us? But today, as the deadly virus transcends all borders and holds the world to ransom, we suddenly find ourselves jolted out of our apathy.

At a personal level, coronavirus has forced me to cut out the cynicism. I realise that as an individual, I cannot afford to be far-removed from the inextricably interconnected world that I am in. I know now that my every action, however small, will matter as much to me as it will to anyone, anywhere — and vice-versa.

In other words, there is no room to play solo or take cover in what is clearly a systemic dynamic. The circuit breaker has taught me to come to terms with this collective truth. And no, I will no longer rubbish this as rhetoric anymore.

A lesson in infinite patience

By Bindu Rai, Entertainment Editor

Lessons - Bindu
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This week marks 120 days of my COVID-19 quarantine. Or if you rather, four months of a lesson in infinite patience.

The investment is bound to carry me through some rough times in the future, albeit none (I hope) would be quite like being imprisoned in your own home while the world continues to fall apart little by little.

The pandemic swept through like a merciless tornado, ripping apart homes, families and loved ones with no room for partiality in its destructive path. As we patiently waited for the storm to blow over, acquaintances, friends and soon, loved ones, fell victim to the tentacles of the dreaded virus.

Patience enveloped us in its warmth when movement restrictions and safety concerns bound us in invisible chains, while dear ones fought lonely battles from their hospital beds, several of whom succumbed in despair.

As the days stretched into weeks, leading us into month-long sojourns, patience also taught us to desperately hold on to the positives even as the claws of negativity and hopelessness scratched at us with gleeful abandon.

A parent’s weakened voice, crackling over the phone line, tore at our hearts, but patience showed us the path that sometimes distance is the best healer.

My story is not mine alone, with thousands around the world mastering lifelong lessons during this lockdown. We don’t yet know if the abyss is ready to be pierced by a blinding light or whether the shadows will continue to stretch onwards, but if there’s one thing we know for certainty, it’s patience that will carry us through the darkest night.

After all, the night is darkest before a new dawn.

Health is wealth, a reminder

By Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor

Lessons - Shyam
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Life is precious. Each moment is precious. Every moment has to be savoured to live life to the full. That’s possible only if the body is healthy.

Health is precious. That’s what COVID-19 has taught me. A healthy body houses a robust immune system that can stave off the threat of the new coronavirus.

SARS-CoV-2 is a highly contagious virus that has infected more than 13 million people around the world. I was one of them. A raging fever that lasted 10 days and a short spell of body pain was my tryst with coronavirus.

No breathlessness. No nausea. No diarrhoea. None of the debilitating effects of COVID-19. I was lucky to escape with a mild attack. My immunity must have been good enough to fight off the virus. For that, I have to thank an active lifestyle and good food habits.

A sportsman in my younger days, I continued to remain active even after joining the workforce. I play some sport around the year. Sometimes that’s not possible. During such spells, I return to my morning walks. And it helps me maintain a good energy level throughout the day.

That’s not all. Generally, I watch what I eat. I try and avoid junk food, although I do enjoy them occasionally. I eat a lot of veggies, especially salad. But I can’t keep off sweets. Since diabetes run the family, I eat sweets only in moderation.

So when the coronavirus invaded my body, the immune system would have cranked up to prevent any major damage. The reports of more than 570,000 deaths in 213 countries and territories send a shiver down my spine. And I realise how fortunate I was.

Coronavirus has been brutal on people with comorbidities, an underlying condition that compromises immunity. It serves as a reminder of the importance of good health.

Health is wealth, goes the adage. And how true it is, especially in the time of coronavirus.

Value your relationships

By Alex Abraham, Senior Associate Editor

Lesson - Alex
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Sitting at home for over three months during the pandemic did not come naturally to me. I used to spend 12 hours out of the home every day before the coronavirus restrictions took effect, but I have always wanted to spend more time with my wife and son.

For many years, I have had to be content with spending an hour in the morning and another at night with the family. The need to work from home was a welcome opportunity to observe how the house functions from close quarters and also be a part of it.

There is a difference in ‘being told’ about something that happens in the house, and ‘seeing it for oneself’. I got a chance to see, observe and understand the dynamics at home. Over three months I positioned myself next to my son for his online classes.

I tried not to be too obtrusive, but nevertheless got an idea of what a teenager goes through when locked in at home. I overheard little children talking excitedly with their teacher, my wife, and realised that happiness and contentment can always be found in even the most difficult situations.

I was reminded of a Harvard study a few years ago that found a strong association between happiness and close relationships like spouses, family, friends and social circles. It is not the wealth one creates over the years or the thousands of ‘followers’ one has on social media that bring lasting happiness, but relationships built over time.

I was happy to build on that relationship at home. Along the way I realised that despite all the years together, there was always more to learn.

An extension of building on relationships was being able to stay in touch with the extended family in India and other parts of the world over video conferencing. The summer holidays have always been spent with parents, but in the current scenario, the next best thing is a session over Zoom.

If you don’t need it, give it away

By Karishma H. Nandkeolyar, Senior Web Editor

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As a lifelong hoarder, I’ve always lived with lots of stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. I have, for example, a phone from my school days, about two decades old, stored away for sentiment. The charger disappeared a while back. When I married and needed space for my husband’s things – we just got extra furniture. Crowded room? Yes. But practical solution. And so it continued.

Then COVID-19 came around, forcing us to spend days on end in the same space. Slowly, it started to grate on our nerves. So we did the most obvious, hoarder-ly thing; we put things in drawers and other Ikea storage solutions and closed them tight. That cleared up the surfaces – the books went into the drawing room, wires went into a box.

A week went by and the holes in our twisted logic began to show. To find something was an expedition, each time the room looking ransacked. Finally, as days wore on and the string of patience weathered to its last strand, the realisation came – we had to say goodbye. Either to our sanity or the storehouse of things we weren’t using.

Over a weekend, it began. Inspired by Marie Kondo, but not quite with the same effort, we began to make piles. Things unused in over a year. Things that don’t work. Things good enough to give away. Things that must be thrown. Slowly, bags full of junk were removed, each one feeling like a weight from our shoulders, each exit a little easier.

At the end of each day, there was grief – for all the nostalgia flushed away; there was relief – and weightlessness; there was space in room and head. The detox process continues. But at least now there’s a way forward.

Time ‘on the go’ vs ‘time on the slow’

By Sanjib Kumar Das, Senior News Editor

Lessons - Sanjib
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Walking down the Metro walkway at one of the stations in Dubai, my eyes would time and again be drawn to the advertisement display board of a famous watch manufacturer, with the tagline: Time is what you make of it.

Having spent close to 100 days away from my workplace, following movement restrictions and all the concomitant health protocol that were part of a ‘new normal’ that defined the global fight against a pandemic, my notion of time and even ‘timelessness’ has been redefined.

Given that change is the only constant in life and in view of the fact that our lives have come to be increasingly defined by the hour hand on the watch dial or the digits on the smart watch — depending upon how gadget-savvy we are — and less by the changing level of illumination outside the window, before the pandemic struck and our lives were turned on the head, a 24-hour timespan seemed to be inadequate to tick all the boxes on my ‘to-do’ list.

Something or the other would definitely be left out from the agenda owing to ‘lack of time’ and a sense of guilt would follow suit.

Now when I look back at the last 100-odd days, I can say this with a fair bit of contentment that on almost all of those days under movement restrictions and work from home, there was nothing that I really missed out doing.

And I will be kidding myself to thinking that this was made possible just because I had saved on all those hours commuting to work and back. It’s not so much about fitting ‘X’ work within a ‘Y’ timeframe, but it’s all about better time management: Being able to prioritise the things on the ‘to-do’ list rather than committing oneself to a choc-a-bloc daily routine and then trying to play catch-up with the resultant mad scramble to meet implausible deadlines.

For me, it’s been a time-traveller’s tryst with a time-warp, sans the moral and psychological compunction from failing to be ‘on time’! It was ‘time-on-the-go’ vs ‘time-on-the-slow’. And the latter won

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I think the one big lesson that this new normal has taught me is that time indeed is what we do with it. I have found out that a 24-hour time span is actually a long-enough duration to be able to plan and execute a lot of things that I would have missed out on earlier.

And there’s so much that can be done to perfection only at leisure, without that rush of adrenaline or that haste to merely ‘finish’ something and move on to the next one. For one, I realised that a biryani cooked on slow fire gives infinitely better results than setting the cooktop on fire.

Time ought to have that sense of vacuity in it for it to be truly meaningful. For me, it’s been a time-traveller’s tryst with a time-warp, sans the moral and psychological compunction from failing to be ‘on time’! It was ‘time-on-the-go’ vs ‘time-on-the-slow’. And the latter won.

We can only control the controllable

By Gautam Bhattacharyya, Senior Associate Editor

Lesson - Gautam
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As I write this, I have been getting myself mentally ready to get back to office after a gap of over three months. The COVID-19 pandemic may be far from over — in fact it’s still raging back home in India along with several other countries — but it has already taught me a few hard life lessons.

Only the other day, I was doing a phone interview with Ajinkya Rahane, one of the senior pros of the Indian cricket team. Sportspersons normally are not known for their profound world views, but Rahane had an interesting take on the anxiety levels about the future in all of us when he said we can only ‘’try to control the controllable’’.

Well, that’s what we all have been trying to do as we discovered the virtues of infinite patience. There was a time when I thought it’s only the prerogative of the IT people to work from home while it’s impossible for us who are in the business of news.

The invisible dangers of the pandemic saw the birth of new allies — Teams, Zoom and webinars — as we got going to run a 24/7 news website and brought out a newspaper.

As the days wore on, I started enjoying the company of my laptop as my existence revolved around it — and realised that I was getting accustomed to a sort of minimalist existence.

Login in the morning and work till well into the afternoon, scurry down to grab a quick lunch, be back at your desk, repeat. Suddenly, it’s 8 pm — get up and go down for a stroll round the block that passed off for an evening walk and then head for dinner.

Soon, April gave way to May, then June and here we are...

The situation has also given me the will to ward off any sort of negativity that may seep in from time to time. Staying away from the family — with no flights available to head back should any need arise — does not exactly help in keeping the morale high. But then: We can only control the controllable. Isn’t it?

Cooking simple things leads to least frustration

By Jennifer Barretto, News Editor

Lessons - cooking
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It would be disingenuous to say I've learned a lot of deep lessons from the restrictions and tough circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Quite frankly, I'm still the same - if slightly toned down - spendthrift and avoider of all responsibilities.

But one thing I've had to learn is to cook for myself more. As a serial restaurant patron, the earlier shutdown of eateries to curb the spread of the coronavirus meant I would need to either cook or order in. But there's only so much takeout I could eat before feeling a bit gross, and guilty for producing so much trash in the form of containers.

So, cooking it is! What I learnt is that cooking simple things leads to the least frustration. Those fancy, 20-ingredient recipes should be left for a special occasion.

I've also learned that I prefer East Asian flavours to South Asian when it comes to cooking. Stir-fries are lifesavers when it comes to making something quick, tasty and nutritious.

Now, after all the cooking escapades are over, there's another thing that I've had to learn to make peace with - doing the dishes. To all the mums, dads and responsible adults out there who are rolling their eyes at my whining - yes, I know how silly all this sounds.

Cooking and cleaning up are part of the everyday lives of many, and it's something I've truly taken for granted (sorry, mum) but I'm working on remedying it. (I'd like to add that I acknowledge my privilege to be able to choose between cooking a meal and ordering in/eating at a restaurant. Some people are struggling to get even the most basic of meals on the table. If you are able, consider donating to the many authorised organisations out there that help those hit hard by the pandemic.)

Now, back to the kitchen!

Trade some your freedom for greater good

By Yousra Zaki, Senior Features Editor

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Over the last four months, life has drastically changed around the world. People everywhere were being asked to stay home and stay away from others in order to reduce the risk of infection. COVID-19 has brought with it a wave of negative outcomes, including terrible illness and death, but it also highlighted some important life lessons.

The most important takeaway has to be your willingness to trade some your freedom for the greater good of the public.

Staying home was the most effective method of containing the spread of the virus. There’s no doubt that it was difficult staying home. Many people complained about feeling bored and aimless. Some even felt it was a breach of their individual right, being made to stay home.

We live in a city full of things to do, events, excitement. However, when it comes to the greater good, one should always be willing to sacrifice a little bit of that freedom.

A balance between individual rights and public safety is an ever-changing thing. Trade a little bit of your freedom for the greater good of the public. But this freedom-trade needs to come with some conditions. These includes Wi-Fi and having freedom to work from home.

It was during this time I also learned that almost any job was possible to do from home. Once the virus outbreak ends, it might be worth having a chat with your boss about working from home possibilities when necessary. Most jobs have certain amount of work that can be done remotely. There should still be some system in place that will promote work-life balance. As long as Wi-Fi is provided.

According to a study done by the University of Birmingham, the right to Internet access, also known as the right to broadband, should be considered a human right.

People unable to get online — particularly in developing countries — lack meaningful ways to influence the global players shaping their everyday lives. Additionally, during times like these, it is especially important to be able to contact family, friends and work from home if necessary. Internet is the only way to do so.

Death makes everything spectacularly immaterial

By Manjusha Radhakrishnan, Chief Reporter

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I have learnt to be a hustler when it comes to writing obituaries of celebrities this lockdown. My confession may sound morbid and grotesque, but Bollywood has lost an unprecedented number of actors in the first seven months of 2020.

We lost two cinematic gems Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor to cancer within 48 hours and then lost skilled celebrities like choreographer Saroj Khan. While the first two deaths were a matter of time as they were both battling rare forms of cancer, the other deaths took us by surprise.

But the real sledgehammer blow was when we learnt that a superbly talented and self-made actor Sushant Singh Rajput ended his own life last month. His death was least expected and you are never afforded the time to even feel bad about it.

Call it an occupation hazard, but the truth is that as journalists, we are not given the time to process a celebrity loss, as their lives must be made to sound incredible on paper. Over the lockdown, at least half a dozen obituaries were written hastily and I have learnt that as an entertainment reporter, it’s not prudent to wallow in self-pity or transient grief.

All your attention has to be diverted towards factual accuracy when writing an obituary. You have to get their age, the number of children that they leave behind and other details right. You have to get the statements about funeral arrangements spot on.

You are not allowed to be humane when a star — of any magnitude — dies. Learning to be detached and almost robotic in the way we sculpt obituaries is my way of paying it forward.

It isn’t an ideal scenario, but you learn to make peace with that grim scenario. This lockdown and the glut of celebrity deaths in Bollywood and South Indian cinema has taught me that mortality is a constant reality and death is the biggest leveler.

You can own palatial homes in posh areas and create materialistic havens, but death makes it spectacularly immaterial. How to be emotionally available and yet be distant while writing obituaries is my biggest takeaway from the lockdown.

Wear a mask, wash hands, save lives

By Jay Hilotin, Asssitant Editor

COVID-19 and the restrictions in its wake has taught me many things:

  • Life is only a possibility, death a certainty.
  • Life is important, but fragile; here today, gone tomorrow.
  • It’s possible for the city air to be cleaner, to meet without driving or flying.
  • You can do more with less: Meet more people, emit less CO2.
  • Lockdowns force us to think, create, solve problems and bring up people like Isaac Newton (during Black Plague), and Zoom inventor Eric Yuan.
  • The stock market is not about “blue chips”, it’s about companies that meet real needs, solve real problems.
  • Profit doesn’t make one truly rich — real wealth is love, mutual support, family, understanding, solving problems.
  • Science, the discovery of solutions to man’s problems, belongs to all men.
  • The strongest sports icons are no heroes; real heroes willingly risk their own lives to be with you when you’re at your weakest.
  • Delivery crew, transport staff, end-of-life care givers and service providers are heroes.
  • Things we value is in life — nice house, nice car and fancy outfit are all overrated, often overpriced. Real beauty lies in simplicity.
  • It’s possible for people to be compassionate, care more about others, less about self.