Illustration 2020 looking back
Image Credit: Seyyed Llata / Gulf News

Dubai: What do you remember about the year 2020? COVID-19, of course, coupled with a fair bit of sad news from around the world.

A WORLD INTERRUPTED: A look back on the 12 months the coronavirus threatened us and claimed at least 1.8 million lives

Scratch the surface and you will find that apart from the pandemic, there were many incidents in your own life that have left an indelible mark. They may be moments with all kinds of emotions – the birth of a child, relocating to a new place, a graduation in the family, learning a new hobby… the list is endless.

If COVID-19 has taught us one lesson, it is that life goes on despite all the odds that we face around us. And this gives us hope as we move into the New Year.

We spoke to a few Gulf News editors who look back at their lives to recollect what they learnt from 2020.

After seven years, we are a family again

Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor

My wife and I were bracing to be empty-nesters. 2020 was the year when my daughter goes to university. She did. She’s a freshman at a college. But she is attending online classes. Which means she’s still at home.

We had our worries. Or rather, I was worried. She’s daddy’s girl, although we fight furiously and endlessly. So I wondered how I would cope with her absence. “You’ve to let go,” I told myself. “She has to find her feet. She’s got to learn to fly on her own. She will learn to cope,” my wife reassured me.

Illustration 2020 looking back
Image Credit: Seyyed Llata / Gulf News

Then coronavirus happened. My daughter’s Grade 12 exams went on, but the last one was scrapped. It didn’t affect the results. But it changed her plans. She had her eyes set on the universities in Canada and the United Kingdom.

When COVID-19 came along, my salary was slashed. I could no longer afford to send my daughter abroad. She understood the financial constraints and opted to attend a university in India.

My daughter used to say she can’t wait to attend college. “I’ll be free,” she used to remind me. Freedom from her parents. Freedom to do things her way. It didn’t work out that way. Instead, my son came home from Canada. He’s been away for seven years. He was to work there for a year after graduate studies. “Things are not looking good. It doesn’t make sense to stick around,” he said.

So we have both our children at home. That too in a year we were to become empty-nesters. I’m not complaining. It’s good to have them at home. We are a family again.

The year of a personal struggle

Sanjib Kumar Das, Assistant Editor

As I try putting pen to paper, talking about that one incident in my personal life that defined the year or that one happening that stood out – negative or positive – the first question I stumble upon is: Am I supposed to be talking about the ‘Year that Was’ or ‘The Year that Wasn’t?’ And in a nutshell, personally speaking, that’s the most engrossing and captivating imagery or thought that sweeps my mind when I think about 2020: It’s the Year that Wasn’t.

Be that as it may, 2020 has come across, and now about to pass by, as a year that taught me a lot of life lessons. For instance, it let me realise the power of the Ethernet like never before. Just come to think about it: What was hitherto primarily a vehicle to carry all our messages and ensure a seamless exchange of information – in visual and aural forms – turned out to be the mainstay of our lives as we all stayed locked up in our homes for the best part of the year, trying our best to hang on to dear life and trying to make the most of our existence - professionally, socially, financially, psychologically … - yes, through the power of the Ethernet. And that was nothing but trying to pass the test of resilience on a different pitch all together.

Illustration 2020 looking back
Image Credit: Seyyed Llata / Gulf News

But much more than anything else, 2020 is the year that has taught me this life lesson that there is no bigger challenge, no sterner test of resilience than the one called ‘life’ itself. For instance, until the autumn of 2020 arrived, for 48 summers, the ‘C’ word was one that always spooked me – and I’m not talking about coronavirus. The very thought made me shudder at times and I was always thankful to God that it was never quite into my orbit. So seeing a near one in tears, seated alone in that room with its walls painted as white as the pristine snow on the Himalayan slopes, I cringed at the realisation that ‘cancer’ was now very much into my orbit. And I cursed myself for having stepped out to get the insurance documentation done barely seconds before the onco surgeon stepped into that antechamber to break the ‘news’ to the patient herself – in this case, my mum.

Since that moment, life indeed is a tryst with a ‘new normal’ for me and 2020 shall remain etched in memory, not just as the year that gave us a seemingly never-ending fight at a macro level with a ‘C’ word, but also a much more potent challenge at a micro level with another ‘C’ word that has stepped out from the safe distance of medical journals, first-person accounts and television shows to be front and centre of my life. And the best part is that I never knew that we as a family would be able to stand out against the fear of an unknown in such definitive terms.

So, is 2020 the ‘Year that Wasn’t’ or the ‘Year that Was and Could Still Be’? I’ll count my blessings for now.

On the wings of hope and a prayer

Bindu Rai, Entertainment Editor

Hope appeared to be a rare commodity in 2020. Hope to meet our loved ones some day, to find happiness in simple joys or to merely survive to see the dawn of a new day.

Yet, amidst the death and destruction that cast a dark shadow over countless lives, the clouds parted just enough to let hope seep in for a lucky few. It was this sliver that I held on to while pregnant and isolated during the peak of this pandemic.

Illustration 2020 looking back
Image Credit: Seyyed Llata / Gulf News

Carrying new life when despair is all that surrounds you puts a few things into perspective. Our families were informed they were to be grandparents over Zoom calls; hospital visits had to be limited and physical exercise was almost non-existent.

The tentacles of pure terror would slowly creep up on us in the dead of night, lurking in the darkness when our guards were down. The fear of a deadly virus was a reality that kept us isolated from all near and dear ones even when the movement restrictions were lifted.

Days jumbled into weeks and months, carrying us through the darkest of days until it was time for our babies to open their eyes to a weary world, battling a new normal.

I won’t say it has been easy. I certainly won’t say we have let our guards down even now. But as the virus continues to mutate, leaving more fear and death in its wake, life will always find a way. Just hold on to that hope a little bit longer.

Back in the City of Joy after 17 long years

Gautam Bhattacharyya, Senior Associate Editor

It was a year when our major concern was to survive the pandemic and bide our time for it to end. Work from home, restrictions on travel meant that the idea was to maintain status quo.

However, I ended it with a big bang – by severing my ties with Dubai after more than 17 years and returning to Kolkata – the ‘City of Joy’ where I come from. I am, of course, professionally still engaged with Gulf News but it hasn’t been easy to part ways with a city which my family called home for so long.

Illustration 2020 looking back
Image Credit: Seyyed Llata / Gulf News

There are too many memories that I have carried back with me since I relocated only more than a week back. To be honest, it hasn’t yet quite sunk in and it seems more like a held-over annual vacation but then, it will surely do over a period of time. My return started with a week-long period of self-isolation, during which I logged in for work after a few days to get into the business-as-usual mode as soon as I can.

However, the change in lifestyle that these nine months of life in the pandemic has imposed here is palpable. A new order has descended in the housing complex that I live in – the morning newspaper is no longer delivered at your doorstep but left in orderly piles at the security guard’s station below with the flat numbers jotted on them. Next to them would be offloaded boxes of Amazon, Flipkart or Big Basket with the essential supplies – and the onus is on the residents to collect them.

As I try to settle down, a friend asks me over phone as to what it is that I would be missing about Dubai. Surprisingly though, it has to be the sights and sounds of some of the relatively regular experiences rather than just the seamless roads or the weekend rounds of the malls.

Examples? It’s could be the festive ambience of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium during the tennis fortnight, the functional lunch plate of rice and meat balls of IKEA, a leisurely Friday morning visit to the neighbourhood Spinneys – my daughter’s favourite haunt as she was growing up.

Or it could even be memories of a ‘Puri-bhaji’ breakfast a few blocks away from my house during the months of July-August, when most Indians would turn into ‘summer bachelors’ with their families already away on vacation.

Sounds familiar, right?

We learnt to walk along the berm

Sadiq Shaban, Opinion Editor

As 2020 enters its final lap, it appears as if the entire year has been grey like the Northern sky. The virus continued to wreak havoc, disrupting lives. As summer gave away to winter and news of a potential vaccine began to emerge, there was hope and excitement in the air, only to be punctured by a fresh barrage of doom and gloom — the virus had mutated in the UK — and parts of the world might soon be looking at another spell of lockdowns, more anxiety, more discomfort.

I will remember 2020 for two things: the arrival of my baby — rather prematurely — and the countless hospital trips, traipsing through strict lockdowns, a digital pass in hand, holding our breaths, singing — even this shall pass. The baby is 10 months old now and she is attempting to crawl.

Illustration 2020 looking back
Image Credit: Seyyed Llata / Gulf News

To see her progress from rocking back and forth on her hands and knees to the present commando-type crawl is my antidepressant. Yes, we have had to cancel all our travel plans, deal with boisterous kids taking lessons online, and a baby born bang in the middle of a pandemic (and we are not alone in this) — but we somehow learnt to walk along the berm.

So here we are. The world is not out of the woods yet. A new variant of the coronavirus is out there. Again one hears of frightful stuff like bans, airspaces closed, borders sealed, flights cancelled, holidays scrapped, but then: what is hope, if not our ability to see light despite the darkness. We may all be in some kind of an inscrutable gypsy curse but a baby’s laughter is perhaps all that you need to shake it off.

Learning to cook

Imran Malik, Assistant Editor

What? The sauce doesn’t go into the pot with the boiling water and the pasta? Oh. I’m clueless when it comes to cooking, but, you already guessed that. However, after spending months in lockdown and plenty of that time in the kitchen experimenting and subscribing to several YouTube food channels too, I’m… none the wiser. So, I bought a fancy microwave and stacked up with frozen meals to make life easier during this pandemic. Or so I thought…

We have domesticated fire and made it to the moon but as we head into 2021 there is still a lot of mystery left in the world. Who killed JFK? Is the Bermuda Triangle real? Are they hiding aliens at Area 51? The most pressing - how does my microwave work?

Illustration 2020 looking back
Image Credit: Seyyed Llata / Gulf News

It has 35 buttons. Thirty-five, just to nuke a little pizza. One of those is marked ’60 Secs’ and there is another that says ‘1 Min’. Eh? It has ‘Cook’, ‘Reheat’ and ‘Defrost’ options and I’ve tried them all but no matter what I do, that chicken spinning around in there is always either cold in the middle or KABOOM! It has exploded. I open the door and it looks like a grisly crime scene.

I thought microwaves were designed to save you time in the kitchen, but I’m spending even more in there poking and prodding away at that complicated interface praying for a hot meal. My chances are slim; I’m a man and that means the instruction manual was tossed away the day I plugged this darned device in. Dinner this year has almost always been a bowl of cereal. Speaking of bowls, I’m running out - 5 of them have detonated in there too.

So, I have not learnt how to cook. But what I have learnt this year is that I really, really miss eating out.

Virtual celebrations took pain off pandemic year

Alex Abraham, Senior Associate Editor

2020 was a year when the world came to a standstill. But I will remember it as the year when I could attend every important event - virtually.

Under normal circumstances, there are limits to the events we can attend physically. Take for example the first birthday of twins born to my cousin in the US. A phone call to wish the babies would be the normal procedure, but this time the birthday celebrations were beamed into our living room, courtesy Zoom. There were games, songs, a special message and plenty of time to talk.

Illustration 2020 looking back
Image Credit: Seyyed Llata / Gulf News

Better still was the 50th wedding anniversary of my in-laws. Yes, we were disappointed that we could not fly down to Kerala to greet them in person, but we enjoyed taking part in the next best thing – a virtual gathering of relatives from around the world. It went on for five hours with participants from the US, having just woken up on the other side of the world, not willing to end the meeting.

Most of all I will remember the worship services that we could attend every week despite the churches remaining closed. New doors were opened enabling us to hear some of the best speakers in the world talking directly to us through the virtual platform. New technology also ensured that we were not limited by time and space, allowing us to participate in various church events around the world, Easter and Christmas included.

We may not have been able to see our relatives and friends in person, but technology stepped in to bridge the gap this year allowing us to keep in touch with those close to us as never before.