200215 love coronavirus
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  • Now there is not much to look at beyond the screens.
  • There is not much of a choice.
  • Those who didn’t have time now have all the time in the world, but there is not much to do.
  • Much that matters, in any case.

There are no hugs in the time of coronavirus. Love, as we knew it, is fidgety today. All the normal expressions of love’s existence have been shown a yellow card: sit in a corner until we know what to do with you. The eternal is having a hard time dealing with the reality of the transient that is so powerful it will be known in human history as that one thing that changed the world in its essence. In April 2020, it is the microbes of the coronavirus that decide how much love is to be shown, and how.

Glued to smart phones, living life in stories of Instagram, recording important events of an uneventful life in Snapchat, chronicling the happy mundane on Facebook as if in a 24/7 feel-good movie, finding validation in the echo chamber of Twitter, chatting for hours on free packages given by cell companies as generously as overstuffed goodie bags at the birthday party of the most unpopular child in class, the world of the 21st century Pakistan, a few weeks ago, was like that of any developing country confused about its material status. Everyone was busy doing nothing. Almost everyone. Almost everyone from the upper crust, the elite, the upper middle class of Pakistan. No one had time to look up from their screens. Then the coronavirus, COVID-19, happened. Life beyond apps and posts suddenly went: oops.

Now there is not much to look at beyond the screens. There is not much of a choice. Those who didn’t have time now have all the time in the world, but there is not much to do. Much that matters, in any case. It is not even the sudden emptiness that is the principal issue. It is the growing realisation of skewed priorities. Days that worked on a list of the important, the not-so-important, and the postpone-able have abruptly become too long. The change that is visible in the lives of a certain class of people in Pakistan while they hide from the coronavirus is a replication, give or take a few cultural sensibilities and geographical imperatives, of the lives of a certain class of people all over the world. Their “boredom” in their luxurious imprisonment is a collective lament against the unfairness of an invisible virus that attacks without discrimination, without checking the number of zeroes of their assets.

Life comes to a standstill

Much is on hold in the lives of the rich and the richer and those who aspire to be among the rich and the richer: monthly travelling to Dubai or London, hosting lunches, dinners, parties, pre-parties, after-parties, brunches, birthday parties, baby showers, bridal showers–yes, Pakistan has those too. What  else has been put on the indefinite list are the weddings, the big, loud, extravagant, multiple-day, song-and-dance fiestas of displays of the finest jewellery, VIP guests, and formal wear that costs more than good manners allow the old moneyed folks to announce to no one other than their near and dear ones. Rain or sunshine, hail or lightning, blizzard or blistering heat, other than the month of Ramadan and the first ten days of Moharram for Sunnis and the entire month for Shias, Pakistani weddings happen throughout the year. Not in the time of COVID-19.

On the solemn side, funerals are no longer what Pakistan is used to. Even those who die of old age, other diseases, and other reasons in the time of coronavirus do not have large assemblies of people for their last rites. Barring those of family members of a few who are unable to convey to their relatives, friends, acquaintances and well-wishers the importance of social distancing even at the time of mourning, most funerals in Pakistan are sparsely attended amidst a government mandated lockdown that not many take seriously.

People pray for everything now. In the absence of a precedent of a global pandemic that affected people in almost 200 countries, there is no end to bafflement, uncertainty, outright fear. While the world’s leading scientists and medical researchers work to find a solution, an immediate vaccine for the 7.8 billion inhabitants of the planet Earth, much attention is focused on the personal, the long ignored, the truly important. Unable to travel to be with their loved ones in other countries and even other cities, so many of us are taking a close look at those who we live with, those who are in the same radius. Our lives are more about screens than ever, but the content, the context has undergone a change that was much needed. Now the focus is on what truly matters.

Too much of everything is mostly counterproductive, in any aspect of life. Closing of schools, colleges, offices, non-essential businesses, restaurants and cinemas has turned a large number of people into restless clones of their active pre-coronavirus selves. They don’t know what to do when they are home at the time they are not used to being home. Suffocation is the word often bandied when describing self-isolation. Getting on each other’s nerves, siblings, grandparents, in-laws, spouses and children are finding a new meaning of one big happy family.

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But then there are the slivers of good.

Conversations are more meaningful. There are no hurried chitchats. Inquiries about each other’s wellbeing are not mere talk-fillers. Kindness is getting its due place. Appreciation of the material is introspective. Having resources to be in a safe place with access to good food, books, internet, television, and a constant flow of information mixed with conspiracy theories and fake news is a blessing.

Physical proximity of loved ones is the single most important thing now.

Fear of the unknown permeates the air. Physical interaction is minimal. The most primal instinct to physically reach out to those closest to you is learning new codes of self-restraint. Handshakes have changed into head nods. Air kissing is where it should be: in the box of non-essentials. Real kisses exist only in the Roman Holiday.

There is one thing that I miss more than anything else.

There are no hugs in the time of the coronavirus.

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