It started as a dreadful email, informing us about the closure of university. It came as a shock to final year students who were busy planning their last two months at university. The awaited delights like the grad-trip, photoshoots and the final goodbyes.We were too oblivious of what was happening around the world and hardly discussed the possibility of this virus’s outbreak in Pakistan.
Most students evacuated the university premises, without proper goodbyes, leaving much of their belongings, thinking it wouldn’t be long until life resumed back to where it had paused. I had my suspicions though and packed my bag with a heavy heart, not knowing when I would see my friends again. They had become more of a family over the past 4 years.
The bus station was jam packed. The surroundings looked quite comical with an ocean of faces hidden behind black and white masks. The anxious eyes, fidgety demeanour added to the tension in the atmosphere. Everyone impatiently waiting for their buses. I could hardly breathe behind this locally produced cheap mask. As elsewhere in the world, we faced a shortage of masks in Pakistan. These new tight masks along with protection, offered an immense strain on the back of the ear lobes. However, I could also see many people hurriedly pushing their masks back up after they had slipped down to the chin, not so tight for them.
I came back to a very different Lahore. As we cruised through the almost empty roads, my Uber driver complained how he had been desperately looking for customers since the enforced lockdown 3 days ago. In an almost tearful voice, he told me how he had taken a loan last month to buy the car and had hoped to pay back by working as an Uber driver. I could picture the millions of labourers who relied on daily wages to support their family and would now be losing their jobs, as businesses were shutting down all over the country.
When you hear the word ‘Lahore’, a vibrant and an ever-busy city with a strong sense of culture and food pops in your mind. No wonder it is known as the ‘Dil’ or heart of Pakistan. Its specialities like murgh chanay, nihari, karahi, paye and kebabs served in restaurants spread widely, to the very last inch. However, the empty bazaars and markets were telling a much different story and gloom hung over the city, a city once filled with ever cheerful and lively people.
Humour in times of crisis
The initial lockdown days had certainly not weakened the socializing spirit of Pakistanis. In fact, many families saw this time as a perfect opportunity to visit their relatives and host house parties now that everyone was finally free.
My relatives were probably the most stubborn against precautionary measures advised by the health authorities. It’s almost impossible to greet them without shaking hands lest you want to be lectured on disrespect and how ‘these new rules don’t apply here’.
Suddenly, WhatsApp and Facebook became the hub of “Corona Intelligence”, flooded with randomly shared Corona videos. To the millennials’ amusement, mothers geared up for a frantic race to develop remedies that would eliminate corona for good. Some of these remedies were as simple as forcing their children to drink gallons of hot salty water every two hours, while other concoctions contained a complex mixture of innumerable herbs.
I suffer from a few allergies, but I would dare not sneeze or cough in front of my family who had already begun to develop their suspicions towards me. My mother, however, was empathetic enough to give me warm salty water to drink after every two hours.
On a lighter note, a meme warned Lahoris that they shouldn’t be surprised if the shawarmas had a different taste now. The shawarma makers have finally begun to wash their hands in these ‘corona times’. Maybe these testing times can later be rephrased as ‘corona times’.
The lockdown was extended for a further 3 weeks as the number of infected people kept on increasing in the country. Deep down, we all had a feeling it wouldn’t be just 3 weeks and corona was going to stay for a good long time. It wasn’t going to die down in the summer either, as rumoured.
Like universities all around the world, my university also decided to shift to online lectures. This online education on MS Teams or Zoom must have been a dream come true for all the lazy students including me who always fantasised of studying from bed rather than dragging themselves to classes. Though, often I find myself muting the speakers and dozing off in these virtual classrooms.
I have always been a productivity freak or that is what I try to tell myself. The truth is that I have always struggled to identify the thin border between being busy and being productive. Like many quarantine-bored people, I have also tried to come up with a to-do list. Though, honestly, it’s a huge struggle trying to suppress the urge to check my phone while reading those books I had put on hold years ago.
Despite these difficult times, it has also brought opportunities and blessings. With every family member at home, lounges are once again brimming with boisterous kids and ever-quarrelling siblings. Grandparents and parents finally getting the chance to dine with every family member. It dawned upon us a harsh realization, about the precious moments we had been missing while being preoccupied with building our career. With the pace of life slowed down, the boring quarantine days have helped filter out the many distractions and the peace has allowed people to listen to their ‘real-selves’.
The news, however, has become even more depressing. The numbers keep on growing exponentially and the curve doesn’t seem to flatten even a tiny bit, and this has made me all the more fearful for my family and friends.
Every night, I find myself desperately asking Google the same questions.
“When will Corona virus end…?”
“How many people are expected to become effected by Corona Virus?”
But it seems that Google doesn’t know answers to these questions, and even in the 21st century humanity has been forced to bow against a microscopic strand of protein.
Corona has just accelerated the process of history. With businesses, work and education being conducted online, it’s not hard to imagine how we are living on the brink of a socio-political, economic and technological revolution.
As in any crisis in human history, habits usually stay long after the crisis is over. I desperately need answers to these questions because I fear that we might wake up to a very different post-corona world for which we are not prepared, just like we weren’t ready for this pandemic.