Previous ChapterPunjabi Version
April 5, 2020

Today, Prime minister Modi has asked all Indians to turn off all electricity and light lamps for nine minutes at 9 PM. There have been many exciting and hot discussions about his call. His opponents vigorously questioned the relationship between coronavirus and the lighting of the lamps. The religious among his ardent supporters, on the other hand, by associating the event with astrology, have tried to color the event with supernatural powers.

To be truthful, it got me thinking too. In a country of 1.3 billion, several million need to get out daily to put food in front of their families. How difficult it would be to contain them indoors. I have a problem with several of Modi’s policies, but this one act of lighting lamps seizes my attention, and I start to view him as an intelligent and capable leader. A simple act of lighting a candle, knowing that everyone else in the country is doing the same thing at that same moment, can generate a feeling of oneness and a sense of solving the problem together; it can create hope of success. Modi’s call works and the jillions of Indians light lamps at the selected time for the chosen duration.

I am thinking about 9/11 when a few fanatics, by demolishing the twin towers, destroyed man’s faith in man. There was a time of no security checks in the airports. Once I had to take a flight from Sacramento, California, the city had a small airport then, and instead of the passenger boarding bridges, it had movable stairs for the passengers to climb into the airplanes. I was late, and assuming I had missed my flight, the crew closed the door and pulled the stairs off. But when they saw me come running, they pushed the stairs back and opened the door for me, and I, without having to answer any questions, climbed in. It is a different matter that my own guilt of disturbing the operation made me walk meekly to my seat, with eyes cast down. At another time, my parents came to visit me, and the staff at the door allowed me to walk into the plane to give them a surprise welcome. One instance changed things forever, and we have fully adjusted to the new airport norms. The good old days’ stories sound like fairy tales now.

In my backyard today, I spotted a pair of deer, ‘a mother and her fawn,’ I think. We have thick woods behind our yard, and every now and then, deer, peacocks, and other small animals wander onto our side. I did not dare chase them by getting close and took a picture through my porch net. It was dark, and the image did not come out to be perfect – but hey, why not, when a description of deer in my own yard affords me a distinctive, personal warmth.

Yes, we were talking about how a single, lone incident can change the way we live our lives. In destroying the towers, the lunatics had only the USA, in their minds as the target. However, this virus has immobilized the entire world without care for any borders. Will it completely disappear one day? When will another virus show up? In ten years? in two years? In six months? Will the world go into hiding, every time? After 9/11, the governments took decisive steps to protect the airports, government buildings, and other prominent venues. It sure made things inconvenient for us, but deeming it a necessary part of our functioning, we accepted the change and moved on with our lives. I think this time also, something similar will happen. Our ways will change such that the next time around, the world does not abruptly halt while trying to figure out how to save each life. Our lifestyles will adopt a slightly different course, in due time, making fairy tales of the stories from our lives before Corona. What will be that new direction, the new curriculum, I strain my mind? How will people be doing their jobs after the lockdowns are lifted?

I remember talking to my friend, who works for one of the fortune-500 hundred corporations. He oversees dozens of plants all over the country, resulting in his frequent travel. His job involves attending meetings, to see how things are going and provide consulting. After lockdown, all those meetings are happening online. Instead of flying out three or four times a month and staying away, he is now working from home. Not a single plant has been affected by the lack of his physical presence, he tells me. Not only is his family happier, but his company is also saving tens of thousands of dollars in airline tickets and hotel expenses. My journalist friend Baljit Balli tells me that the Punjab government ministers are doing all their meetings and press conferences online and that their unnecessary heavy police protected shuttling between cities has come to a dead stop. Everything is still happening with excellent efficiency, without the overwhelming time and money it used to cost. So, the tasks that we can do from home without running around, wasting time and money will (and should) be done from home. Already software is on the increase that makes these meetings more natural and realistic. Saving commute and other travel means more time in the hands of the employees, and they can do more work. The organizations will not abandon these newly discovered ways that lower costs and allow them to do more with less.

However, there are scenarios that my mind cannot sort out clearly. Sitting inside my house, I enjoy being an obedient and compliant citizen, furthering the self-isolation directives of my authorities. My demands include that I can buy the essentials I need to sustain myself.  That it provides for items to prepare my food, the toiletries, the kitchen supplies, water, gas and electricity, and several other things. I also want the hospitals to stay open with doctors and nurses in case I get sick. I wonder if everyone like me is sitting home, where will these things come from; who will be producing, distributing, and delivering these products and services? I guess, Corona or no Corona, some people will have to continue to go out and work, so I can get what I need, without interruption.

But what happens if these people providing essential services need to be protected? What if they get sick? What backup plan are the governments going to set up? If the governments must keep the economies floating next time around, the ways these essential tasks are performed need to be changed. I wonder if the impetus will be to free these tasks of direct physical involvement of people, and If there will be a renewed urgency on developing nimble machinery and robotics to replace humans. Does it mean the machines will relieve humans of their duties? If so, what will people do? Who will feed them? It is a scary thought. But then I realize that for centuries, there have been inventions, with each design making our work more accessible than the previous, allowing fewer and fewer hands to do the same job. Despite all the discoveries and improvements in work efficiencies, the man is getting busier by the day. Our work does not become less, just the nature of it changes. I do not foresee a future machine or a robot that will make the man sit idle, but if it does, the man will find ways to feed itself and keep itself busy. I do have that much faith in man and mankind. One glaring flaw of globalization of economies has surfaced in this pandemic. Countries have become so much dependent on one another that when a single country like China shuts down, the broken supply chains interrupt productions all over the world. The nations will now be forced to become self-sufficient in critical sectors.

Whatever are our problems, nature continues its course without regard to any of those. Despite all the Corona ruckus, the spring of 2020 is on schedule. Our Bradford pear has lost all its white flowers and is filled with lush green leaves. Though many of the taller trees in the back row still lack fully developed leaves, the shorter ones have filled up. There is much greenery all around. And yes, I was able to capture images of the squirrel, not from a close, but from a distance when he was sitting up in a tree. But at least, now I have him on my camera.

May 9, 2020
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