When this ends, when will it end? It has to end, because what goes up must come down, remember? Even Newtonian laws have to apply right? For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s true, is it not? But what about the maxim, is it the darkest before the dawn? Oh and how dark it has been!
At a time of paranoia on states possessing nuclear weapons, here is a tiny microcosm that has proven more destructive than conventional weapons in recent times. It’s as concealed as nuclear weapons, except it can’t be seen at all. It’s fired without warning and is more relentless in its attacks. It knows not visas and borders, can’t be kept out by walls and economic nationalism. It doesn’t understand xenophobia towards immigrants and does not distinguish in race, class, nationality or ethnicity in its attacks. It has been ageist though, taking more lives of the elderly. It can’t be shut out by protests or elections or does not necessarily go away with seasons.
It created problems but didn’t necessarily create new ones. It merely accentuated and exacerbated the wide-open fissures in the system. America has long had a sclerotic political system that was bickering on healthcare. And my oh my, did COVID-19 bring in the discourse needed for an overhaul of the healthcare system. It showed us an apathetic political class globally, that has failed to act on income inequality or solve the minimum wage question? Bernie and the gang would have bickered about the same issues in a pre-COVID world: economy, healthcare, income inequality and minimum wage, the issue now is that COVID has exploited the overlooked vulnerabilities in the system.
Work from home they say! Can everyone work from home? What will sports journalists write about with no sports? How can filmmakers’ film from just home? How will athletes train? How will pilots fly, more importantly who will they fly during this phase?
Work from home they say, a heartless economy where it so easily became a white collar quarantine? One where the rich ran to swanky vacation homes in the mountains; the middle class had a different uphill climb juggling screaming kids with scheduling work calls and scrambling to send off emails, and then there were the others that this heartless economy exposed. An economy where we talk more about the bottomline than the frontline. But we gave them the tag of essential workers, to feel good about ourselves. Mostly people in low-paying jobs that require their physical presence and
cannot avail air-conditioned homes with internet connectivity to do their job. Their job requires frontline duty. Who? Hapless ambulance drivers, police force, grocery store clerks, warehouse workers, delivery drivers, and lest we forget the valiant healthcare workers, not just doctors, but paramedics, hospital staff and nursing aides.
America, as Ronald Reagan once romantically crooned was the shining city on the hill, is now the most ravaged country by the pandemic, with a third of cases and over 90,000 deaths. So dire, the situation that America’s best case scenario according to Dr. Anthony Fauci is a 100,000 deaths. And this was stated nearly two months ago, when the country had lost just under 3000 lives. At this point, it’s morbid and yet disheartening to think that the death of at least 10–20,000 more people in the US is merely fait-accompli.
The American Dream as it was packaged and sold was one of prosperity, perseverance, the triumph of human endeavors, the Obama adage of “you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try” .
But as the Irish writer Fintan O’Toole quips “the world has loved, hated and even envied the United States, but now, for the first time, we pity it” .The American Dream is on hold, it may even cease to exist in this case, as the American nightmare plays out.
For too long, the Indian Dream was the American Dream. I addressed this concept in a talk last March, where for the aspirational classes of the 1990s, the notion was that you do well in school, in order to pursue a STEM degree and then head on to a great grad school program in the U.S (everything else is secondary). One would then be armed with intellectual arsenal to land a plump job in Silicon Valley or Wall Street, then get the H-1B rolling and then the green card was an eventuality, the pathway to citizenship follows and last but not least, your children born in the US (as second generation or colloquially called ABCDs) never need to know what the get out of jail card looked like-the one that was your student visa coming here. So much so, that one could facetiously say that the obsession with the American Dream was that growing up in India, education looked like this :A..B..C…H-1B….. A…B…C…H-.1B
The American Dream of prosperity, economic success, tech entrepreneurship, Wall Street wizardry, academic excellence and individual brilliance has now been exported to other parts of the world. One doesn’t need to be stateside to achieve any of these.
A sense of location agnosticism is setting in, as quarantined life has made Zoom the new Google, where we are overly reliant on it to get work done and connect. Ironically, globalization has brought about a sense of homogeneity in locations across most major cities.
In Sydney, Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, London, Washington DC and New York City, there is a sense of working life homogeneity. You will end up riding the subway to work in most instances, stand in a long line for lunch at a chain salad shop. You will find a decent coffee café with your favorite brew, cappuccinos, mochas, lattes and americanos are served everywhere. There will always be a fun pub for trivia nights, you can find a decent apartment to rent, form a diverse friend circle, and even get a good 5G connection for Netflix and pushing that Amazon button. As far as gastronomic delights are concerned, you will surely find an eclectic mix of Chinese, Italian, Indian, Mexican, Thai, Sushi, Vietnamese, pizza places and a good burger joint in those cities. The things that will continue to be different will be the weather, taxes and perhaps a language impediment, if at all. But Ubers, Netflix, Amazon, Google Maps and grocery delivery apps can be language agnostic.
There has been much debate on the future of work, and now in a post COVID world, the future of work is here. Will we get so accustomed to virtual meetings that gathering in person and traveling to conferences and overseas offices will seem like a laborious task? Have we reached the end of hot desking and less of co-working spaces, given the cautionary tales of not maintaining a safe distance? Will home offices now be the norm?
As 2020 becomes the year of COVID-19, as lockdowns and quarantines become our “new normal”, there is a clarion call, a longing to go back to normal. But sadly, normal seems to be a thing of the past and a “post COVID normal” is what awaits.
A post pandemic normal where the warmth of hugs and handshakes are not back in vogue. Where the elbow bump is the new woke thing to do, replacing the archaic high-five. One where public transport, airports and long flights are the same as the fictionalized Mordor, perilous places to avoid for your own safety. Will conferences and concerts be able to attract congregations? Will we come out of this with serious side effects of having binged watched too much virtual content? Will Purell as a brand be valued more than Porsche? Will we become more averse to sharing in a sharing economy, where they can be conflicts with social distancing (take home sharing/ride sharing).
A post COVID normal, where we can all be likened to characters in an Alfred Hitchcock murder mystery, each suspecting the other, and hence we all keep our safe distance of six feet apart. Or would you prefer an espionage novel analogy, where each one suspicious of the other of being a double agent, hence, we all keep six feet away.
Surely, this will end, it has to end, nothing lasts forever right, not even cold November Rain! But then again, when will it end?