Virtual viruses

Dr. Samhita Barooah

Virtual reality of the pandemic times is indeed a terrible experience. So far I have been fascinated by the entire process only to realise the huge hierarchies and markets attached to it. It is indeed a terrible race to speak, share, discuss, raise a subdued voice, comment or remain mute through out the virtual journeys. I remember asking my students to speak online through different learning apps but they used to be hesitant and answer in monosyllables of yes or no. Online education, socialising, communication and networking are the buzzwords in this unusually silent world of technology. I wonder if we can eat, drink, defacate, urinate and breathe online we are sorted and independent in a different way in this world. Physically independent but infrastructurally and technologically completely dependent. We need to be aware that even today we are dependent on our families for a huge number of things in a relatively disconnected world. We do not wish to show our family ties in public life but in pandemic times we feel much more secure in these family cocoons. Our lives are otherwise haywire with or without jobs, relationships, children, social ties but in pandemic times we have come to terms with our destinies. Our ideological battles being ironed out, we feel comfortable in expresing our family stands on our covid preparedness, care and cure factors. In some homes covid has brought people together while in many homes families are disrupted forever. Family as a support system, family as a resouce and reserve, family as a respite from the workplace have again emerged as a huge balance. 

People didnt realise when the family entered the workplace and when the workplace entered the family in this online world. Some people lost their family members during this pandemic due to the virus attack more so due to isolation norms and lack of family care. The disease is immaterial mostly when it comes to healing. At times people heal when they return to their familiar spaces. No amount of medicines or resources can heal them as much as their own loved ones and family members. In this pandemic people are isolated from this most potent healing source. Under such circumstances, we cannot expect the recovery of the active cases. Such people are cracking up to other mental health vulnerabilities. We need people to safeguard their resources during this online world. Resources like water, phone recharge, soap and santisers, PPE kits, immunity levels were of utmost priority. Knowledge resources of online tools, web applications, IT skills became most useful to function skillfully. Electricity became the new treasure house of survival, data storage devices and internet recharge packs became the control tools of inclusion and exclusion from benefits of virtual development platforms. 

Distinct experiences of age groups changed with different levels of restricted mobilities imposed during the pandemic as safety measures. Children in different age groups have been adversely affected. 

This pandemic has taught children to remain isolated, vulnerable, fearful, restricted and confined to closed spaces. Some children have moved to streets to sell, beg and borrow. Just yesterday one school going child started selling pens on the street. A few kids started selling vegetables and fruits along with their parents. Childhood used to be filled with games, fun, adventure and the joys of being together. This pandemic has moved these childhood pleasures to the mobile screens and computers if you can afford. Otherwise you land up in jails, lock ups,  footpaths, culverts, old pipes and shelter homes with higher vulnerabilities of getting infected in such group living conditions. 

Masked identities, obsessively cleaning habits, self obsessed individualism, solitary confinements and hoarding for an unknown future are what we have come to terms with in this pandemic. Individuals within families are negotiating their life expectancies, losing or gaining livelihood shifts to sustain family needs. Some people were bereft of their families in their last moments while others were leaving their families to ensure their safety. This pandemic has taught many truths and unveiled many lies which defined human nature. We have learnt to lead virtual lives in the real world. We show support, solidarity, empathy and angst in the virtual world through our illusions of emoticons and memes. But in the real world we forgot how to relate to each other safely tucked inside our masks, gloves, PPE kits and virtual screens. This pandemic has determined the new previleges of being inside homes, getting food from one’s own farm, forest, pond, river or sea, having the support of elders, peers and kids to ensure emotional security and occasional mobility to keep oneself fit. Suddenly the cash economy crumbled and only things which mattered was food, water, shelter and basic survival support services. Most public spaces were transformed into private beds for patients and travellers. State authorities defined the norms for commons and fractured the essence of diversity, democracy and self governance in the process of safeguarding lives, liberty, justice and equality. Can virtuality really transform realities of life is the moot question in this context? Some of us have created comfort zones in this virtual uncertainity while most of us are struggling to come to terms with the transitions from the real to the digital and the virtual cyber space. Wonder how freedom can be articulated in this era of confined cultures. 

Samhita Barooah

Samhita Barooah

Samhita Barooah is a Researcher and Travel Writer.