The Coronavirus pandemic has altered the lives of people like never before. Considering the contagion is unlikely to be controlled anytime soon, these transitory changes are here to stay for a long time, argues Saima Bhat
Due to get married in the first week of August, Umer Ali cannot make up his mind about the preparations. He had drafted two lists, one for shopping, another listing the guests he wants to invite. Both had longer and shorter versions: longer ones if the Corona is controlled by July end and the shorter if it stays.
In the first place, Umer has ordered masks, sanitizers, gloves, hand washes, and portable sinks. “This is important even before finalising what to eat,” said Umer.
As of now, the family is unable to figure out how to proceed with invitations. “We had planned a decent wedding with a guest list of around 800 people but now choosing among the people is becoming difficult.”
Since the virus swept the globe, life seems to have changed in Kashmir as well.
Marriages are planned affairs but death comes instantly. In the post-pandemic era, funerals apart, the mourning has also changed in Kashmir. The majority of the people are restricting the period of mourning to three days only to avoid the customary gathering on the fourth day. “Due to the current situation, mourning shall be restricted to three days only,” most obituary advertisements in local newspapers read. Interestingly quite a few people read the newspapers these days. Instead, they prefer digital editions.
When Maimoona, a middle-aged woman from Bemina passed away, she was given a final bath by her three daughters and two sisters. “Islam teaches us to do all these activities ourselves. Given the pandemic, my family decided not to hire body washer,” said her daughter Shugufta.
They set up a small tent for around 30 women and served packed bottled water with a spray of sanitizer. The family decided against serving tea or any eatable changing many hands. “This is not the time to put others in trouble,” she said, adding dinners were served in plates rather than in tramis (large plates), which are traditionally shared by four people
There are other lifestyle changes too. A customary greeting has now mostly become a no-no. Occasionally what we witness is people opting for an elbow bump over a handshake. And the hugging has become the part of pre-pandemic lives. A section of the people, mostly the Drills Ertugrul (period drama pertaining to the founders of Osmania Caliphate) fans, bow a bit with their right hand on their hearts.
“Human beings are social animals, when we are born we need stimulation through physical stroking in the form of touch, hug etc. This is later transformed into social stroking in the form of nods, smiles, hi, hello, how are you like things,” Dr Zaid Ahmad Wani, a leading psychiatrist said.
“Even hardcore criminals break down when they are put into solitary confinement. So being social is being human. When Covid-19 crisis started and social distancing was propagated, experts warned about the repercussions of using this term. What should have been used is physical distancing. Even though we were not socially distant due to phone and other sources still social distancing has created an aura of emptiness, doom, fear, estrangement,” Dr Wani added.
Due to all these social changes, people have experienced increased stress and vulnerability but doctors believe physical distancing is a precaution which should be followed religiously when apparently the Coronavirus is spreading exponentially in Kashmir.
“It is better to follow the advisories even after the government has decided to open up. Virus still exists and we should understand it,” said Dr Hanief.
Not known to many people earlier, the sanitizer is a household name in Kashmir now. It is being carried along, by almost everybody. Initially, only a few brand names were available, but as the demand has increased manifolds, a number of brands is available in the market.
There is no area of activity that has not taken a hit. The education sector operates virtually. Before the pandemic took over, many parents were reluctant to provide Smartphones to them. “We have no television at home and giving the phone to children was not an option”, said Ishfaq Ahmad, a resident of Bagh-i-Mehtab. “Now my kids have separate phones for their online classes”.
As on date, the examinations are also being conducted virtually. “Education is shifting from paper to screen. It feels unlikely that the paper will return in the near future,” Ishfaq added.
According to the UNESCO: “The school day normally has its rhythm and routine punctuated by lessons, bells, and breaks. Now more than 90 per cent of the planet’s children are out of classes, the disruption will ripple for years.”
“This tailored solution may need to become long term though, which is one legacy of this pandemic,” said Saika, a government teacher by profession. But everyday she has a tough time convincing the parents of her students to allow their wards to attend the online classes. “In government schools, we usually have three types of students but most of them belong to below poverty line of society: children of Hanjis, Gujjars and Biharis. After speaking to the parents of my students I have come to know that instead of schools, they have started helping their parents in day to day chores and it has become very difficult for us to make them understand how important these classes are. They have just one phone in their homes so we feel helpless,” she added.
Looking for the attire for her upcoming engagement, Mehvish was accompanied by her cousin to choose the dress. As the duo visited a shop, a sales executive first handed her a mask to cover the face and then allowed her to move inside. “We have made it mandatory to wear masks. It is for our safety. If customers forget masks, we provide them free of cost,” said the owner of the shop.
As Mehvish was shown different designer wears, she was surprised to see matching masks with a few of them. “It was a different feeling to think of wearing masks on such an occasion,” she said.
Not only for Mehvish, but there are also masks packed alongside male dresses as well. “It is emerging as a new trend. We have to keep what is in the market,” said a stockist of leading brand name in Srinagar.
With day-to-day life at crossroads, anxieties around the pandemic and the future have been heightened.
An avid foodie, Amir 28, is known for his different tastes. Avoiding taking food from his home, he used to have lunch outside with his friends, almost every day. But as Coronavirus spread and food outlets were closed, he had no option but to take homemade food along to his office. “For the first few days it was a compulsion to replace restaurant with home, but now it has become a routine and thankfully I could see a change, a positive one.”
Amir is not alone. Muzaffar Ahmad, 50, used to have lunch in his office canteen. Served a vegetable Thali at Rs 40, he found it difficult to carry a lunch box to office. “It was an easy option to have lunch for Rs 40 and avoid carrying the burden from home,” he said. “Corona at least made me understand in any case homemade food is best.” There are also changes in the pattern of people eating street food.
Away from the Masjid over the last four months, Abdul Majid believes the change Coronavirus has ushered in would stay for a long time.
“The last time I visited the Masjid was in March. I am desperate to pray in congregation, but fear for my life and safety of my family,” he said.
His brother, Altaf Ahmad, a shopkeeper said with Coronavirus a few more things have been added to the list of essentials. “Hygiene is becoming a priority and distancing the norm. So it has entailed costs on our daily budget.”
In a section of people, halt in going to the prayers in mosques has added to their tensions. A doctor said that his father has been a mosque-goer for almost sixty years and now when he is unable it is manifesting itself in different ways. “I have to make an extra effort to give him more time,” the doctor said. “I felt the change in his behaviour when he avoided initiating a talk at home.” The doctor said that his father is hugely missing the early morning prayers following which there was the joint loud recitation of the hymns. “That was some sort of a catharsis that has stopped and it will manifest itself,” he said.
Famous among his friends for moving to the mountains many times a year, Altaf this year has stuck to his home completely. “Every year we used to go to different places thrice a year and enjoyed the beauty, but the Coronavirus has compelled us to remain indoors,” he said.
Sanitizers In Parks
After the government decided to throw parks and gardens open, a different “normal” scene was witnessed outside these places. An entrant to the garden or park was subjected to the temperature check before stepping inside. Afterwards, a designated employee sprayed sanitizer on his hands. Inside the park, there were mandatory precautions of wearing the mask to be followed. “These things have now become a part of the routine,” said Ghulam Ahmad, an elderly man from Barzulla.