March 13, 2020. It was Friday. Quite a normal day, as usual, I woke up and travelled to the university—University of the Punjab, Lahore. Although there was news about a virus outbreak, and the state of things in China yet everything went normal for us at our department—Institute of English Studies.
We took our classes and afterwards everyone dispersed clueless of that being our last assemblage. I stayed at the department waiting for the bus which used to be scheduled to leave at 4:10 pm.
Accompanied by a friend, cups of tea and a cold breeze, I remember a prolonged conversation in which we discussed academic matters, some socio-political issues and day to day challenges of life. It turned out to be my last confab at the department. Nevertheless, we were unready for the gravest challenge that was yet to come and would affect our lives.
On the way back home, I received the news of a complete lockdown for 14 days imposed on the behalf of the government as a precautionary measure to contain the spread of Coronavirus in Pakistan. The news hadn’t bothered me much may be partly because of my desire in those days for some relief from the outside world and the people around, and partly because of the certainty that I had for it, being a temporary measure—that we will get back to normal after mere 14 days. However, later on, the initial 14 days lockdown turned out to extend to an utter fuss of 14 months. Against all hopes gradually the seemingly temporary became the new permanent. This new-sprung abnormal became the new normal, and nobody resisted. It was unanimously accepted as a necessity.
Left with no other choice but to comply—for some time we all invented ways to enjoy the new normal. We made memes nationwide on the severity of the conditions and the state of things during the quarantine. We brushed it off with laughter until it turned out to be a seemingly permanent state of being from seemingly a temporary measure. We had joined the online classes with the zeal of trying something new despite knowing its inadequacy in our current education structure. We graduated online, and were called the unprecedented ‘Class of 2020’. We graduated, but we were tricked out of the essence of learning. We made the uncomfortable very much comfortable for ourselves, and by doing so we subtly set a precedent for our successors to accept this new abnormal and make themselves comfortable with it.
Since March 2020, we have been watching as the national institutions are being juggled—opened and closed randomly. Everything is at Government’s disposal from the local bazaars, shopping malls, educational institutions to mosques. Lockdown is crippling and distorting the social structures. In the implementation of lockdown, the government has forsaken the importance of the social structures which fabricates the very foundations of society and that human beings are social animals. Humans learn through interactions, and closing institutions are increasingly making young minds futile while confining the people in houses is paralyzing the economies. In the end, the softened terms—Lockdown and SOPs—are a mere euphemism for restricting people in their homes by using the forceful state machinery, making a vast majority of people jobless, blocking and limiting the means for people to earn their bread and butter, making students futile and leaving them prone to useless activities more than ever as ‘an empty mind is devil’s den.’
Covid-19 has been sickening and engulfing people, but the lockdown is sickening and engulfing society. Markets are being opened and closed for specific days—Seemingly the management is trying to say that coronavirus spread more in specific days than in other’s, and if markets can stay open following the SOPs then why not educational institutions?
Today, as I am contemplating the past few months, the present and the future, I am bound to conclude that we need better organizational strategies to contain coronavirus than ruthlessly demolishing the existing social structures. The managemental chaos that has been created across the globe needs to end. Above all, the normalization of this abnormality under the disguise of necessity needs to be rejected.