The Calm Before the Storm
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My tribute to the teaching community about their contribution to the social, emotional, and educational well-being of society.
January 2020 was a fun month in school. New Year, the excitement of entering into a year with a new numerical value, so enticing – 2020! A year full of promises, dreams, ambitions, and plans! We were eagerly preparing our future canvas and deciding on the colours that would make it bright. In the meantime, a small virus was insidiously worming into a place we were unfamiliar with: Wuhan. It was a news item from elsewhere – it evoked a bit of sympathy for the poor Chinese who had to deal with – what we assumed – a regular worldly anomaly.
We were wrong!
We were busy following the elections in the capital city, and the schools were also preoccupied with fervent canvassing by candidates in the run for positions on the school council. Our little world had no idea of what was to follow.
January flowed into February, and we got busy with setting question papers, pre-boards, and preparing the calendar for the new academic year. In the background, the news about Coronavirus travelling from Wuhan to Europe surfaced. Some of us even joked about how the virus was holidaying too! We were donning our best attires and broad smiles for class photographs.
We still had no idea that our lives were about to change! Why were so many Italians being infected and then Spanish and then Brazilians? “Surely Europe is advanced enough to smack the virus right out in a jiffy”, we thought. Nothing to worry about!
February faded into March. Some of us were complacent in our Gods, climate, immunity, or DNA to be the wall of defence against the teeny-weeny virus that was upsetting the Western World. We were so busy chasing students that we forgot to switch on the news channels to understand the gravity of the situation.
And then the death numbers surfaced. The Italians were dying. The West, the epitome of progress, cornered! A bit of worry started creeping up now. What if…
One astrological prediction after another banished such thoughts. Some planet was crossing another, and it would slink by India to create havoc in the world, but India would be safe. After all, India is supposed to lead the new world order. The most scientific minds among us also wanted to believe these theories.
But reality flashed much more aggressively and doubt crept in – maybe we were not so invincible, maybe the Gods were not as happy with us as we would like to believe, maybe the world was nearing the end.
So we kept our fingers crossed and concerned ourselves with the jobs at hand. We hoped for successful and smooth completion of board exams, at least before the monster threatened us. March is the examination season! March fever is higher than any other. All energies were on date sheets, corrections, results, and the valedictory function to crown the best. We had even decided on the sarees we would wear for the Valedictory Day.
Meanwhile, flights got cancelled, and America got infected too. Our giant friend crumbling to a virus was an ominous sign that we couldn’t ignore. Some horror stories were making their way into our complacent cocoon, and reality was gradually dawning upon us. Should we brave it or should we close the school down? Should we pre-pone the remaining exams or should we cancel them? A bit of hope, some despair, and a lot of confusion.
On March 16, panic set in, and some organisations wanted schools to close down. We had just reached the finishing line for the exams when the school shut down. We didn’t resent it much because the results could be prepared at home by the teachers and we decided to meet at the valedictory function on March 23.
March 23 was pushed so far away that we are still waiting for it. When the school closure had been announced, it just seemed a nice weeklong break. But, little did we know it was more than that.
We missed the news. On March 2, the monster had already invaded India.
By then there were 30 cases, and then the first Indian COVID-19 casualty on March 12 made headlines. We were hearing strange terms like ‘Lockdown’ for the first time in our lives. How could an entire country come to a standstill? How can people not meet, hug, and smile at each other? How can beautiful, bustling places like Rome, London, Milan, Spain become devoid of people all of a sudden? Was it a sci-fi movie scene? Was it a nightmare that would go away when we awoke? Strangely, it did not end any time we opened our eyes. India could not afford an epidemic with its massive population, so the PM wisely decided to put the country under lockdown on March 24.
If somebody had ever suggested that a population as big and diverse as India could be made to adhere to this discipline, I would have laughed. But just not this time. We didn’t know what hit us. For the first time we realised, this was not going to be for a week or month. For the first time, we knew this would change our lives.
We did as the PM bid us do. We couldn’t question his decisions. We banged thalis and lit ‘diyas’ in the hope that it would banish the monster forever. Unfortunately, it did not do that. However, it did raise our morale and made us feel the power of unity.
A thousand km away, another Indian performed the same act, at the same time, on the call of a single man. That gave us a sense of security and pride, a trust in each other, an awareness of each other. It was not an act of superstition; it was an act that reaffirmed our faith in each other and our perseverance to making it – together – through the worsening times, through our generation’s true crisis.
Our trials had only begun.