In India of the past we ‘socially distanced’ ourselves (2 yards was the prescribed norm) from the so-called untouchables. Now it is the global norm. Stay six feet away from the other! We are all untouchables. Universal segregation is in vogue.
New York: Where is my world?
So many years ago, the legendary Bob Dylan had crooned:
“Yeah, she’s gone like a rainbow that was shining yesterday…
And I wish I was beside her but I’m not there, I’m gone”
“I’m not there” became a cult expression of a meaningless existence.
The richest, most powerful and technologically advanced country in human history has 1/25 of the world’s population and 1/5 of global Chinese virus infections and deaths.
And it cannot get its political transition act together.
What hope is there for the others?
As I reflect on the Indian festival of lights (Diwali) and its global significance, I think about the arbitrary divisions of eras in human history.
All civilizations created their own concepts of time measurement, primarily relating it to the seasons or to great events recorded in collective memory.
When I was in school, human history in western terminology was either BC (Before Christ) or AD (Anno Domini—the year of the lord).
There is no year zero in this scheme, so 1AD immediately follows BC1.
The most widely used calendar in the world today, the Gregorian calendar is the unofficial global standard, extensively used for international communication, transportation, and commercial integration, and recognized by institutions such as the United Nations.
Interestingly, Christian country Portugal was the last to adopt the AD nomenclature. Spain and Portugal continued for 15 centuries to use the Spanish Era, beginning 38 BC.
However some people, preferring to be more theologically correct, neutral and inclusive of non-Christian people, call AD the Current or Common Era (abbreviated as CE), with the preceding years referred to as Before the Common or Current Era (BCE).
Does a calendar really impact our day to day living?
There is the Hindu calendar, with all its variants (Buddhist, Jain, Vikrami et al). The most commonly used is the Shakh Samvat or Saka Era beginning 78 AD, or simply Saka Era, a system that is common in epigraphic evidence from southern India.
Having been used since Vedic times, the Hindu calendar (with its conceptual design also found in the Jewish calendar) is still used all over the world, particularly to set Hindu festival dates.
The Islamic calendar refers to the Hijri era, beginning 622 AD/CE or the Hijra, when Prophet Muhammad and his followers fled from Mecca to Madina and established the first Muslim community (ummah). In the West, this era is denoted as AH (Latin: Anno Hegirae).
And if that does not confuse you, please also study the Mayan and Aztec time systems.
Not to forget that Africa had possibly the world’s oldest calendar, from more than 300,000 years. The ancient Akan people of west Africa created their own time measurement system called adaduanan (meaning “forty days”)!
The traditional Chinese calendar like everything else in that country has been regulated by the government. It is a lunisolar calendar based on astronomical phenomena. In China it is defined by GB/T 33661-2017, “calculated and promulgated” by the Communist Party’s Standardisation Administration of China in May 2017!
Each of these calendars is linked to the sun and the moon and the agricultural season, marking the renewal and celebration of existence.
So where am I going?
The Dinka tribe of South Sudan (where I was privileged to serve as my country’s Ambassador and be to adopted as an honorary Dinka) refer to the brutal Egyptian invasion under Pasha Muhamad Ali in the 1830s as the time the world was spoiled. Ali asked his sons and generals to raid the Sudan in search of “gold and slaves”.
It led to the organised slave trade, and consequent decimation of the lands and the people.
A carefree people, in total harmony with nature, were devastated.
2020 is the year the world was spoiled.
It will never be the same again.
A pudgy pugilist, a raving lunatic, a megalomaniac, obsessed with his bloated sense of self-importance, suffering malignant narcissism, wanting to be the master of the universe, intolerant of dissent, unleashed a pandemic.
He too is looking for gold (natural resources of developing countries) and slaves (militaries of Pakistan and Turkey for example) to do his bidding.
When asked to explain the source of the virus, his loyal sidekicks first denied that there was any virus at all, then, when the evidence became impossible to conceal, blamed an American warship for creating the unend-demic.
His faithful slave, the Director General of the organisation that was supposed to oversee human health as an international collaborative effort, was even more shameless in concealing the truth.
Together, they have severely damaged our green and living planet.
The global economy will shrink by a third, resources that were destined to improve the environment and help those most in need, have been diverted to fighting the virus.
A new class of soldiers is born—virus warriors.
Agricultural production will decline as the virus attacks existing weather patterns, crops, foods, birds, and insects.
China’s customs authorities, like their supreme commander, are still desperately trying to deflect blame for the pandemic. The latest suspect is frozen meat, and its import is being banned.
According to that fossil, the World Health Organization, one tenth of human beings have been infected, and that is a gross underestimate.
And what made me sick, even though I am not (yet) Covid positive, was to see the Director General of WHO begin a press conference in October with a moment’s silence for those killed by the virus, as though that would absolve him of his personal complicity in millions of deaths. I wonder if Adolf Hitler had led a prayer meeting for the millions of Jews he gassed!
Since the virus attacks every human organ, post-virus recovery effects include psychosis, cardiovascular trauma, insomnia, renal and hepatic disease, spinal and biliary infections, strokes, chronic tiredness, and mobility issues are being identified in former coronavirus patients in Lombardy, the worst-affected region in Italy.
A very recent US study confirms that 4/5 Chinese-virus patients developed encephalopathy ranging from short-term memory loss and difficulty with multitasking to confusion, stupor, and coma.
There is global panic. As we learn something about the virus, it appears to mutate into an even more virulent form.
Science as we know it, has tried to fight an unseen enemy, and science is losing.
Every announcement of a possible vaccine raises and then dashes our hopes.
“Best friends forever” nations will battle for the virus vaccines as soon as they roll off the filling and capping machines. Vaccine diplomacy will go hand in hand with vaccine nationalism or vaccine cannibalism.
Globalism was struggling to breathe. The virus has now killed it.
For generations we have been mouthing the same platitude: the young are the future. Really? A recent survey by the American Psychological Association found that Gen-Z adults, between 18-23 years, reported the highest levels of stress during the virus attack, compared to other generations. This is likely true of all nations in all continents (even in the country that started it all).
A hoodlum has stolen the future from our children. He has stolen what we promised was theirs. This is true in every nation, including his own, although the young and old there are not allowed to think for themselves. The king and his courtiers think for them.
The bargain is simple. Keep your body free by imprisoning your mind.
Everything that we knew and cherished has been upended, not least human interaction and peace, freedom, and liberty.
We expressed affection by hugging people. Now we express our concern for them by social distancing.
In India of the past we “socially distanced” ourselves (2 yards was the prescribed norm) from the so-called untouchables. Now it is the global norm.
Stay six feet away from the other! We are all untouchables. Universal segregation is in vogue.
The mobile phone had become an indispensable appendage, a fashion statement. Now the face mask is essential.
Forty years ago, American Express asked us not to leave home without an Amex card.
Today, we cannot leave home without a mask!
Multihomes will soon be the new normal, with minimum movement and maximum output (live, work, study, learn, trade, exercise, garden, manufacture, experiment, innovate, create, travel—all from the home).
But I like to walk, you say! Each new home will revolve, and I can walk all I want by going against the direction of the revolution, while real virtuality creates my garden.
Would we be able to go out of our homes? Yes of course but encased in our invisible air bubbles to protect against another copycat evil scoundrel.
Virtual reality has become real virtuality—the internet had already laid the foundation. Now micronets will connect people within communities, and mini-nationals will provide the goods and services that all of us need.
For one, the brutally degraded environment will convalesce, and we will be able to breathe freely again.
As we re-examine our lives, we realise that our closets are over-stuffed, our needs self-exaggerated.
For eight months I have not opened my closet to salivate over the two dozen designer suits and jackets in it (all hand-me-ups from my son). I manage with three track suits and an equal number of sweaters.
This vanity-eliminating frugality has not damaged my self-esteem nor shooed away my friends.
So, what of my bespoke clothes? I am starting to give them away, rediscovering the immense joy of giving, rather than of accumulating.
Minimalism is back with a vengeance. And Mother Earth is smiling.
What will happen to our consumption-driven society? To manufacturing? To supply chains? To designer items?
They will modify themselves to serve the essential needs of a new sharing society, without extracting everything possible from our planet.
Since movement is severely limited, our oil-fuelled locomotion is disappearing. And we are again appreciating the limitless bounty of the sun and the wind and the waves.
In college, we cynically referred to the No 11 bus, given the city’s chaotic public transport system. It meant using our legs to walk to our destination. That will be the new wonderful normal.
Think about your relationships with those around you. Mine have become so much more tolerant. We are in the same boat (to where?) together.
We care for each other; we share what we have.
I wonder if my favourite singer of the sixties Bob Dylan (there I go again) was being prescient when he predicted:
The line, it is drawn, the curse, it is cast…
As the present now will later be past
The order is rapidly fading…
For the times, they are a-changin’.
In Hebrew tikkun olam means world repair by behaving and acting constructively and beneficially.
Our broken world, ravaged by the Chinese virus, is beyond Band-Aids. In my understanding, the world is beyond repair.
It needs to be replaced; everything must be built again without the terrible ills of the dying world.
We have learnt from our complacent avarice how one unbalanced person, a global terrorist with immense power, can destroy our reality.
Mother Earth (we call her mother without realising how we violate her every second) will forgive us and yield her bounties again. Every mother forgives her errant children.
This is the only planet we have, till we colonize others in our solar system and beyond.
I draw hope from an early 20th century Dinka prophet: “Piny nhom abi riak mac”—the land may be spoiled yet it will remain intact.
There is always hope of renewal and replacement.
Will our new world be better than the one that has been destroyed by a bioterrorist? I do not have an answer.
I owe it to my children and grandchildren to bequeath them a better world to inherit. Or my soul will remain forever trapped in my decaying body and I will not find my moksha. I am going to make the effort.
We are in Year 1, with no prefixes or suffixes.
Ambassador Dr Deepak Vohra is Special Advisor to Prime Minister, Lesotho, South Sudan and Guinea-Bissau; and Special Advisor to Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils, Leh and Kargil.