The coronavirus has brought us back to bare necessities | Henry Jacob - GulfToday

The coronavirus has brought us back to bare necessities

Henry Jacob


Senior Assistant Editor, Gulf Today


Fabian Arias, a Lutheran pastor with Saint Peter’s Church in Manhattan, is seen on a mobile phone during his Sunday services via internet live stream at his home in the Bronx borough of New York. Agence France-Presse

If there is one alarming thing the coronavirus has taught us, it is that human activity – at least a good deal of it – has become redundant. This is not rocket science, it has nothing to do with artificial intelligence, automation: it is plain matter of fact.

Like layers of an onion, each and every activity renders yet another activity redundant.

A lot of things that we thought were compulsory, must-haves or we had to do have suddenly become needless, that is, if you strictly abide by lockdown regulations in your country.

We don’t need to have that important luncheon appointment with a client at a five-star hotel: we can do it over the Internet.

We don’t need to spend a fortune to buy a movie ticket (tickets for a cinema are very expensive in some countries such as India). We can watch the movie at home online on your computer or laptop – through Netflix, Amazon Prime etc etc.

We don’t need to go to the shopping mall, temporarily at least (the young among us can order the T-shirt, denim jeans or tank top of our favourite brand via the Web). Ambling down the various stores can be kept on hold, or window shopping, even, while seeking a purchase, indulging in some silly natter with a friend who loves such silly natter.

We don’t need to go to a restaurant, though the tete-a-tete that we cherished doing for hours in a fancy eatery is now just a blip in our memory. The food can be ordered electronically.

We don’t have to take our dog out for a walk, though the poor creature could get restless staying for prolonged periods indoors.

We can play some games at home, depending on the block of flats we stay in or the size of our apartment or house.

We don’t need to go to a shop: the delivery man or boy will come to us.

We even don’t have to meet friends at their place, or a shopping mall or coffee shop of our choice – we can Zoom in on them.

We don’t have to go to the stadium to watch a football match. Major footy leagues such as the Bundesliga are hosting matches, but there are no spectators!

Even places of worship have been affected. Churches are conducting services – online, unthinkable until – well – last year. The pastor normally delivers his sermon to the congregation of faithful – who are sitting in church – on a Sunday. For the first time in years, Easter services in 2020 were conducted via the Internet with just the pastor in church – and no people! Maybe it is a divine message: that God does not need people, people need Him.

The fear of the virus has made light work of outdoor activities. We don’t have to go trekking or mountain climbing. Earlier, Nature lovers could hit the outdoors off their own bat: they would enjoy the sound of mountain streams, the staccato of green rushes shivering above chilly waters, the song of birds. All that has been sacrificed at the altar of virus expediency.

The lockdown has unlocked a few truths: minimalism and stoicism. Just as Simple was Christian’s companion in ‘Pilgrim’s Progress,’ the lockdown resident can use a similar friend. We don’t have to push the boat out, or indulge in wasteful spending, to satisfy our whims and fancies.

The temporary shuttering of shopping malls and auto showrooms has triggered a rethink on needless purchases. An expensive necklace, a luxury car or a high-end vanity bag – these can wait.

Because, yes, for reasons beyond their control, many people are locked down in poor monetary health. The overarching importance of physical health has suddenly gathered pace. Gold may have lost its glitter, but not health.

Under such adverse circumstances, social media has turned out to be a kind of escape hatch from all the woes plaguing society these days. People are so puffed up with despair that heaven knows what would have happened if social media did not exist. They would have been deprived of their consolation cylinders. Amid all this pandemic panic, social networking sites such as WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook have turned out to be a sort of therapeutic balm for distressed souls, as a salve for their pent-up feelings as they are holed up within their four walls. Celebrities post stuff about what they are doing in their kitchen or gym (at home of course), or pose for selfies with their babies, teenage children, kith and  kin, or with their cat or dog. We are now in the silly season, and such things are par for the course, particularly in times of the virus hanging like the sword of Damocles over the uninfected.

But man is very adaptable – and resilient. He can manage in any circumstances, even ascetic. The writer Henry David Thoreau spent two years living in a cabin on the banks of Walden Pond, a lake in the US. Had he been living in these times, it would have been goodbye to the laptop, mobile phone and creature comforts such as the airconditioner.

However, we have been told umpteen times that no man is an island. Yet the coronavirus has upturned this on its head.

In fact, it reminds us of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s classic line from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner: Water, water, everywhere/Nor any drop to drink. Replace water with people and you can get the drift of what I am saying.

The need to go out – to the park, to the Corniche, to visit friends, to go to the movies, to party, or, for those hit by Cupid’s arrow, to face their potential soulmate at a rendezvous can be put in abeyance.

While the Cassandras may have resigned themselves to their fate, the optimists can only hope for the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. One yearns to be freed from the yoke of this enforced ‘house arrest’, to go outdoors for face-to-face human interaction with acquaintances and relatives. When it comes to human relations, nothing can beat that. It is like reading a hardbound book or paperback. We have to feel the crisp crinkle of the pages, no online version can replace this feeling.

In short, we seem to be back to a saner balance – with, as the song from the film Jungle Book goes, bare necessities.

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