New ways of living and seeing: accepting the new normal

By March 2020, the pandemic was a stark reality and on March 25, the lockdowns started. Exactly two years later, it’s time to take stock of what our lives have become. Then, predictions that ‘Things will never be the same again’ sounded ominous.

File Photo/ Dinesh Gupta/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Everybody was hoping and praying that the virus would vanish and we could get back to our usual lives. But within months, realisation dawned that the Coronavirus is here to us. Then came the worldwide philosophy that mankind has to get used to the ‘new normal’. Here is what it means to many of us.

Health by stealth 

The prediction of a fourth wave to hit India by mid-June by IIT Kanpur means that Covid-19 status has changed from pandemic to ‘endemic’. So the ‘new normal’, health-wise, is that everyone has to learn to live with the virus instead of simply dreading it and wishing it away. Double-checking masks and sanitisers while going out have become a routine task – as you would in the past check your wallet and phone. 

Casting your mind back, you will remember how getting used to the face masks, sanitisation, RT-PCR tests and ban on travel was so hard. However, as we complete two years of our toxic relationship with Covid-19, people have accepted that they have to live alongside these realities. 

In fact, adjusting to the all-pervading presence of the virus and changing lifestyles in accordance with Covid-19 has upgraded the concept of healthcare. Battling with post-Covid symptoms and complications has made the public pay more attention to their health.

With this changing scenario, the healthcare sector has also adapted to move ahead. Remote patient monitoring has been one of the methods adapted by the doctors to prevent overcrowding at the hospitals. In order to prevent the transmission of the virus, the consultation takes place through video call or phone call, often called telemedicine. This method is only preferred if there is no need to examine the patient. With effective communication between the patient and doctor, this mode of treating patients has gained support. Hospitals have undergone digital transformation with the use of chatbots and apps by hospitals for scheduling appointments and emergency care during pandemic.

Covid-19 took a toll on the mental health of most people, as quarantining alone triggered depression and suicidal thoughts in many. Addressing mental health issues publicly was one of the positive side-effects of the pandemic. When people started to talk about mental health openly, through various social media platforms, the stigma related to it started to lessen. 

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare took various measures to educate and create awareness regarding the same. The importance of mental health along with physical health was taken into consideration. Using social media as a platform, many are addressing the issue and seeking help. Many organisations have started online counseling, therapy sessions and activities to tackle anxiety, depression, panic attacks and other issues.

As going out was prohibited due to Covid-19 protocol, people started to rely on digital platforms to purchase day-to day-utilities as well as healthcare products. Who would prefer to wait in queues when a few clicks could bring medicine to your doorstep? Good service, discounted price and timely deliveries have improved the business of e-pharma companies like Netmeds, Pharmeasy, 1mg, Medlife in the past two years. 

Besides the changes in the healthcare sector as a whole, common people have now started to make efforts to take care of their personal health and hygiene. New fitness regimes, diet plans and intake of vitamins have become the new health mantra. With the entry of wearable health trackers and apps, keeping track of personal health has become easier.

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They want WFH to last forever

The experience of working from home has been surprisingly popular with many executives, who believe the time they save on the long commute can be spent on families and hobbies

Aditya Agnihotri, who has been associated with Amazon for the last two years is happy with the new work culture, which many companies have adopted after the pandemic.

Talking with Patriot, Aditya explained his reason behind liking the new normal work culture. “When COVID started back in 2020, all of us were told in office that it’s going to be a two-week work from home, and I can vividly recall the exultation on everyone’s face. And now it’s been more than two years, the delight remains the same, the reason being that now I don’t have to spend countless hours commuting or getting ready every day an hour before to catch the cab to the office”.

Millions of others, those who work in the IT sector, are elated. WFH has helped them find themselves, as they feel a loss of identity in the office. They are also happy because they are getting more time to spend with their loved ones. 

“I can spend the working with my own pace and time without any unnecessary distraction if there is any from my family, which anyway is much less than what I faced at the office. The time saved I can utilise to look out for my health, upskill and learn new hobbies. And I believe it’s not just my story but everyone in general”, said Aditya Agnihotri.

But, now after two pandemics, we have reached a stage where the virus is getting weaker and again people are being asked to return to their normal routine or pre-pandemic times. Still, the pandemic has had   long-term effects on work culture around the globe. Various organisations are now embracing the hybrid model and some are giving options to their employees. 

“Our organization has agreed to create a hybrid model where we have an option to WFH or relocate to office. Based on an initial survey, close to 80% of people have selected WFH despite living in proximity to the office. People do have certain reservations about the visibility of their work vis-à-vis their career progression, promotion and salary hikes while working from home. But, in the long run, the majority of people are choosing to get their professional and personal life balance instead of a lucrative package or title”, said Aditya.

According to a global survey done by Ivanti, IT professionals are in no mood to return back to their offices and as a matter of fact, going to the length of declining offers of promotion as a trade-off for work from anywhere. In this survey, 77% of respondents have chosen WFH over appraisals and other offers made by their company.

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No meetings, only greetings

Families, friends and loved ones had to get used to non-attendance at landmark events like weddings, funeral and birthdays

Lockdown guidelines highlighted physical boundaries and used them as barriers to prevent people from gathering for events like weddings, birthdays, funerals and others. People initially found it hard to adapt to the virtual medium to share their joys and sorrows with the rest of the family. 

“I was stuck in Delhi while the rest of the family was in Chennai. One day I got a call that my cousin, who I was very close to, died of cardiac arrest. I could not get out from here and watching the funeral rites through a video call, while my family and I mourned in two different cities… That’s something I can never get over. It shattered me and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy”, says DU student Meenal Srivastava, as she holds back tears.

Debika*, a cook who relocated to Delhi from Sikkim, had to miss her sister-in-law’s wedding during the lockdown. While the wedding was in Delhi, Debika was not invited citing a government-imposed limit on the number of guests at such events. “I thought I would be invited too, but they said my husband is enough to represent the family. If it weren’t for the lockdown, I don’t think I would have known the true colours of my in-laws and what they think of me”, she says.

However, two years into the pandemic mode, people have adjusted to virtual presence. Initially, virtual presence was seen as some sort of compensation for not attending the event in person. But that’s not the case now.

Those who didn’t want to spend a lot of money on weddings only for the guests to complain about the food, took the benefit of lockdown guidelines and limitations. “My husband and I invited only 50 guests to our wedding. It was a small and beautiful event. No one spent lavishly. We have instead saved the rest of the funds. We intend to spend it on an international holiday that none of us can complain about”, says Jyotika Solanki, an Amazon employee from Gurgaon. 

Some couples hosted weddings online, whereas other couples got married virtually from the safety and comfort of their own homes! Today, small weddings have become much more common and are not seen as a result of financial weakness.

Many, who were stuck in cities away from home used video calling platforms like Google Meet and Zoom to host their birthday parties. “I hosted different birthday parties for my family members and friends. That way, my friends didn’t have to restrain themselves from saying and doing whatever they wanted to in front of my parents. It was convenient”, said Ayushi Chauhan, a DU student. 

Today too, those who cannot attend birthday parties, join the celebration through their digital screens. The geographical barriers have almost disappeared for such events.

‘Life on campus is not that great’

Photo by Arijit Sen /Getty Images

Online classes were seen as a bonanza by many sections of students, especially those who have suffered discrimination on college campuses. They hope hybrid education will become the new normal

A lot of college students have found reopening of colleges in completely offline mode problematic, especially those who were vulnerable before the pandemic had ravaged more lives, according to Shivangi, a queer person studying at Jamia Millia Islamia. 

“A lot of disabled students actually found that the online mode catered better to them. Some people with chronic pain also found things relatively more convenient once things had to be shifted online. A lot of us with ADHD, anxiety, depression and other severe mental health crises found the hybrid mode far more inclusive, since many of us now did not feel the mandatory pressure to be physically present in the campus every day and that helped greatly.”

Many students like Shivangi were also able to earn for themselves during this time and saved a lot on rent and travel that otherwise would have not been possible. Besides this, many queer students from small towns, according to them, face issues getting accommodation in Delhi and that adds to the pressure they constantly face within and outside campuses. 

On the other hand, another young person who is a recent graduate, Shehwaaz, had to get a job to sustain himself in Delhi. He thinks that he would prefer having classes offline as the job he does on the side takes up most of his days. He had taken up a part-time job when in the middle of his degree, as his family living back in Uttar Pradesh was facing financial troubles. 

Although he had to miss many classes in order to finish his work shifts at his corporate office, he says, “For me, classmates were the only sense of community for me. They made me feel like I am not already a worker, but also an undergraduate student with dreams and aspirations. For me, that meant a lot. So it may be the reason I personally would not want be able to go for online classes while working. However, I understand that different people have different requirements”

He further adds, “The kind of flexibility that comes with hybrid classes sounds good. Although if we are talking economics, I think I would not have been able to take online classes plus work if I stayed at home. There were way too many people and I could not have focused on any of these. This may perhaps be a good idea for people with other problems.”

Besides all the above concerns, “Many queer students and women who faced sexual harassment in their college and had levelled allegations against the abusers, feel hesitant in going back because their college administration did not do much to ensure their safety,” as per Shivangi, who earlier studied law in Jharkhand.

(* Name changed to protect identity)

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Anmol Nath Bali
Reporter at Patriot | anmolbali0003@gmail.com | + posts

Anmol covers education, civic and general news for Patriot.

Shruty Yadav
Trainee Sub-Editor | shruty@thepatriot.in | Website | + posts

Shruty covers stories related to migration, gender, sexuality, development and education in Delhi NCR at the Patriot.

Email ID: shruty@thepatriot.in

Senior Sub Editor | + posts

Jayali Wavhal writes stories about gender, lifestyle, environment and civic issues.

+ posts