When news of a disease rapidly making its way through China first spread, we tapped the headlines on our phones, made a clicking noise with our tongues to express our dissatisfaction and forgot all about it. As usual, our thoughts said it’s a problem they’ll find a solution to. It doesn’t concern us.
The virus, however, was determined to prove us wrong.
Soon enough, there was a case reported in Saudi Arabia. And other countries I can’t recall right now because I hadn’t lived in them, and what transpired there was none of my concern. But things in India were quiet. And later, the patient in KSA tested negative for corona. We went on with our lives.
Then we blinked and it was everywhere.
Whole sections of China were going into lockdown mode. People living there couldn’t leave, citizens abroad couldn’t go back home, and some were stuck in limbo, having to fly to countries they had never stepped foot in their entire lives because they weren’t allowed back in China.
More and more countries said they had identified their first cases of corona.
Still, life was the same. College continued like nothing was out of the ordinary. I did my homework, and studied for upcoming tests.
Then, Kerala found herself a victim. But our state government flung into action immediately, testing carriers of the virus and taking all precautions to ensure nobody else caught it.
For a minute, everyone held their breath. And then the government said we were finally in the clear, and people cheered.
Meanwhile, Italy found herself thrown into a state of panic. The virus was there, and it was brutal. Her death toll kept rising, and rising, and it didn’t stop.
We were working like a well oiled machine when suddenly, things went out of control. A family of three had just returned from corona-stricken Italy, and hadn’t told anyone. Instead they’d attended several large gatherings, including a wedding, after they had arrived back home in Kerala, thereby possibly infecting a large number of other people.
Until then, my family and friends had been watchful, but not very cautious. Just wash your hands, they said. You’ll be safe, they said.
But now, suddenly trapped in a situation where everyone was a suspect, we were starting to become more vigilant. Classes carried on, but there were warnings given to students who intended to travel to the region where the family who caught the virus lived.
My family started to talk about it more and more, as with every passing day, the virus dominated the news. Everyday, a new government would pop up in the headlines, with a new patient, and more and more schools and offices would be shut down.
My parents said, they should close college for a week to be safe. Dad, living alone in Saudi Arabia and worried about the situation in Kerala, strictly told me to cancel the plans I had with my friends to watch A Quiet Place. It was the first time he had ever stopped me from going out and having fun in my whole life.
It was the second day of exam week, and we were sitting in class during lunch. It had been a half hour since Sreya and Sesha had gone to the canteen; they hadn’t brought food from home that day. Sreelakshmi was showing me David Dobrik videos on my phone when there was an incoming call from Sreya.
“Check the news,” she said.
I was suspicious. Sreya and Sesha were twins, and they equally enjoyed the occasional prank call. I asked them twice if they were trying to pull our legs, and they insisted they weren’t.
“Just do it,” Sreya said. And then she hung up.
I pulled up Manorama news on my phone, and the latest headline said that another case of corona had been discovered in our state. It was a three year old, who had just returned from Italy.
And then Sreelakshmi and I heard the murmurs in class. People were bristling, huddled around benches and looking at their phones intently. This wouldn’t be out of the ordinary most of the time, but not now. There was an energy in class, something strange.
“They’re shutting down college for three weeks,” someone said.
And then we scoured the news again, but there was nothing. It was the same.
Ten minutes later, the twins were back. They had heard the rumors on their way back, and called us then.
I checked the news again for an update and there it was: two minutes ago, a new article had been posted stating that the government had ordered educational institutes (except for students of medicine) to be shut down for three weeks.
“Does it include professional colleges?” Sreelakshmi inquired.
I checked again. It did. So we officially had a three week leave, too.
Twelve minutes before, the chief minister of Kerala had announced the decision. But the news, once it was out, spread like wildfire in second. Hostelers started dialing numbers straight away, making transport arrangements so that they could go home immediately. Information circulated Whatsapp, my inbox getting flooded.
And that was it. That was how the corona virus had impacted our lives. No one, not even my grandparents could recall a lockdown like this on a large scale, just because of a virus. Previous cases like the nipah virus had been dealt with immediately, and life continued.
Nipah didn’t go out of control. There was never a pandemic. But there is now with corona.
And as I sit here writing this, I can tell you that the number of cases have grown. Theatres have been shut down, and A Quiet PLace won’t be coming any time soon. Word is that restaurants will be closed down too, soon. The situation is predicted to get worse, and rumors now say that college leave will be extended by two more weeks. Kerala was the first state to be hit with the virus, mainly because international travel among Keralites is so incredibly common. But other states have now joined the list, and Maharashtra has the most number of cases. China has managed to wield control again, and the number of domestic cases has reduced exponentially. In fact, Italy’s death toll has surpassed China.
And we watch the news and Italy’s streets are empty and cold, like a ghost town. The squares are eerily quiet. Residents stay home, but keep their spirits up by singing in solidarity from their windows with their neighbours. Europe has found itself battling the disease. Saudi Arabia closed its airport and cancelled all travel to the holy cities.
Even instagram has changed, in a way. Most celebrities and influencers now post photos of them staying indoors, advising everyone else to do the same. And the memes. They remain, with corona as the subject. Even with the early unification of people online, talking about art and love and politics, this is the first time I’ve seen something impact so greatly with everyone that it’s a part of their captions, or their photos, or their jokes. Google has a link now that says “Do the five: Help stop coronavirus” underneath Search. Youtube displays a notification from WHO when you open it. And simply searching covid-19 online shows an SOS alert in red, with helplines underneath and an overview of necessary information.
And everytime someone astronomically successful and famous contracts the virus, like Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, and Idris Elba, the conversation amplifies.
Like a Twitter user elegantly put it, we’re living through a future history book chapter.
So, maybe after a while, if things get better, people who didn’t lose their loved ones or their livelihoods to the virus will carry on again. And we’ll talk about how the world panicked and slowed for the first time in ages. How world leaders didn’t implement and carry out safety measures, and how many of them ended up contracting the virus themselves. How America ran out of toilet paper. How masks and sanitizers became trendy. How Netflix was urged to reduce streaming to stop the internet from breaking.
This blog has been recording important events of my life for nearly ten years. But this post has been the most somber one so far. And, I’d like to think that years later, I can come back and read this again to remember the impact the virus had on everyone, just in case we start forgetting and diluting the impact it had.
Perhaps, the most iconic thing to come out of this was the message one got when trying to call someone on the phone. You’d dial the number, put it to your ear, and a heartbeat later, there would be the sound of a man coughing loudly, and then a robotic voice speaking about the important measures to be taken to fight the disease. This was a part of a government initiative to spread awareness, and the call wouldn’t be placed to the receiver until the voice was done talking. If the coughing noise of a strange man hadn’t scared the life out of us trying to call our friends and family and caused us to hang up immediately, maybe we’d have listened to the rest of the message.