Will Our Cities Ever Be Like Before Again?
The other day, I was watching an episode of a serial which was taking place on a busy, crowded street. I would have never noticed it as it was just another day in any city. But this time, I noticed every little thing – how people are unaware and unconcerned by crowds. People jostling against each other, standing around, waiting for a bus and just everyday things. The obvious question came up in my mind- will our cities ever be like this again. Will social life go back to business-as-usual in when we are over the worst of this (or at least after the vaccine is developed) or will some aspects of our lives be forever changed.
At this point it seems that the world may never be the same again. By nature, cities are spaces of intermingling, assembly and sociability. How will we relate to our cities when we come out of this pandemic? This is the question that many are asking. While we are all dealing with the uncertainty as well as the barrage of information on COIVD 19, we are just living one day at a time, precisely because no one can really predict what is actually going to happen over the next months.
As we are all now staying at home 24 X 7, there are many new challenges. For many of us in Indian cities, one of the fallouts of this pandemic and the lockdown is that for the first time (for many people), we are having to manage the upkeep of our homes and the work of care without help from the numerous people who labour to ensure that we can keep doing what we do. The work of care has been tremendously undervalued in our culture. It is either the work of women, or the work of the lower class. The Oscar winning Korean movie Parasite was so powerful precisely because thoughthe overt story showed members of the working class as parasites, the subtext was of the parasitic nature of the upper classes.
This experience has jolted many out of their comfort and complacency. With the continued lockdown and the lack of options to outsource any of the work, many Indian men are learning to get down on their knees and do a bit of pocha as well as explore their creative (and caring) side to rustle up interesting dishes and baking bread! Now that it has become work that men also do, will its value go up? Many organisations now ensure that there are no online meetings in an around lunchtime, as people have to cook, eat and clean up. I seriously wonder if this would have been the norm if women only continued all the work of cleaning and cooking. But no complaints. Now is as good a time to start!
We are recognising not only the value of “housework”, but also the hundreds of thousands of other workers whose workis literally saving the world. I am glad that we are talking about front line workers. While doctors and nurses come to mind first, there are many others who are in the frontline now –paramedics, cleaners, ANM workers, but also food production, transport and among others.
People and organisations have realised that it is possible to work from home. It is not easy, but it has its benefits. While many organisations constantly monitor their team by having meetings through the day, we are also realising that the day can be organised differently to accommodate the needs of others, and yet get “office” work done. For many women who have young children or older parents to look after, WFH could be an ideal option for some part of their working lives. Hopefully the experience of this period will encourage organisations to alter their perspectives to help women continue a career. Or men may also realise the value of truly incorporating the work of care in their lives.
When and how we get back to some form of normalcy is still unclear. But this period is showing us a “new normal” as many people are saying. And this new normal is a time to reflect, to reassess, todo things differently, be thankful and be compassionate.