Travel of Transformation
A year ago, when my Year 12 students had their graduation ceremony over the popular meeting platform, Zoom, there was a feeling of loss. A bigger one at that time compared to usual annual graduation ceremonies where leaving the school and preparing to become alumni can force tears. The big addition here was the absence of physical presence in the decorated hall with togas and hoods filling the environment. When the new year started in June 2020, I narrated this to the current Year 12s and assured them that things would be back to normal when they get ready for their own big day. Come April 2021, we had another Zoom session. I learned to learn that prophesying these days is a risky business.
Ever since the start of the pandemic, people have been estimating, predicting, calculating and then when the predicted day neared, been correcting themselves with renewed ones. The symbolic ‘end-of-the-pandemic’ thought and what now appears to be a sought-after dream of ‘back to normal’ days is slowly educating everyone on life’s harder lessons. It is what we have been calling ‘the new normal’. The new normal has taken various shapes across the globe, depending on factors such as Covid-19 case numbers, curve flattening, vaccination and agreement on travel bubbles. It is still undergoing changes in definition, interpretation and the ways in which it is being conveniently, but sometimes unwillingly observed. Whatever it means to people around the world, it is still far from being normal. The normal many of us may have forgotten.
That huge change from the past to the present, from normalcy to new normalcy, effected by a gap of less than two years is a travel undertaken by every human being on earth. The negatives from that transformation may outweigh the positives in many ways, but the lessons conveyed by events of either quality may lead us forward in the years to come. When we stopped flying internationally, at least for leisure travel, we started exploring things that are readily available in our front yard. Domestic travel gained currency and we enlightened ourselves more on our own cultures, geographical details and things we probably did not know existed. We also discovered how hassle-free is flying within our own countries – sans immigration check, customs check and queuing for visas on arrival. The airports and the airlines complemented this with their stricter and disciplined health protocols. With this new way of exploring one’s own country, the concept of slow travel has come to the spotlight. Slow travel enables people to focus on one destination at a time, seeing and learning more about its features, its people and its food. During my first air trip after the start of the pandemic in December 2020, I was able to get to Flores and go on a 3-day Komodo National Park tour. Flores has other beautiful gems to offer, but I decided to stick to the Park and cut down on wandering further. There was immense satisfaction with the amount of time spent with the dragons, the villagers and around the hundreds of hills that dot the Park’s waters. My normal itinerary would see me getting up early every day for numerous day trips from hotel.
But then, not everyone is lucky enough to travel these days. For many, whether they are a pilot or a street vendor, this is like a prolonged winter when the wherewithal is highly restricted in order to save for an uncertain future. Job losses and business losses have been the major concern of this dark period; and these miseries have not ended yet. As a teacher, I have first hand knowledge of some friends and acquaintances who have lost their jobs and are currently on the hunt for positions. These teachers lost their jobs when students discontinued their eudcation in their particular schools. The students’ dropping out was caused by parents’ job or business losses. Thus, it works like a chain, making it very clear that tumbling cards can affect professionals from any field or industry. Despite these losses and unprecedented miseries, many people have found other ways of existing, least thinking about labour dignity or social status. They have come down their ranks in order to adapt to a universal situation where humanity’s biggest bet is to survive with the best tools available. My usual taxi driver’s case (in India) is an example of a brilliant way of switching from one calling to another in times of trouble. He started selling vegetables in the street and kept his house afloat. The stories of air cabin crew in developed countries like Singapore have been no different. Their struggles are great, tough and unimaginable to many, but are not permanent. This adaptation might work wonders for them in future. Back when I was in the Gulf, I had heard and seen stories of poor chefs transforming themselves into successful restaurateurs and entrepreneurs.
Financially, the world is currently both a richer and a poorer place. The millionaires have doubled their income as online businesses prospered, propelled by the need for technological assistance and software developments in a physical distancing era. Zoom became the king as it dominated computer screens in boardrooms and classrooms and wherever people needed to meet each other virtually. Needless to trumpet the consistently resounding success of other social media platforms like facebook. Jeff Bezos’ Amazon and many other online business ventures that sell essentials profited from the conditions of the time. Anything that has technology and essentials up its sleeve continues to win during this stretched pandemic period. On the opposite side of it all lies poverty’s ugly face – the small scale businessmen, the drivers, the vendors and many who cannot work from home or whose job cannot be executed with a keyboard and a monitor. Nevertheless, this experience should augur well for defence against possible future calamities, disasters and even repeat pandemics. The lesson is – during global disasters, the super rich stay super rich, the rich stay rich, the rest either overcome their troubles or go through extended ordeals before swimming back to the shore or perish on the way. Covid-19 has offered this third kind an unlikely ultimate survival guide.
This rich-poor divide is not just about individuals, but also about nations, the developed, the developing and the under-developed. I was flabbergasted to see the World Happiness Report being released even during these times, but had no surprises in noting down the countries in the top 20. All of it are from the developed world, with population of a few millions. Still not sure if this survey is relevant to the times.
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