IAF officer’s wife shares valuable lessons from Battles of 2020

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30th April of the year 2020. I am writing this from one of the eastern states of
India, Assam and we are amid the second phase lockdown in our country due to COVID 19 pandemic. I am one of those few, blessed one, whose normal day to day activities were hardly affected by this lockdown. Yet the past few weeks have opened my eyes and helped me realize that it’s time to face few very important facts (or you may call it my observation) about the early 21st century. Being the wives of defense personals has indeed brought upon us an even greater responsibility at this point.

Started accepting the fight :

As the first phase of lockdown was announced there was a sense of danger and panic spreading around all of us. The biggest issue here was that our enemy was quite unknown and evolving. As days passed by, the number of infected people exponentially increased. But at the same time, we started accepting the fight. Well, the realization that the whole world is fighting the crisis along with us, does make us feel better. But during the lockdown, our fight was not just with the novel coronavirus. We did fight small battles within ourselves. We fought with our food craving, our never fulfilled shopping wish list, our canceled travel and leave plans, our longing for a skin hair service, desire for a new dress from the spring-summer collection, and so on; the list is not small. Now that I think about it, it is altogether a war.And slowly and steadily authorities filled us with hopes and told us the ways to fight this strange pandemic.

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Unknown and invisible enemy :

According to the researchers, the genome sequence of Novel Corona Virus (SARS CoV-2) is 96% similar to a virus (RaTG13) which was found a few years back in bats and was classified as potentially less risky. Studies suggests that the virus might have jumped from bats to other animals and then to humans after mutation at Wuhan. Habitat loss and bushmeat consumption bring humans in closer contact with wildlife. In case of more fatal diseases like Ebola or SARS 2002 the infected displayed symptoms ( helped identification and isolation of the infected personal ) and had higher mortality rate ( as health degraded fast they could not carry the virus around and fewer people were infected), and hence these old viruses were lesser contagious. COVID 19,on the other hand, is less fatal and in some cases asymptomatic causing it to be contagious. The infected does not realize that they are carriers and hence pass on the virus to a larger number of people. We know cases in India where a person tested positive for this virus only after 40 days from infection. Since it’s an RNA virus, it is capable of mutation and more than 10 strains have already been confirmed since Wuhan.

Facing the intruder:

It’s a relief that we have a better understanding of our enemy by now. First, we will see how to defeat this pandemic. And then most importantly we will learn how to avoid any such outbreak in the future. We wouldn’t want to ever again go through this kind of social-economic and political crisis that has started to follow. Just as we are facing the pandemic, we might have to slowly learn the truth and face the small battles within us.

Battle starts now :

Food cravings were one of the first battles won. (Remember we are right now so far from civilization where Swiggy and Uber Eats may be still unknown to upcoming generations. You can guess the rest of our story). At this time some among us seriously decided that “anyone can cook anything” and devotedly recreated great recipes at home.

Some, even though out of peer pressure of updating social media status, realized that they are wonderful cooks. Some (like me) out of laziness didn’t think it’s worth the effort and realized they are mentally capable of overcoming their food carvings. It doesn’t matter what, everyone survived this battle.

But what did we learn and what was common with all? We returned to our traditional way of preparing food ourselves. Each time with only basic essential goods available,
we learned to distance ourselves from the unhealthy processed or ready to eat food culture. One of my friends wanted to have sandwiches. Shops ran out of bread and she learned how to bake bread. Then she ran out of baking soda and found a way to make bread without baking soda too. We never gave up.

Self sufficiency makes safe :

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As the cycle continues, I wonder how long it would take us to realize it’s time for us to have our own little organic vegetable garden like old times. The basic lesson we learned here: the more self-sufficient we are, the safer we are, and the more confident we are! I wonder if primary education for the next generation would have to include simple steps to grow their food; helping them to be self-sufficient and more capable of facing any type of crisis.

The lesson of being self-sufficient is not just learned from the story food cravings. My husband for the first time in his life managed to get a military-style haircut without a barber. I had no other option but to do a face and hair spa all by myself. (Tip: Best hair spa ingredients I found= Egg omelet recipe minus salt and pepper minus the cooking part). I and my husband are slowly achieving expertise in household works. Now I am seriously thinking of attending some online stitching classes too.

Self-sufficiency and distancing from consumerism are not the only lessons learned. This lockdown gave us enough time to be even more self-conscious. Nothing makes us as conscious as much as social media does. The social media window opens to us with too many updates from all corners of the world.

Social media:

Social life is very different for defense personals and their families. Even the introverts tend to speak more and interact, once they start living inside these restricted areas. Once after social distancing became necessary the social life of families living inside the stations was greatly affected. As a result, there is an increase in the use of technology, especially mobile phones. Be it for surfing for a recipe or for watching a movie. (Now I know Netflix can work quite well in 75kbps and WhatsApp do fine in 25kbps! Unbelievable right? Try staying with us here!).

Carefully if you observe, in the initial days of lockdown, social media was filled with food recipes. I see that the trend tends to decline now. It’s all workout, exercise, and dieting stories trending now. Be it about food, travel, personal grooming, or the daily news brief the world of internet keeps us on our toe.

Hidden threat:

Having said that there is a great threat hidden behind these little most helpful gadgets of ours. Addiction to mobile phones and social media is the least of the concerns for us right now. Studies show that our smartphones, social media, and email accounts are capable of tracking every single keypress and activity (we would never know).They collect this information to accurately predict our behavior and know the details of our personal life. (It’s all AI and data science. Ask a data scientist). This information is then sold to advertisement companies (can be a company or a person or a group of people, anyone ready to buy) who use this information to promote their cause. Human rights activists from several countries have already questioned these unethical activities but were not successful in stopping the sale of any of these data till now.It has also been proven that having known each of these finest details ( our strength, weakness, illness, concerns, what we like more, what we don’t like, who all are we related to, age, sex, when we wake up, when we go to bed, when we walk, where we go, whom we talk to through phone or directly, who lives near us, what we eat, what we talk about and thousands of such data) of each person using a smartphone, these data can be used to inject panic, fear or anger to selected individuals ( comes to you in the form advertisements, suggested pages, fake news, memes, WhatsApp forwards; you see people get paid for doing this).

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To conclude our smartphone can be used as a weapon to destroy us and our family. I do not have to further explain how big a threat this can be to a defense family. It might sound scary and unbelievable; it’s time we accept the fact that everyone is being watched closely without any effort with the information we give away about ourselves. Defense personals and their families are in the front line.

The story of COVID 19 is ever-evolving just like the virus itself. During this course of time, we have observed that much fake news about this disease was spreading around along with useful information. Some fake news looked so professional with complicated-looking graph plots and study data, which at first glance looked convincing. Now we know they were not true. Social media feeds on our curiosity. As we open them, we see those HD photos and videos, everyone around us leading an extra happy life. It creates a sense of unwanted competition to prove ourselves.

Educate ourself:

We have won great battles; we are fighting COVID 19 with courage. It’s about time we have to educate ourselves and face these threats caused by technology as well. Mobile phones are a vital part of our life now. With transportation frozen, they are our only way to connect with our loved ones staying far from us.

To begin with, let’s make sure we use it wisely every single time. Basic rules are not to talk about any sensitive information with your phone in at least one-meter radius and not to fall for fake news without fact-checking.

Next would be to prepare ourselves and the next generation with truth and awareness. Researchers assure us that this is not going to be the last pandemic. It’s going to happen more frequently due to increased human intervention around natural habitats of wildlife. It’s much easier for the viruses to find it’s way to the human race. But what can be done here is to learn from history and be prepared. Fighting a pandemic starts with identifying the real information from fake ones and following the instructions set by the government and concerned authorities. And then we fight all the battles within us to make sure we remain physically, mentally, and socially healthy and safe at home.

Realization:

We should realize that we are all unique, beautiful, and special the way we are.
Everyone has their battles. It’s better for us, not to engage in unhealthy competition or comparison; for nobody else has lived our life. We can learn new things from others and listen to their opinions carefully, but let no one else define for us what’s ideal. Adaptation to change is vital for survival. 2020 has helped us realize what we and the upcoming generations are heading towards. Humanity has always upgraded and built itself up from the lessons learned from the past. Let us make sure we pass on the right lessons to build a better future.

(It would be extremely ungrateful of me if I do not mention anything or anyone that have been greatly motivating or entertaining enough for me during these lockdown days,
to come up with this article: #DonaldTrump #Netflix #WEForum #CambridgeAnalytica)

( Author of the article , Nirupama Varghese , is wife of an Indian Air Force officer)

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