Skip to content

A Panoramic Overview of the Pandemic in Rearview

By Ankita Das 

“We do not know if we live in a world any more risky than those of earlier generations. It is not the quantity of risk, but the quality of control or—to be more precise—the known uncontrollability of the consequences of civilisational decisions, that makes the historical difference. Therefore, I use the term “manufactured uncertainties.” The institutionalised expectation of control, even the leading ideas of “certainty” and “rationality” are collapsing. …the main difference between the premodern culture of fear and the second modern culture of fear is: in premodernity the dangers and fears could be attributed to gods or God or nature and the promise of modernity was to overcome those threats by more modernisation and more progress—more science, more market economy, better and new technologies, safety standards, etc. In the age of risk, the threats we are confronted with cannot be attributed to God or nature but to “modernisation” and “progress” itself. Thus, the culture of fear derives from the paradoxical fact that the institutions that are designed to control produced uncontrollability.” – Ulrich Beck, “On Fear and Risk Society”, Interview with Joshua J Yates, the Hedgehog Review.

Each one of us woke up to news everyday of a wide-spreading virus and an impending threat of another World War at the start of the 2020 enigma. The World War talks died down as comically as any other declarations of the then leader of the Western superpower. But the virus spread, and while our Meme-crazed generation mocked over zombie apocalypse, the virus took hold of the Earth by its lungs. By March 2020, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic never seen or heard before. The entire fiasco that followed was what no one was ever prepared for. People were bound to their homes, away from their professional and social lives, “socially distancing” themselves with the objective to curtail any further spread of the virus and being affected by it themselves. While some debated as to how long this should and probably could go on, others adapted and did their personal bests to cope with the “new normal” that had begun everywhere around. While some rejoiced in the online mode that the world had shifted to, others found it difficult to manage from one day to the next. Schools and colleges went from offline classes to online classes, where teachers struggled to do their best in conducting a proper class, the offices going into online mode caused many to being stuck at their home desks, fulfilling back-to-back deadlines. People went from a “panic syndrome” to stocking up on hand soaps, sanitisers and regular supplies; from the “virus as an enemy” to the entire race to gradually being existentially finding comfort in the socially distanced, gradually unrecognizable world.

 As days turned to months, and one wave of the COVID-19 virus surpassed the other, almost everyone or anyone’s someone was affected by its vicious claws and some, unfortunately, even succumbed to it. When the government first initiated the first lockdown with no time for preparation, it was the marginalized sections, the subaltern communities who were the most affected. The people in power sought out to keep their citizens’ faith, simultaneously exploiting their fear of the unknown and their desperate need for reconciliation, they launched clapping and candle lighting campaigns in houses countrywide. People witnessed a moment of manufactured trust as the system stumbled over to keep the collective fear and panic pacified. As the risks and the uncertainties mounted, people’s belief in the government and their gods, in medical science and religion began to be precarious, no matter how culturally or linguistically diverse one person must be from the other. Many prophesied it was the end of the human race as it was; several blamed a particular nation and its habitat to be its origin, while others claimed it to be a laboratory device set to lose. While all these went on in the backdrop, there were also those in the confines of their homes not investing either in crypto or coffee, but slowly submitting to a dread of not being able to escape. As manipulated narratives and realities kept many distracted, the harsh reality began to become crystal clear in the face of it all.

In 1844, the existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “Whoever has learnt to be anxious in the right way has learnt the ultimate.” Anxiety spread amongst the masses and, in these troubling times, people may have been experiencing something that felt different, deeply rooted and perhaps far beyond their every fear of the unknowable or an anxiety about their day-to-day difficulties.

In the light of certain theories and philosophies, it was during this pandemic that multifold psycho-hierarchy of the human mind came to the forefront. There lingered a sense of dread over how the caste and class dimensions of the society influence the collective consciousness of a community. Identity became fragile as they began to be more and more aware of their own survival other than their instinctual need to live. Identity is the medium through which any individual defines themselves. Or more likely, it is the means that justifies or gives validity to their existence. When a person plays a role for far too long that it becomes a second nature to them, a sudden change of atmosphere creates an imbalance in their habituated day-to-day self.

Kierkegaard and Sartre’s philosophy of ‘existentialism’ dealt with a person’s search for some reason and meaning in life. Their theory talked about the idiosyncrasies of life that an individual goes through as experiences unfold in front of their every step. These experiences leave them feeling utterly absurd and confused, warping them in conflict and disconnected from their own self. This philosophy argues that man should consist of the whole and not in some divided state; that the human self consists of not just intellect but also anxiety as opposed to composure, guilt as opposed to determination and the will to power the continuity of change which sometimes overwhelm the reason. But this confusion-driven adaptation to a new form of lifestyle is what has imbalanced the post-modern man.

In Samskara, Ananthamurty talks about such a modern man in crisis with his own existence and identity. Standing at such oddities and contradictions of the existence of the self, Praneshacharya, a determined and well-read head of an agrahara on the path of attaining his own salvation, finds himself contemplating about the needs and hunger of the human body eventually leading to the ultimate question of whether there is any purpose to the human life. He achieves the title of the ‘Crest jewel of Vedic Learning’ and marries an invalid woman at an early age, whom he believes to be the sacrificial altar for his sacrifice. He, who had revoked all the needs to fulfil the desires of the human vessel, eventually finds himself drawn to Chandri, the mistress to the dead Brahmin Naranappa, and indulges in what can be termed as one of the most primeval desire to procreate. While Naranappa’s corpse lie in the agrahara and the Brahmins look up to their Acharya to come to a solution that would not taint their souls’ journey to salvation, Praneshacharya driven by guilt for giving in to sexual desires ponders over the Sanskrit chant in his mind: “I am sin, my work is sin, my soul is sin, my birth is in sin.” In this state of confusion, he believes that he has deviated from the righteous path and, as a result, he has been subjected to the wheel of karma: “To relive this misery, he must lose awareness again and embrace her, must wake up in that misery, for absolution one must return to her…Even if he had left desire, desire had not left him.”  It was after the death of his invalid wife that Praneshacharya decides to extricate himself of all authority and leave his conventional way of life in search of the self and its meaning. The crisis when once began, giving rise to a series of dilemmas. When the question of identity emerges, alienation follows suit.

During the pandemic, people were deprived of of the familiarity of life and they started to raise such questions: what is life really about? Thoughts on the transience of our existence and how we live it, how when we stop taking for granted that we will wake up the next day, we experience a form of anxiety over not knowing what news the next morning will bring. Through this period, people began to learn to “live with” this anxiety rather than trying to disregard it further. Existential ideas can have a positive side to it, for it is in those moments we are compelled to ponder over our purpose and direction, instead of mindlessly running in a rat race.

In “COVID‐19: How Casteist is This Pandemic”, Anmol Ratan writes a poignant critique that gets to the heart of the concern:

Maintaining social as well as physical distance has been historically entrenched in various forms of isolation by the upper castes in the Hindu social order ever since the Vedic times. Based on the religion of Hinduism and its scriptures, social distancing, which today is claimed to be the only curative measure for COVID‐19, has always been used as a socially sanctioned weapon of mass social disruption and collective discrimination against the lower castes and Dalits in the Indian subcontinent. It has been a part of India’s unjust history and continues to be a reality even in India’s fight against corona. (Feminism in India)

In Mahasweta Devi’s Rudali, the rising wail of protests of the rudalis before the oppressor’s corpse becomes almost an apology for their own rebellion. Could this be an indication that even though they finally begin to mark their presence in the Brahmanic patriarchal system, they feel somehow obligated to abide by the rules? Should the marginalized really feel degraded to the point that they start believing that there could never be any way for them to climb up the social hierarchy?

The present scenario reflects the impact of the pandemic. The economic condition of the marginalized continues to be the same even after the pandemic as it was during the nationwide lockdown. In order to improve the efficiency of the economy and remove post-pandemic challenges, certain sectors witnessed an acceleration of new employment opportunities. The significance of unskilled workers will not perish. But favourable circumstances should be created through training programmes for re-skilling them so that they could be moulded back into attaining a position for themselves with rights and recognisition in the hierarchy. Societies in their social norms are by default found to be of hypocritical behaviour and often they themselves get tangled in the paradoxes that they weave through rhetoric. They try to find meaning in their day-to-day mundane activities in order to justify their being and, hence, give rise to the multiplicity of psychological dilemmas they fall into.

In the end, the entire process of surviving to live better with an existential dread becomes a continued work in adaptation and not just recovery. In our effort to spiral out of anxiety, we often forget to mark the event of recovery itself. Recovery has been taking place at a global and collective level too, alongside adaptation. While adaptation is constant as our living conditions alter, recovery is indicative that it will restore its way back to how it once used to be; if not in entirety, it will be at least somewhat back to the pre-pandemic times and their objectives. It is evident that a lot of things have changed since the pandemic, as it is also inevitable that while we as a species recover, the adaptation procedure will not be smooth. While all else remains unclear, it is sure to continue to retain the uncertainty with which we are learning to live.

Photo: Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP


Ananthamurthy, U.R. (2012). Samskara, translated by A. K. Ramanujan. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Banerjee, Pallavi, Khandelwal Chetna, and Sanyal Megha. (2022). Deep Care: The COVID-19 Pandemic and the work of marginal feminist organizing in India. Gender, Work & Organization 1–26.10.1111/gwao.12857.

Chadha, Gita. (2021). Pandemic Conversations: Gender, Marginalities and COVID-19. Economic and Political Weekly, 56(11).

Devi, Mahasweta (1993). Rudali. Pan Macmillan

Banerjee, Pallavi, Khandelwal Chetna, and Sanyal Megha. (2022). Deep Care: The COVID-19 Pandemic and the work of marginal feminist organizing in India. Gender, Work & Organization 1–26.10.1111/gwao.12857.

Johal, Sarb. (2021). Covid is an essential crisis that comes from an awareness of your own freedoms, The Guardian

Mukhtar, Sonia and Mukhtar, Shamim. (2022). The Hidden Shadow Pandemic of Marital Rape During COVID-19 Pandemic Outbreak: A Critical Role of Women’s March for Awareness of Rape, Consent, and Sexual and Reproductive Rights. Sage Journals, Vol 4(2).

Ratan, Anmol. “COVID‐19: How Casteist Is This Pandemic.” Feminism in India.


Ankita Das is a post graduate in English Literature and Languages from The English and  Foreign Languages University. She focuses her research on culture and criticism across multilingual communities, diaspora and the effects of simulation in literary writing.


For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: