No previous ‘world war’ or ‘pandemic’ had threatened humanity as much as the current Covid-19 crisis. Even the Second World War, the mother of all wars, wasn’t exactly a global affair. Fighting on behalf of Britain, around 24,000 Nepalis were killed, wounded or missing in action, according to Prem Uprety. The war also marked the watershed when western goods and ideas started filtering into Nepal along with the returning Lahures. Yet in that time and age of limited communication and Nepal’s policy of ‘splendid isolation’, a war that otherwise claimed 70-85 million folks was hardly a matter of common concern for dirt-poor Nepalis. Not so during the current Covid-19 crisis that has affected nearly everyone here.
A Namibian is as affected by the pandemic as is a Norwegian or a Nepali, and the suffering is imminently relatable. Rich and poor follow the same safety protocol: social distancing, masks, hand sanitizers. I was recently talking to a Nepali friend of mine in Japan and he says rather than obsessing over his family’s health, he is more worried about his economic status, just like most Japanese. Remarkably, this corporate man’s concerns in Tokyo have come to reflect those of a rikshaw-puller in Kathmandu. They also fit perfectly with a recent Pew survey suggesting the Americans worry more about Covid-19’s economic fallouts than they do about its health upshots.
The irrationality around the virus is also universal. Turn on CNN and you may see a report on how North Carolinians are being ‘highly irresponsible’ in openly flouting social distancing and mask norms, when exactly the same is happening in Nepal. Before long, globalization stood for opening of borders and minds, symbolized by free flows of goods and ideas. Yet for the Covid generation, it is as much about free flow of paranoia and disinformation.
When Donald Trump pushes his scientists to take short cuts to a vaccine, we realize the faulty jabs could create universal misery. We are hooked to American general election as another Trump triumph could spell a disaster for the globe. We also worry about the resurgence of the virus in well-stocked Europe and wonder how we will ever control it here with our scant resources. And the rates of anxiety and depression have gone through the roof, again right around the globe.
Recent surveys in China and the US suggest people there are etching to travel in 2021, come what may. Even in Nepal both domestic and international flights are up and running already. Frankly, I too can’t wait to dust off my travel shoes.
But the next time I travel abroad—whenever that might be—I can be damned sure the people of the place I visit, however privileged, will have faced exactly the same plight that I did, for months on end. This might make me a little more empathetic. It will also make my jaunts a little less exotic. For now, I really understand that our outward differences aside, people the world over are on the same choppy waters. Moreover, the oarsmen we are relying on to see us safely ashore are singularly selfish and incompetent.