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“The more things change…”: A year after the lockdown

Mubin Khan, President, NettValue Media, writes how things and human behaviour will change a year after the Covid crisis is over

Mubin Khan

“In times of stress and danger such as come about as the result of an epidemic, many tragic and cruel phases of human nature are brought out, as well as many brave and unselfish ones.”

These lines from William Crawford Gorgas’ ‘Sanitation in Panama’ aptly sums up the present conditions that we are living in. Seeing despair and hope, foolishness and wisdom, and the animalistic nature of human behaviour on one side and the empathetic nature on the other!

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The present conditions have given a fabulous opportunity to observe and assess the vast Indian middle class – both in person and using technology. It is fascinating to see the myriad of emotions, behaviour, habits and subtle differences in human nature that make us what we are.

This article is a culmination of my personal observations over the past two months, directly as well as indirectly. It is more of a 10th man attempt to understand and describe how the vast would behave about a year from now – assuming the Covid crisis is over, a vaccine would have been found and people would have adjusted to the virus now living among us. It leaves the implications for marketing and brands on you, the reader.

It is based using Trendspotting — wherein I have tried to identify trends using Secondary Research; and Disguised Naturalistic Observation techniques — given the unique position wherein I could observe people from up close in these times.

Secondary research involved social listening (including visual cues) as well as perusal of articles in media. These were not the obvious trending articles which show what is in vogue today, but the ones hidden under the radar. To give an idea — check the number of references of paani puri or pizzas on people’s feeds, the ‘then and now’ pictures of local trains and roads, news of accidents committed by people who decided to go out on a joyride, involuntary movement forward to shake hands on videos, pictures of crowds with absolute disregard for social distancing at alcohol shops, indications of masks not being ‘macho’, disregard for distancing at quasi-religious gatherings, videos of people engaged in household chores, tweets on new terminologies (ASAP: After Safai and Pochha, EOD: End of Dishwashing) becoming WhatsApp memes etc. (Thanks @ramkid!)

These are very basic examples, but you get the drift! Put together, more than two hundred of these readings show us that there is a clear undercurrent of ‘wanting to go out’ as well as an increasing acceptance of living with the virus.

I am blessed to be associated with two NGOs; and we have been working very closely on the ground along with many other like-minded NGOs across the country (except for about 4-5 states / UTs). This has given me the opportunity to watch people up close in these trying times. Here again, I am referring to the middle class who have gone out of their way to help and support the needy lower classes that we are working for. As mentioned earlier, the primary research was conducted using disguised naturalistic observation techniques on the ground; personally by me in parts of Mumbai and Navi Mumbai, and through probing of teams working across multiple locations, the vast majority of whom had no idea of the reason behind the queries; and who – over time – started observing behaviour much in line with the requirements based on our past discussions. This approach enabled us to eliminate interviewer effect and get pure observations.

To give certain examples of observations — we have observed an increasing acceptance of living with corona over time; and the fatalistic nature (remember Gita Saar) is clearly visible. Certain other — let me call them uniquely Indian — traits are also visible. The distance of social distancing at pharmacies and grocery stores is slowly reducing over time, masks are being worn under the nose or being removed at certain times altogether (the heat may have something to do with it), motorcycles and cars are making their appearance for short journeys (without approvals, mind you!), re-emergence of local markets and their usual customers, etc. On the other hand, one can also observe that notes are being exchanged more carefully, re-emergence of mobile / QR code-based payment mechanisms etc.

So, on to mid-2021, and here is what we can expect!

The more things change…

  • There would be more scowls and moving aside when someone sneezes in public.
  • Use of sanitisers would increase, albeit at a much lower level than what is visible nowadays. However, establishments such as malls, restaurants etc., would do away with it altogether.
  • Middle class households would be increasingly ‘aatmanirbhar’ in terms of household chores. (Reasons for this in terms of cost and availability is the subject for a completely different sociological article!).
  • On a disturbing note, we would see higher levels of social and communal divide over the next couple of years. We are at a dangerous tipping point, which, if not contained, could be dangerous to the social fabric of this country! 
  • Handshakes would reduce significantly in the short run; and stay lower than the present in the medium term.

…the more they remain the same!

  • Crowds pushing each other in malls and multiplexes, jostling at the counters of food courts, the lovely ‘escuss mi’ while shoving someone else’s shopping cart with your own in a supermarket would be normal.
  • Roads would again be as crowded, including due to the potholes (and I daresay, there would be more in 2020 with a genuine reason that the roads could not be tarred due to the lockdown, but I digress!).
  • Public transport would be as crowded, with absolute disregard for distancing of any sort.
  • Our national pastime of spitting would be back to its usual glory.
  • Handshakes would be back in vogue.
  • Masks would disappear, first being replaced by handkerchiefs, and finally the handkerchiefs will also make their way back into the pockets!

These are not predictions, but rather an assessment of possible trends based on compilation of several indicators.

Only time will show us if the trends spotted by me with the help of scores of volunteers across the country will translate into the points that the assessment shows. So, let’s wait till mid-2021!

That’s all, folks!

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of BestMediaInfo.com and we do not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)


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