“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Last night India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that 1.3 billion people would go into a lockdown for the next three weeks as a drastic but necessary measure to stop the spread of coronavirus in the country. Whether you agree with the decision or not, the declaration launched an entire nation of Indians into historically unprecedented territory — what is everyone going to do for the next 21 days? How will people and families, businesses and industries make it out the other end?
At this point, our lives before coronavirus may as well be fiction.
Going to a concert with 500 other people?
Wanting to work from home?
Taking a flight to another country? A country in Europe??
Making any long term plans with your friends or for your business or your career?
Each of these was a perfectly normal thing to think or do even three weeks ago. The world has irreversibly changed, this much is clear. And wherever you are in the world, it has been strange and difficult, and will very likely continue to be so over the coming weeks and months.
For those of us younger millennials who had yet to enter the workforce during the last financial crisis, we get a first-hand exposure to that visceral sense of uncertainty about the economy and the world around us. About where we stand and how this pandemic shapes the next few years of our lives. This is perhaps the first time we get to evenly share our parents’ hopes and fears about what’s going to happen next. Because nobody knows what’s going to happen next.
This piece was inspired partly by my mother telling us yesterday about how her family had to board up their windows at the time of the Indo-Pak War of 1971 as a measure of safety from planes flying overhead, and how (even accounting for recency bias) this was a scarier time.
The collective human hive mind is searching for solutions to this virus— whether it be faster testing kits, or mass produced ventilators or private sector involvement. But its anyone’s best guess for how and when we truly get out of this.
We’ve been told all too often that our generation has been blessed to see a 12-year bull market. In the start-up ecosystem and particularly in the frothy fintech sector in India I’ve heard some variation of ‘let’s see how all this holds up in a down market’ on multiple occasions. Well, it’s here now.
We’ve been given a rude lesson on the futility of clairvoyance and how, unless you predicted that nobody on Earth would play a professional sport or go to a restaurant in March, every forecast about 2020 and ahead is now worthless. You try and read about markets and market psychology and sound investing practice, but neither prepares you for the blind panic of a spooked global economy that has collectively decided to ‘turn off’ globalisation while we figure this thing out.
In the words of the great Morgan Housel, you have to live it to believe it.
So what now?
Now we get to decide what story we tell future generations. About arguably humanity’s greatest challenge, and how we made it through three weeks of curfew in India.
About how people came around to the idea of social distancing to protect the health and safety of those around them, despite the immense economic costs to our business and livelihoods.
We pay tribute to the grocers, pharmacists, vendors and farmers who continue to produce and deliver our essentials throughout the quarantine period. We get a chance to come together and look out for those at the bottom of the pyramid whose daily sustenance is most at risk, and those whose immediate lives and wellbeing will be severely impacted by the closing of business and borders.
We will be able to talk about how everyone turned into content creators overnight. My friends are drawing, exercising, writing, making music and photographing on social media and I AM HERE FOR IT.
Regardless of industry or position or size of operation, no one is immune to the whims of the economy, and it is comforting to share both the distress and humour of our common predicament. We will have a chance to cut our teeth as entrepreneurs, artists and professionals in a uniquely hostile business environment, and build for a world that in all likelihood will look nothing like the old one. We are now creating at the Max Difficulty setting.
If you’ve looked up at the sky in the past week or stepped outside (but why would you do that in quarantine? *nervous laughter*) and felt the cleaner air, you might feel that the debate of economy vs environment is one worth revisiting when we get back to our regular scheduled programming.
For those of us fortunate to be at home, this might be the most time we have gotten to spend with our families in a while. We will either become much closer to our loved ones, or be guilty of murder come April.
We have a unique window of solitude to pursue any longing passions and hobbies.
We get to craft our own approaches to working from home.
Or to exercise.
The only thing for certain is that we’re going to come out of this looking like wolf-people.
Humanity has been given a unique chance to reset. We will never look at risk or travel or collaboration or hygiene the same way we used to. I don’t know what this says about me but I’ve washed my hands more in the last two weeks than I’ve done in the previous 27 years of my life.
We don’t know how this plays out. But we do know that we are resilient, adaptable and masters at picking up the pieces.
I’ve been making inroads through my own reading list over the last ten days and I came across this paragraph by Ernest Hemingway from his 1964 classic ‘A Moveable Feast’ that gave me a lazy way out of writing an ending to this piece: