With over 68 million infected with Covid-19 and 1.5 million dead, the last 12 months have been nothing if not a roller coaster ride to get away from the virus, sickness and loss.

Luckily for us, vaccines are underway and soon, the pandemic will be behind us — or at least that is the hope.

As the year 2020 comes to a close, it is time to go over all that happened this crazy year that we are leaving behind.

There have been huge personal and financial losses for some. Others have been able to make sense and find a silver lining in this catastrophe. Some found peace and enjoyed the forced isolation.

Here, we speak to some individuals to get a sense of how their lives have changed and how they learnt to adapt to and accept to live alongside the virus.

A time for new hobbies

Former deputy conservator of the Karachi port, Captain Shakeel Babar, said he finally made peace with the world. It was during the lockdown that he came to the "conclusion that I cannot change things in this world so I have stopped worrying", said the 65-year-old mariner.

Babar Shakeel with his plants
Babar Shakeel with his plants

The Covid-19 pandemic got him started on "bicycling before sunrise" everyday, which he continues as well as his visits to the gun club twice a week to play international Olympic skeet.

Facebook, he said, was a "life raft to me" during the lockdown. In addition, he claims his cooking skills improved tremendously as has the kitchen garden on the rooftop of his home. "Even my orchids are blooming like never before with my experimentation," he said with pride.

Like Captain Babar, Rina Saeed Khan, an environmental journalist, also "loved the isolation, specially the short-lived lockdown" as it gave her time for a much-needed break from the stresses of life.

"I was grateful every single day for being healthy and to be alive and to enjoy the clean air and blue skies," said Khan.

Learning to adapt

For many life did not go according to the plan, like Rohail Hayatt's plan of coming out with a brand new Coke Studio in all its "glory" in March.

The founder and producer of Coke Studio decided to reinvent and his team chose to don on the armour of "flexibility and adaptability".

"We could have done nothing, but that would not have been the right message to put forth," he said.

Coke Studio was thrown off track but producer Rohail Hyatt made lemonade when life threw lemons at him
Coke Studio was thrown off track but producer Rohail Hyatt made lemonade when life threw lemons at him

It was not easy but with technology, experimenting with apps and software, they managed to record 12 songs, turning Hyatt's home into a makeshift studio following strict standard operating procedures.

"12 songs were planned for Season 2020, and that many recorded, and released," said Hyatt.

But more than his work, Hyatt said witnessing nature rebound was a "humbling" experience and he was grateful that he could be part of and be a witness to this rare phenomenon in his lifetime.

"It can't be a big negative what with being able to see the sky turn blue, breathing in clean air and hearing the chirping of birds," he added, mindful of the death and destruction the pandemic continues to wreak. "I believe there is good in the 'course correction by nature' to 'restore balance'."

Time to celebrate the littlest adjustments

Yoga therapist, Tassy Moochhala, also seems to agree with Hyatt's philosophy.

"Things turn out the best for people who make the most of a given situation," she said. Reflecting on the past year which "outwardly may not have been the easiest of years", she said she wants to celebrate the "smallest of changes" she made in her attitude and behaviour.

What better than yoga to get you through stressful times?
What better than yoga to get you through stressful times?

A people's person who "revels in the physical company of others", Moochhala started offering customised yoga classes to her students using Zoom and continues.

"I am really encouraged to see how well it worked even for those over 70," said the teacher who has been coaching for the past 10 years.

She was able to continue with online meditation, took up short yoga-related courses, brushed up on her Urdu language, and even took on the Jeruselama dance challenge!

She also got to spend time with her children. "With colleges going online, I had bonus time with both my children who were able to come home for longer periods," she said.

The forced, guilt-free time was a good break for many, agreed psychologist Dr Asha Bedar. For her clients already going through depression, she received a mixed reaction.

Anxiety "shot up" for some, she said, and those who initially felt relieved, "the feeling didn't last long" and they realised the lack of social interactions was actually making their symptoms worse, reinforcing habits and fears.

"Even the most introverted ones (including some with social anxiety) realised they need some social interaction after all," observed Dr Bedar giving an example of a twenty-something client who suffers from severe social anxiety.

"Initially for her, the lockdown and social distancing was a godsend," she said. "A few months later she realised she actually missed going out for her then-forced coffee with a friend, or having friends drop by on her birthday etc," said Dr Bedar, adding that she had lots of similar examples to share.

"I think for many (including myself), it's also just having the freedom to pick and choose when to interact; social distancing took away that choice," she concluded.

But there are others like art critic and historian Niilofur Farrukh who found the "constant health alert exhausting". Same with Nausheen Ahmad, company secretary, at multinational ICI Pakistan, who said: "I can’t say I have enjoyed it," referring to the pandemic.

Niilofur Farrukh managed to conceptualise and edit a book during a pandemic
Niilofur Farrukh managed to conceptualise and edit a book during a pandemic

Even on the work front, Ahmad said it was not easy as everything became virtual. "Lost one colleague to Covid yesterday. And a few showing signs of depression," she said. And even though the vaccine has come she has "mixed feelings" about that too, because of news about allergic reactions which she finds disconcerting.

For Farrukh, 2020, despite "being a paradox", gave her time to reflect. The isolation period "stretched time so a lot more could be accomplished. Suddenly time was available for projects that I'd put on the back burner," she said, giving the example of the book A Beautiful Despair — The Art and Life of Meher Afroz, about a distinguished Pakistani artist, that Farrukh had conceptualised and edited.

"I managed to get it published this year despite the challenges," she said with pride.

"I also got time with my grandchildren, sharing stories, games and painting projects which my busy schedule pre-Covid-19 never allowed," she admitted.

A time for healing for many

Lt Col (R) Dr Baqar Nawab, heading Medicare Cardiac and General Hospital in Karachi, finally found time to record the "fascinating family tales of Aligarh, Lucknow, Dehradun, Badayun" in what is now India using Zoom, WhatsApp or just through phone calls.

Dr Baqar Nawab on a Zoom call with relatives
Dr Baqar Nawab on a Zoom call with relatives

He hopes to "compile them for the next generation".

For Anushae Alam, a mother who lost her daughter last year in very tragic circumstances, the pandemic and the accompanying isolation provided her the time "to go through my grieving cycle and build my communication" with her 21-year-old child, who is with her no more.

"This is a new journey for me. I needed the silence to truly focus on my communication with Nisa [her daughter] and to be able to feel her presence and dialogue with her, which is utterly healing," she said.

For Sadia Sheikh, a sports coach, the year has been a life-changing experience. Sheikh, who founded the first women football club in 2002 and has accomplished much including training 18 women for international football, had been fighting with weight issue, insomnia and depression for a while now without much success.

Sports coach Sadia Sheikh struggled at first but managed to find a silver lining
Sports coach Sadia Sheikh struggled at first but managed to find a silver lining

But in the last 10 months, Sheikh said, she "finally found time for myself". She took a food and nutrition course and was able to lose 10 kilos and continues "to follow a good exercise and food regimen".

But not everyone had leisure time

"While most people found time to spend at home with family, for me it was crazy busy dealing with patients, the hospital and the government," said Dr Syed Faisal Mahmood, an associate professor of infectious diseases at the Aga Khan University, also the doctor who treated Pakistan's first Covid-19 patient.

But what he did learn was how to push himself in ways "he had not before".

In between juggling two meetings simultaneously while handling patients, he dealt with a variety of people. "For an introvert like me, this really pushed me out of the comfort zone and I feel I have really grown as a person," he shared.

Same was the case with artist Amin Gulgee. He had a "super busy quarantine".

Calling the time his "corona chronicles", he said it was also a very "productive" period for him where he was able to curate and co-curate shows even if they were not open for public.

Healing II. Amin Gulgee 2
Healing II. Amin Gulgee 2

The whirlwind of activities included a show Lal Jadoo on the streets of Karachi in full public view but without the spectators; instead, it was live streamed. Another show, the Trojan Donkey, took place. It had 85 artists from across the world.

In July, Gulgee held a solo performance titled Healing II (Healing I happened after the deaths of his parents and renowned Pakistani artist Ali Imam's) on his rooftop where he got his head shaved. Curated by Adam Famy-Majeed, "this one was attended by a very close group of friends," he admitted.

In the next show, called If walls Could Talk, he used the wall of the parking lot of Village Restaurant (next to former Metropole Hotel) and projected his work on it.

Healing II. Amin Gulgee on his gallery's rooftop.
Healing II. Amin Gulgee on his gallery's rooftop.

"It was something like the drive-in cinema we had. People could keep sitting in their cars and watch the show and leave," he said.

Like Gulgee the graduating class from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVS), had to let the creative juices flow and learn to improvise. Due to the pandemic, their institution closed down and with it the studios and workshops.

"Even the stationery shops were closed and without the material or the equipment to work with, we were left with whatever was available at home," said Filza Baloch, one of the graduating students. She had to change her medium "from terracotta to soil" for her thesis work which was about her archiving how her father's ancestral home was transformed to modern times.

"I found fascinating stories of pre-Partition times in the nooks and crannies," Baloch said. She admitted her work would not have taken on this interesting turn, if Covid had not struck.

"I was able to explore soil, work with dry material instead of the usual wet terracotta and make shapes," she said.

Sadly neither she nor her classmates were able to showcase the thesis.

"This is the first time in our school's history that the graduating class is unable to display its work and have a public viewing" that students wait for four years for, she lamented. But the journey to complete their thesis, though tough, was nevertheless a unique experience.


The story was originally written for a Swedish South Asia magazine, Sydasien.

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