Long Read: The Covid cloud’s silver laugh lines

Dubai - Living in a pandemic is often a lot like living through war.

By Mahwash Ajaz

Published: Fri 30 Apr 2021, 11:12 PM

Every morning when I wake up now I clear my throat. Does that sound obsessive compulsive? Slightly insane? I check for body aches. Even if I feel the slightest bit of scratch in my throat, I start planning my day in a way that a Covid test fits into my routine.

It wasn’t like that before, when I’d wake up every morning with a manic zest for life — that, of course, lasted for about 10 minutes into the day before I’d realise I have to adult like the rest of the world.

But since early 2020, life has changed for everyone: the new normal, a strange new world etc etc.

Living in a pandemic is often a lot like living through war, even if you are watching from a distance (my family’s been Covid-free so far but somehow it doesn’t feel like we’re out of the woods yet; even though we’re vaccinated, the fear of contracting Covid or going through it is scary). And much like you need stories of love, hope and optimism during war, every day we need something to help us forget that every time we step outside of the house, every time we meet a stranger — just commonplace things that no one even thought about before the pandemic hit — are now possibly dangerous situations.

Sometimes you want to laugh and forget that there’s a virus out there that’s more manic than anything you’ve ever known.

The human instinct for survival works in mysterious ways, the psychological ways in which we deal with crises is even more curious. During the Great Depression in the United States, escapist films such as King Kong and The Wizard of Oz became so popular they continue to have a mass appeal today. Motion pictures and radio broadcasts became one of the most preferred pastimes during war and after it as well. Commentators and experts have also been writing about “pandemic exhaustion” and “pandemic burnout”: we’re all just tired of being afraid.

It is during these times when we need laughter the most. The best medicine indeed and for good reason: a lot of Hollywood films that were around raging pandemics were shelved and Netflix boomed during lockdown. Trending films were either escapist reality TV or impossible films and series such as Tiger King, Schitt’s Creek, Wandavision, Teenage Bounty Hunters and Never Have I Ever. India released a usual mix of horror, comedy and romance but it was the escapist horror/comedy that worked the best and remained fresh. During the month of Ramadan, Pakistan released multiple comedy shows that outranked all of their regular programming. People wanted to laugh and smile with impossible characters and OTT dialogues. No one cared if the world of these characters made sense anymore.

Because the world around them was less sensible than these folks who were dropping hilarious one-liners and were surrounded by a different brand of crazy. Today, when I’m tired from being unable to meet my friends or my family, I want to go back to that familiar feeling of being happy and joyous about something. Anything.

Even 30-second skit-based videos began doing rounds on social media and garnered millions of views. Small-time comedians became big-time influencers. Forgotten comedies came back in demand. All of it is well-deserved, if you ask me. 
All the serious commentary is exhausting and I’m tired of asking the same question, scouring daily headlines to see if they’ve finally found a cure for Covid.

What I’ve now realised is that laughter is the biggest miracle medicine we’ve been given by the virtue of being human. These funny shows, the tiny TikTok skits, the hilarious WhatsApp forwards …they make me forget about the scratch in my throat and the fear in my heart. They help me cope. Because let’s face it, in the face of utter, sheer helplessness and gloom and doom, the silliest joke can make the world seem a lighter, brighter place.


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