Get smart

25 Apr, 2020

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The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.

IT is usually not a bright idea to do smart things in an un-smart way. Case in point: us.

‘Smart lockdowns’ is the new buzzword. From Prime Minister Imran Khan to every Johnny-come-lately – all are talking about this exciting concept that may bridge the gap between lives and livelihood. It is generally smart to attach the word ‘smart’ to any verb or noun and, voila! You have yourself a jazzed-up, souped-up kind of thing that finds surprising traction on even smooth surfaces.

Here’s the thing though: attaching the word ‘smart’ doesn’t always make it so. In the present case, it may be prudent to peel away layer upon layer of semantics that we have heaped on to the concept of lockdown before we actually start celebrating the smartness of it all.

There is a context. Till a few months ago, most of us had only heard the word ‘lockdown’ in Hollywood action movies. ‘Lock it down’ the buff and ferocious-looking villain would bellow in his booming voice as the hero made a run for it from the villain’s lair after achieving whatever the screenplay writer had forced her to achieve. As the villain’s orders echoed across the cinema’s surround-sound speakers, iron gates and caged doors would start slamming shut while the hero dashed through falling debris of the explosions she had triggered. But we all know how the scene ended. Always. As the last metal door was closing, the hero would launch herself into a desperate dive and slide under the door with inches to go. Even in the movies, lockdown couldn’t keep people in.

It just so happened that the word leapt straight from silver screens into our vocabulary without much of a warning. So while the world struggled with the virus, we struggled with lockdown’s definition. Our leaders regaled us with the amazing differences between various species of lockdowns — Darwin be praised, as says a smart colleague — and we learnt there was a world of difference between what Sindh was doing and what Islamabad was thinking of doing. There was but a twist: the difference was not really a difference because, you see, lockdown is a lockdown is a lockdown. Except when it is not. Oh these semantics will be the death of us. Literally.

Armed to the teeth with testing kits, smart teams of people will fan out across the country and start testing random people.

So as death began to encroach on life’s territory, we did what many of us have done through the ages when confronted with a crisis: nothing. Well, ok that’s not completely true. Some of us laden with some responsibility gathered others in front of cameras and launched into, errr, definitions of lockdowns. Yes, so did you actually know there is a lockdown with curfew that is different from a lockdown that has — guess what — no curfew? Oh wait, there’s also one with quasi-curfew, which by the way — in case you’re really interested — is slightly different from the lockdown with a semi (not quasi) curfew. So obviously then, we cannot have a lockdown because, well, I mean how can you have a lockdown till you figure out which lockdown you are referring to. Exactly. So if it were really that easy, wouldn’t Sindh have just done it?

Oh, wait.

Six weeks of this reverse-smartness and suddenly we are talking of smart lockdowns. But then, you know, there is a smart lockdown with a curfew which is — you should really know — different from the one that doesn’t have a curfew; which by the way, is kind of different from…

The more things change.

But they don’t have to change if our reservoir of confidence is so full it requires a spillway to be opened. It doesn’t really matter how you fight the virus as long as you do it with confidence. And flair. And panache. And belief.

Smart equals cool. Cool needs some initials. We got them: TTQ. So next time someone asks you how we are fighting the virus, you can say: T.T.Q. This is the ‘smart’ portion of the smart lockdown. So now we are doing three things in parallel. First, we are trying to define lockdown; second, we are trying to define smart lockdown; and third, we are Tracking, Testing and Quarantining (yes, that is TTQ in case you were still wondering).

Here’s the funny thing though: something strange happened on the way to TTQ. We got smart. This acquired smartness is manifesting itself in a dazzling new strategy which revolves around — yes, you guessed it — smart division of labour. There are now two categories of decision-makers: the first ones are slogging away at the definition of lockdown; the second ones are doing TTQ. Both are dogged in their determination and focused on their function. The first category will not falter and will not fail till it has finally locked down a definition of lockdown that shall stand the test of time, and common sense. The second category is graduating to the next level of challenge.

At this level, organic smartness — as opposed to simulated smartness — is a prerequisite. Armed to the teeth with testing kits, smart teams of people will fan out across the country and start testing random people. When they find those infected with the virus, these smart people will track all those people who had in any way come into contact with the infected ones. This tracking they will do using smart gadgets and smarter intelligence. Once they find them — and find them they will — they will test them and quarantine them. Then they will go after those who had come in contact with them and find them and test them and…

If many such people are in clusters, then they will lock down those particular areas. And so shall the smartness spread across the land till we have prevailed over every possible aspect of the virus.

Except, of course, the definition of a lockdown.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.

Twitter: @fahdhusain

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2020