Amidst travel restrictions and cancelled events, hitting the pause button is a silver lining

Updated - March 15, 2020 11:49 am IST

Published - March 13, 2020 05:35 pm IST

The London Book Fair during happier times

The London Book Fair during happier times

“Don’t worry darling, we have so much dirt and disease in India, this virus won’t make a difference,” said Bejewelled Brunette as she patted me reassuringly with her perfectly-manicured hand. “This corona-shorona, it is just like the cold, why is everyone panicking so much?” she continued, sounding like the infectious disease expert she wasn’t. “Anyway, it won’t last in our heat. Now let’s get a drink!”

Much like the Roaring 20s of a century ago, life in 2020 must go on and so here we were, at a packed dinner party, where the talk revolved around the dastardly coronavirus and its fall out: sinking markets and travel restrictions. This is, after all, South Mumbai — money and travel are paramount. And prospects for both look grim, especially now that so many countries have restricted entry and exits.

Move over ‘artisanal’ and ‘curate.’ With this global pandemic, ‘cancel’ is the new IT word. Everywhere one turns, things are cancelled. Back in February, I was meant to attend the big home goods trade fair in Frankfurt, but rumblings around the coronavirus and my own flu-like symptoms made me cancel. Next came news that the world’s biggest phone expo, the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, was cancelled. Early in February, I also received an email from Art Basel Hong Kong saying it was called off; a day later, the fair’s VIP card arrived in the mail!

The Geneva International Motor Show, the big watch fair Baselworld, the London Book Fair, and ITB Berlin, the travel trade show, went the same way. Art Dubai sent an email saying it was postponed, as is Milan’s Salone del Mobile, the world’s largest design fair. Also nixed: the Dubai International Boat Show, the Singapore Yacht Show, Austin’s South by Southwest, and the ASEAN Summit in Las Vegas. The number of other shows and conferences, not to mention sporting events, that have been cancelled or postponed are innumerable. Add to that the shuttering of Disney World in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo and Paris, the closing of the Louvre and other museums, the complete lock down of multiple countries, including my beloved Italy, and well, 2020 is definitely distinguishing itself.

Visitors viewing artwork at Art Basel Hong Kong 2019

Visitors viewing artwork at Art Basel Hong Kong 2019

Yet, some things have gone as per schedule, including TEFAF Maastricht, the European Fine Art fair. I reached out to my friend, the gentleman-ly genius Viren Bhagat, India’s pre-eminent jeweller, who participated in the fair for the first time this year, to ask him how it was. “It was better than expected, and very crowded on the first two VIP preview days,” Viren said via WhatsApp. He was pleased with the response. Given that he is supremely talented, only produces 60 pieces a year, and isn’t very accessible, I am not in the least surprised. And despite the global slump, reports from the fair, where a Van Gogh just sold for 15 million Euros, were positive.

That’s the thing about folks who attend such fairs (in TEFAF’s case, 10,000 visitors attended the exclusive first two days) — they make up the cocooned, skinny layer of global society who can shield themselves from the virus through their private estates, jets, yachts and on-call doctors. The rest of the world isn’t as lucky. Lack of tests, masks and hospital beds are just some public health challenges.

Fatality rates are becoming worse than the flu, despite what Donald Trump says. But in all this gloom is one thin silver lining: we are being forced to hit the pause button. Suddenly, what seemed so important isn’t — that meeting you had to attend or that trip you had to take. Technology, which gets bashed for compromising our privacy and our attention spans, is enabling new ways of communicating and consuming. Virtual meetings and virtual viewing — for sports, conferences, art fairs and shows — are becoming popular. The planet is also getting some respite. Swaths of air above China are cleaner, emissions are fewer as factories are forced to shut and as air travel reduces. So while the global economy is in bad shape temporarily, these forcible closures are forcing us to get off our hamster wheels and slow down. Do it and stay well.

This fortnightly column tracks the indulgent pursuits of the one-percenters.

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