My life in the time of Covid-19


Susmita Sinha, Bangalore, India

Susmita Sinha is a close friend for more than a decade. We have met her at a BORDA partner´s meeting in Stockholm in 2008, invited her to our weltwärts-Bremen introduction seminars as a mentor of the BORDA partner organization CDD(Consortium for Dewats Dissemination) in 2009 and later on. Ms Sinha is a sanitation professional and has been a leading member of CDD and BORDA in various positions, but she has never lost her feeling for and her interest in mentoring and caring for young German experts who served for a year in one of CDD´s environmental projects in India. Susmita Sinha is a true ambassador for intercultural relations between people from India and Germany. And by the way: we still owe her a visit to the Black Forest in Germany.

On March 19, 2020, WHO designated COVID-19 a pandemic. Today as 2021 comes to a close, I am reflecting upon what I learned, what did I celebrate and what is in future.

These almost two years have been a time of challenges, juggling between managing old parents, freelance online professional work, personal time (or the lack of it), social distances, financial difficulties, maintaining family relationships and my sanity.

The beginning of the pandemic: March 2020

In March 2020, I remember this feeling of euphoria – I had managed to be prepared for the lockdown, I had kept my parents and myself safe and healthy. As the lockdown continued, this feeling changed to worry, fear, exhaustion – how do I balance doing all the things I had to do at home, and also get professional work that I could do in the little time I got to keep my brain functioning. There was the feeling of gratefulness for being able to deal with lockdown relatively easily and sadness at seeing so many people around me suffering in different ways.

Photograph: Portrait Susmita Sinha

Creating and sustaining the work-life rhythm, creating joyous moments, dealing with uncertainties and sickness and loss of loved ones – all came at a price – sleep deprivation, constant planning, physical and mental health issues. On the other hand, I also became calmer, more disciplined, taking time to enjoy the revitalised environment around me, recall and share memories with parents and friends. I found ways of extending support to people in need – emotionally, financially,  as well as with doing things to help. I realised that just as the earth around me, human potential is immense, there is so much one can do. It is not money that keeps one running but the ability to reach out to people and by standing by each other.

The second wave in 2021

2021 seemed to start with hope but the second wave brought Covid closer and the impact more. This year, one had perhaps more tools to deal with the situation, but the hopelessness was also more. The realisation that the end date was nowhere in sight, and the previous life was not coming back was a tough reality to come to terms with and that I think I am still dealing with. I am yet to come up with a winning formula to solve this problem. How can I build back better, how can I adapt better?

Human beings are resilient creatures and my parents, grandparents have always taught that if one continues to look for answers to all the questions that our mind throws at us, if we calm our minds and think, seek help and guidance, reach out to our society – family, friends, people around us, accept that we are not invincible, or super heroes, believe in gratitude, create our own happiness, we can deal with anything. We are just a tiny speck in the universe, important no doubt but ‘nothing’ in the larger scheme of things. This perspective helps me to reorient myself every time I find myself on a ‘pity’ trial. Covid has taught us to be more responsible for our actions – within our circle of influence and also beyond it. Being self-indulgent is not going to solve our problems or of our society. We have to put ourselves in the universe and join hands for collective actions to keep the world going round.

So 2022, you are no doubt going to throw new challenges at me but I am not afraid. I will take each day as it comes, I have firm belief in myself, in my weaknesses and strengths,  in the world I have created for myself, family and friends. And when things are beyond me, I will surrender to the cosmos – I will reinvent myself.

Covid and freelance work

I work as a freelance consultant in the wastewater management space. The pandemic created a situation where all field work had to be taken online – there were no eyes or feet on the ground. Whatever could be done virtually was done. Funds saved from onsite work were spent on looking at varied point of views, more discussions, more reports, through freelance consultants. It created a whole new work force – freelance consultants. And for existing consultants,  it has created competition!!! But I would say that, though I have lost out on some work, this has also given me the option of choice – I choose to do exactly what I want to do – not the whole work perhaps, but the exact slice of work that I am able to do well. It has given me the opportunity to improve my skills. Covid did not mean I had to bring down my freelance pricing and rates but yes, there were times that some ‘competitors’ were willing to do the same work for lesser and so I lost opportunities.

The local fruit seller is now accepting digital payments

Remote working, digitalisation and virtualisation will be the new normal and is here to stay and the future does seem to comprise of a hybrid workforce. In such a scenario, experience and skills become important. You have to be very much present in the virtual world – at the right place and time to get a hold of the many opportunities. However, as always, one’s professional and unique talent count. The flexible work model is a boon for freelance consultants. There is a likely to be an increase in demand for freelancer skills during the pandemic and following it. I also see longer term prospects for freelancing and independent management consulting and coaching as distinctive careers.

Shaking hands over consulting agreements are getting replaced by ‘namaste’ and this new normal with new terms and conditions is here to stay.