Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 05/16/21 4:30 AM

Guest column: Seeking that elusive silver lining

Desperately seeking that silver lining

Just yesterday, a Charlie Mackesy cartoon landed on my Instagram feed. It   featured the now famous little boy, the horse and the dog. The boy  was asking `What`s the best thing you’ve learned about storms?` and the horse answered, `That they end.`

In better circumstances, that positive note would have been something to clutch on to, hopefully, gratefully. But other voices seem to contradict this  optimism. Immunologists, virologists, scientists all aver that when this storm will pass, the next one will roll in,  darkening our skies and our lives again.  They say the virus is here to stay, that it will come and go in recurring waves, that masking protocol will have to become a regular feature of our lives, that we will need to exercise a lot of caution when we go into large crowds. That the vaccines will need to be updated to deal with many Hydra mutations as well as fresh surges that see frightening spikes. That we might need an annual Covid shot, even when the pandemic de-escalates into an endemic.

I`d give anything to be writing about something, anything, positive  but somehow,  I don`t feel motivated enough to wax lyrical about what in the best of times was  centre-stage in  our lives but has now been reduced to mere trimmings. What I want to do is reiterate the same snippets of info we hear every day: that we have run out of vaccines, hospital beds, oxygen, wood for cremation. That the `system` has failed us tragically. That we are floundering in unknown waters, scanning them for the undertow, not knowing which way to turn in order to not get pulled under.

What this fresh surge has made clear to us is that we did not reset our lives at all. Those who could, (and that`s a sizeable number of us) made their bubbles all that more comfortable. Those who could, fled to higher, cleaner pastures, here and  abroad,  in ironical step with the migrant population who simultaneously started on their long way home. And those of us as yet unaffected by the virus (though that is a rapidly shrinking number) turned a stoic face to the fresh surge. Because that is our way.

Then again, in India the need for widespread masking has to first clear the various hurdles of ignorance, negligence,  over-confidence, a blind belief that desi nuskas and our gods in heaven will look out for us. It is difficult to distance or even thin crowds at rallies, protests and places of worship. It is difficult to ask a populace densely packed into small spaces to stay six feet apart. And then, we are not respecters of stringent hygiene,  either, are we?

However, this time around, we have come to understand that the virus recognises no caste, community, religion or social status. We are all now sinking or swimming (flailing, more like) together. And of course, all the rotten worms have emerged from the woodwork, hoarding, black-marketing, offering Covid orphans for sale, making money out of peoples` suffering.

On the flip side, once it was made clear to us that the `system` was failing in its responsibility, it was déjà vu time. Sonu Sood stepped up to the plate, once again. Our medical fraternity stepped up once again, at considerable risk to their lives. Nandurbar Collector Dr Rajendra Bharud stepped up. Across the country, citizens  turned amplifiers and put social media to good use, posting links to where people could access food, medicine, ambulances, hospital beds with oxygen, receive medical advice and  counselling for their Covid anxieties online.  There has been no dearth of citizen volunteers to track, compile and verify Covid resources.  This is not their day job, mind you, they do this alongside their professional and personal commitments. But this time around, the demand has far outstripped the supply and so we are left in the lurch despite these wonderful people, bless their generous hearts.

This, however,  is a double-edged sword. Private groups rushing in to fill the yawning gaps left by the `system` is a wonderful gift but, given the inherent callousness of that very system, this could lead to a moral and physical stepping away in the endless upcoming cycles of the virus: build the alternate narrative, make the placatory statements, fudge the numbers, release ads saying all is under control, hold  the necessary photo ops, and then drop out of sight. Bail out. Because the citizens have understood that to survive, they need to help themselves, and so will get down to it, doing the system`s work.

The late great poet W. H. Auden said, we must love one another or die. Alas, our ingrained prejudices, the flames fanned expertly by the powers that be, do not let us love one another. Civil society is trying its hardest not to let the second option pull us under. But what if they too run out of initiatives?

This ran in the Sunday Express Magazine of 16 May 2021.

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dark Covid cloudsguest columnsilver liningSunday Express magazine

Sheila Kumar • May 16, 2021

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