Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Opinion: Confused and confounded

Confused and confounded

The new year has slunk in, bringing fresh tumult and trauma in its wake. And the one prevailing emotion across the world at this moment in time is confusion. Utter, total, complete confusion.

What`s more, Omicron is where the confusion buck stops. When the Covid-19 pestilence first hit us, we were undoubtedly confused but things seemed to be resolving itself on the fly. The information was swift if not comforting. The guidelines were quickly drawn up. Vaccines, we were told, were a-coming. All we had to do was follow Covid protocol (the handwashing/keeping distance/mask wearing routine), allow ourselves to be locked down for long periods, get ourselves vaccinated the soonest we could, and all would be well. For the nonce, at least.

Humans being humans, a schism immediately came into being. Don’t force us to get vaccines, one lot protested; don’t force us to stay locked down, screamed another. In the forever developing countries (including our own), stones were thrown at health workers and no amount of showering them with rose petals helped.

The other lot stayed locked down albeit unhappily, followed Covid protocol to the T, and queued up eagerly for  their  vaccine. All will soon be well even if it is not so now, we told ourselves , dangling on a  precipice but clutching a stout branch.

Hubris set in, then nemesis quickly followed. The deadly second wave surged forwards, taking in its wake so many of our near and dear. This was Delta,  which effortlessly swamped Covid protocol, vaccine immunity and laid waste the land and its people.

And so  we looked at the new year with less hubris and more weariness of mind and body. Delayed reaction to the events of the past year had  left us feeling drained.

Revenge binges were born. There was revenge travel, where people headed out on trekking, sightseeing, resort vacations. There was revenge dating, where people got off the dating apps and started to meet up again in open and not very open spaces. There was revenge shopping where people hit the stores with a vengeance,  buying up everything they had not bought since early 2020. And of course,  there was the revenge wedding, a hark-back to the ostentatious big fat Indian weddings,  which a lot of us had hoped would be shelved permanently.

Temple-hopping rose sharply,  with people going to give thanks in person to the deities who had protected them in the first and second waves.

We were doing what we were doing with some kind of clear purpose. Come 2022, that sense of purpose is in shreds.

Google Memory threw up this Charlie Mackesy cartoon I had shared last year. The Boy tells the Horse, this storm is making me tired. And the Horse replies, even storms get tired. Except, this Covid storm hasn’t, and shows no immediate signs of tiring out, either.

Now with the `highly transmissible` Omicron sweeping across the world, infecting people at the speed of light, the world is in hunker-down mode again. But this time, we are a confused lot. Omicron dismays us with its infectious nature but we are told by experts that it isn’t lethal. Global covid cases are shooting up at an incredible rate (55% up in one week) and as we watch alarmed, we are told two contrasting things: Omicron doesn’t actually kill or maim. But don’t get complacent about it.

Contact tracing is a must, says one authority. Contact tracing is futile when Omicron is waxing and waning so rapidly, says another. Line up for your booster, urge some doctors. Boosters won`t work on Omicron, warn some immunologists. Once infected, stay isolated, we are instructed. Omicron translates to herd immunity and there`s no escaping it, aver others.

Omicron is mild by nature, say some virologists almost paternally; don’t treat Omicron like a common cold, state others. The news from the trenches is equally befuddling. Am down with Omicron, say some on their social media feeds, it`s mild and basically resembles a case of flu. Yet others tell us that when it hits, Omicron isn’t always mild; there are people who have been coughing non-stop for 17 days, people who got their fever under control but whose sore throats kept them in pain and discomfort for more than ten days after being infected.

All the old anxieties are revisiting us. Migrant workers are poised on the edge of uncertainty, wondering whether to go or to stay. Stock markets are careening on a roller coaster ride. The hospitality, tourism, F & B industries as well as several MSMEs are hit and hurting afresh.

Everything looks like it was a year ago, two years ago. The same play, same act, same scene. Only, now everything is covered in a veil of confusion.

This appeared in News Trail of 14 January 2022.

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Sheila Kumar • January 14, 2022

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