Chinmay Chakravarty is a professional specialized in the creative field with over two decades of experience in creative writing, journalistic writing, media co-ordination, film script writing, film dubbing, film & video making, management of international film festivals and editing of books & journals. Started career with a stint as a freelance journalist and then joined Indian Information Service. Employed by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Govt. of India during 1983 to 2014 . Presently posted as Director, Press Information Bureau, Kolkata. Published a book on Humor, 'Laugh and Let Laugh' by Notion Press, India, in 2017,
My Blog: Our Funarena!
He was very sure that he had lost it. Where exactly it happened, however, he didn't know. At the time he moved to his permanent home it was very much there with him. But after a few days he started becoming increasingly aware of its absence. He didn't know where exactly to look for it or to search for it in an organized way. The term ‘organized way’ seemed to amuse him. ‘Why the hell am I confused about it, and confounding it?’ he thought. The answer eluded him. ‘Yes, I don’t know the spot where I dropped it and lost it, whether it was night or day when I did so; but how careless of me not to have any idea about it!’ his mind raved on aimlessly. Suddenly he remembered one old joke, and at least it managed to cheer him up a lot.
One moonless night a pedestrian found a stranger desperately searching for something under the street light on a lonely stretch. The pedestrian sensed that the person did not belong to this part of the town. As the stranger steadfastly went on with his search, limited only to the lighted area of the grassy patch, he became curious, and called out to him in a bid to help him out, “Hey guy! What’s it you looking for?”
“My small purse that I dropped while counting the coins in it.” The man answered without turning or looking up.
“Are you sure you dropped it here? It’s possible that perhaps you don’t remember exactly where you lost it.”
“I'm very sure about it—that I didn't drop it here. I seemed to have dropped it at least ten yards further down the street.”
The pedestrian looked dumbfounded now: “Then why on earth are you looking over here?”
The stranger looked up at him this time, and said with a smile, “You must be kidding. That part is shrouded with darkness—pitch black it is. Even if I did drop it there how the hell would I ever find it! Here there is light at least!”
Yes, there was no logic in that stranger’s ways, it was weird in fact: he thought with a grin. But somehow, that weirdness seems relevant in his case too: he doesn't know where he lost it or where to look for it, there being no lighted area here as in the stranger’s case. Further, to make it rather infuriating, he doesn't even know if what he lost is tangible or intangible. If it’s intangible then how would he ever find it? He thought ruefully.
The news anchor’s raised voice broke his reverie. The anchor was excited, obviously because there were reports of more deaths from several countries. Agitated suspense growing within he began to watch the television news bulletin, with more attention now. That god-damned killer virus, it is raging relentlessly, without any clue as to when it is going to stop, or if at all. And, it hit him that very moment.
He knows now what he lost. Yes, it’s due to the rampaging Coronavirus that has robbed him of all his creative impulses or urges. And yes, he has lost his sense of reality. It got replaced by agitation, anxiety, irritation, frustration and anger: if it covers the full list of emotions. He doesn't know how to get out of its hold, unable to tear himself away from the human misery the virus has brought in its wake to the world. However, one thing cheers him: that he has managed to recount a joke and laugh at it too. More of such jokes would perhaps do the trick to find his lost property, he mused. But it sounds silly that jokes should make him ally with the reality. Here again, he is not sure: if this is the reality now, what is going to be the future or near future. Even the world he knows and understands doesn't perhaps know what it’s looking up to as yet…
Masks have been eternally relevant to human civilizations—to the modern civilization in particular. We are basically talking about the metaphorical masks that humans, mostly in powerful positions, wear to hide their real intentions or purpose or goals or excesses. The real impulses to the metaphorical masks are greed, lust and money-power: the concerned human beings never wanting to reveal these values in public, and believing essentially in the subtle deception of the other beings of the hapless variety concerned. These masks are worn in every kind of activity: in personal ways of life, in work and business, in diplomacy, in civil or military affairs and also in carnal pleasure management. The most powerful ones, through public deception, indulge in mindless barbaric wars; not only that, they even extend it to the ‘cold’ types, just to give vent to their masked aspirations. The lesser beings also exhibit their prowess in masked desire management, of course, to a limited extent: like the benevolent film industry giant whose hypocrisy gets revealed by the shrieks of his female victims or the business tycoon whose gentlemanly fraud finally puts lives of many in peril. Even the inequalities or the contrasts of the society are conducted from behind dexterous masking. Now we also can see from this that ‘hypocrisy’ is crucial to the masked behaviour. In fact, hypocrisy has been rather a crowning glory of the Homo sapiens.
Although I'm not generalizing this ‘human’ trait I’m neither excluding anyone from this purview, and owing to this, this present writer could also turn out to be the biggest hypocrite or masked being of the world ever. Perhaps, on second thoughts, we can exclude some sections of the human society, like the downtrodden, the exploited and the poor. In any case, whenever we come to understand the real purpose of anything we often cry out, ‘Now, their masks are off!’ In some other cases the hypocrites put on the ‘real’ masks to pretend that pollution is not their creation, but somebody else’s. Of course, we cannot apply it to the protesting children in masks blaming the older generations for their sins. At the present juncture, the metaphorical masks and the real masks have come into a direct confounding confrontation.
As it were Mother Nature is crying out, ‘Hey, you sinful humans! Mend your ways, your excesses, and your arrogance! Come out of your deception, and put on the real masks to behold what you've done to your only place in the universe!’
As it were Coronavirus has had to invent a novel variety of itself, called COVID-19, to teach the humans a lesson that would never get forgotten, perhaps as per the wish of Mother Nature. In its fearful sway and spread all over the globe the powerful rulers, used as they were to their usual masks, commanded the hapless subjects to follow the guidelines and to wear the masks compulsorily, as if, in some other places, to say that ‘you biological needs and hunger are now only secondary to the masks’. However, the killer virus refuses to discriminate or adhere to favouritism in its selection of victims, and this exemplary sociological trait has put fear in the powerful too, in equal measure as to the poorest of the poor. The most powerful man of the world, thus, would say one day that ‘next few days thousands of our people are going to die’ and that ‘we’re winning the war against COVID-19’ the next day. Some other powerful rulers would like to take resort to ‘spiritual measures or prayers’ for the strict enforcement to make the subjects see reason, their own fears displayed prominently.
That the rulers and the ruled are equally affected by the killer virus we can really look for some permanent changes in the way civilizations are managed. We may be forced to socialize from a distance, enjoy parties with masks, and enjoy proximity apart. Some human species display unique ways of greeting, like embracing or kissing totally oblivious of locations or occasions. Perhaps, the kissing may have to be banned except at home: because these acts are not just pecks, these involve intermingling of mutual saliva which is extremely dangerous in the present context. Not only that, such salivating acts are extended to the movies too: now, what is the necessity of two perfectly professional actors exchanging their saliva. Some unfortunate imitators import such practices to their movies too despite the traditional norms in force.
Arrogance in humans is historic. They will win the war against COVID-19 someday definitely thanks to their supreme progress, and so in their usual ‘masked’ ways they may still refuse to change. It’d be very disappointing and unfortunate, if they do so; if they still refuse to learn a lesson from a virus that has come basically to convert Planet Earth into a better place to live on.
The ecstasy threatened to spill over his mouth, lips, teeth and eyes. He considered it wise to suppress his feelings. ‘The time is just not right,’ he reasoned, ‘one should not look or sound too happy.’ Last few days he had been extremely irritable, depressed and angry. He felt deprived, poor and powerless—to the extent that his deprivation made him rather depraved. He couldn't find joy in anything: in the home prepared dishes presented to him, in making petty conversation with the members of the family all sitting at home for days, in the occasional errands for him, in watching the television news or surfing the smart phones and so on.
Every day he went out with his car—apart from the regular visits to the grocery stores, the vegetable and fruit shops he mostly roamed around the city looking for his valuable acquaintances in key trades, and trying to convince whomsoever he managed to catch up with of the hopeless situation. However, they too expressed their helplessness; nothing was possible as the rules were absolutely strict. Coming back home in a devastated state of mind, he often complained bitterly to his father, a former top bureaucrat who still exercised enough clout in the administration, about the mindless clampdown. He could also see his father’s state of increasing agitation and restlessness. He reassured himself; his father was trying his best, only not managing to convince the people in power so far.
‘Look at the two members of one family only, and examine what a mess they are being reduced to,’ he murmured contemptuously, ‘then you bring into the picture all other persons who must have fallen ill or are about to crash by now due to such unreasonable decisions! And they consider these non-essential items! Damn them all!’ He did not however give up all hope: he had great faith in his father who always showered him with all privileges and favours of high influencing society—that even now he is moving freely with the car despite the heavy restrictions and the numerous checkpoints.
And suddenly the relaxation was announced late one evening: the shops would reopen from tomorrow and all customers were asked to queue up observing social distancing strictly. He started making his plans immediately.
Early morning on the next day he parked his car quite at a distance from the shop: he never wanted himself to be seen languishing in the queue by his relatives and some friends whom he referred to as ‘goody-goody fools’. He made an elaborate plan: arranged ten errand-boys of various ages, asked them to join the queue at different times, observe discipline and social distancing and gave each of them the required money including tips. Drumming his fingers over the steering-wheel he waited—in ecstatic expectation.
One by one the ten delivery-boys started coming up to the car with plastic packets. As one comes he would open the door and ask him to keep the packet neatly on the rear seat. Presently all ten packets were delivered—kept safely behind him. The slight tinkling emanating from the packets sounded the sweetest and heavenly for him. Thanking his father silently as ever, he drove with gay abandon occasionally waving at the policemen managing a checkpoint and being waved back. ‘But no,’ he sermonized himself, ‘you must not get carried away. We must enforce a rational rationing, because the lockdown is being extended—not sure for how many days more.’ The upcoming seating with his father beckoned to him lovingly, rather intoxicating him already.
The modus operandi is rather strikingly similar: a likely COVID19 patient is called a ‘suspect’; on that suspicion s/he is put under quarantine which can be similar to ‘house arrest’; investigations begin to trace the source of his/her ‘infection’ (crime?) and to collate the information about all his/her ‘contacts’ or the persons s/he was last seen with; if a patient is found in a larger society building the whole building is immediately ‘sealed’ meaning no person can either leave or enter the premises. Let the similarity end there. The essential point worldwide is that the authorities have no other alternative to effectively control the virus, and so nothing in that should imply a crime of any sort. People know and understand this, but act differently when it happens near or threatens to happen near him/her.
Since it is a human-to-human virus suspicions build up too quickly: if someone coughs or sneezes nearby or even in the next house people get fearful lest the virus attack them crossing all barriers; if a patient is confirmed in the same building or in the colony neighbours immediately blame the person as if s/he had done it deliberately; if a few idiotic members of a community violate the rules and get infected people jump to blame the whole community; elderly persons with some health conditions are unceremoniously advised to acts which might be totally unnecessary. Besides, social distancing is one most required path to follow which can eventually contribute towards further alienation.
Such a mental outlook or approach can make the situation explosive. We have already heard about an incident in India when a fellow playmate in a family game was shot at just because he had a sudden bout of coughing. Now, it is perfectly normal to have a few coughs or sneezes daily, and the very act does in no way signify that the person could be susceptible to Coronavirus. In fact, some real criminals are taking full advantage of this mental bias to blackmail people: like that case of a guy who rings the door-bell of a house, says he is Corona positive, demands money and if refused he threatens to go on a spiting spree everywhere.
Humankind has never faced a crisis of such dimensions. We gasp in dismay and sorrow looking at the virus’s murderous onslaught in countries like USA, Italy, France, Spain, England where even the most advanced health infrastructure has failed to check this predator, even now with deaths raging; in some countries the initial effective control had checked the spread, but the virus has threatened to come back in its second wave: India has enforced a lockdown much in advance and even after the extension cases are still rising steadily and death figures mounting worryingly. The most frightening part of the whole scenario is that the world still does not know much about the killer virus and any possible vaccine is at least one year away.
Therefore at this crucial juncture we all humans must come together. Social distancing does not mean emotional distancing and so we must all reduce the emotional distance, globally. And of course, we must all consider COVID19 as just a disease, and never as some sort of deliberate or a criminal act or a stigma. Instead, we have to be compassionate towards all patients—be it in the family or in the neighborhood or in the city or in the country or in the world, and take great solace in the fact that only 5% of the total infected face serious complications, as per the present data. Lastly, mistakes are always human; we must not blame a full community for the mistakes of a few members; and guard against spreading any kind of hatred.
If we stand united, the killer virus will be a thing of the past very soon.
The stark economic inequalities in India make the poor the hardest hit—in any calamity that strikes, the Lockdown in the wake of the spread of Coronavirus being no exception. As per a study by Oxfam International in 2017 about 1% of the population held 73% of the national wealth generation while the wealth of 670 million people, the poorest half of Indian population, increased by just 1%. Then, a NSSO (National Sample Survey Organization) study in 2009-10 reported that the total employment in the country was 465 million out of which only 28 million worked in the organized sector and the remaining 437 million in the unorganized sector. Out of the unorganized sector workforce about 246 million worked in the agricultural sector, 44 million in construction and the rest in manufacturing and service.
About 93% of the Indian workforce was engaged as self-employed and in the unorganized sector as per the Economic Survey of 2007-08. With growing urbanization, a world trend, the scenario changed only a little over the past years and more than half of the Indian workers still remains a floating population—trying to earn as agricultural or construction workers in their home terrain or migrating to the urban areas in search of better livelihoods. Of course, there has been some impact in rescuing people out of poverty thanks to the pro-poor mass schemes undertaken by the Government of India in the past decade. As per another NSSO study around 30 million workers are constantly on the move migrating to various states. Such seasonal migrants dominate the low-paying, hazardous and informal market jobs in key sectors in urban destinations like construction, hotel, textile, manufacturing, transportation, services and household jobs and so on.
In 2017 the Economic Survey estimated that ‘the magnitude of inter-state migration in India was close to 9 million annually between 2011 and 2016, while the Census-2011 pegged the total number of internal migrants in the country (accounting for inter-state movement) at a staggering 139 million. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are the biggest source states, followed closely by Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir and West Bengal; the major destination states are Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.’
With no security of employment or guaranteed monthly salaries this huge chunk of the Indian population became the immediate sufferers the moment Lockdown was imposed on 25th March, 2020. Next to them were hit the self-employed chunk that includes small-time traders, poultry farmers, shopkeepers, rickshaw pullers, auto-rickshaw drivers, cab drivers, delivery boys, vendors, scavengers and the like. Then, the poorest of the poor—homeless starving people, beggars on the streets, mostly in the urban areas. These people were rendered jobless, shelter-less after lockdown as the employers, out of fear and lack of any employment agreements, threw them out, and they could no longer afford to pay the rent for the accommodation some of them managed in the cities. And they desperately wanted to go home—that is the rural areas they migrated from. The heart-wrenching scenarios that followed are well-known to us thanks to the media campaigns. Many of them walked or cycled hundreds of miles home in the scorching heat—very few reaching home, most of them halted and quarantined on the way and some of them dying on the roads. Even now, some destination-states are mulling how to transport millions of desperate workers home instead of keeping them in temporary shelters indefinitely.
However, problems don’t end in just sending them home. In the first place they were the surplus population there and migrated to other states for livelihoods. Now, after reaching home how are they going to fend for themselves and survive? The existing subsistence population there in terms of agricultural and construction laborers are also out of job. On a positive note we must mention the great humanitarian campaigns undertaken by state authorities, the police, the religious organizations and the NGOs to give them free rations, direct fund transfers in a very limited way still and to feed the hungry.
The Indian economy has been on the downswing in the preceding years with unemployment rate reaching unprecedented highs. The COVID-19 lockdown is bound to make it worse and the most challenging task ahead as in many developed countries too.
A persistent worry in India has been the lack of an adequate financial package from the Government of India. Experts all around the globe have emphasized on making funds available to the poor as well as the industries/trades. Apart from the mere 500 bucks each transferred to the mass bank accounts which had witnessed piteously serpentine queues in front the banks and some money to the farmers’ accounts precious little has been done. With COVID-19 cases rising steadily and the authorities facing a dilemma in lifting or extending lockdowns the uncertainty looms perniciously for the deprived millions of India.
Stark realities involving the super-rich and the destitute in India are very common to us for decades; but the Coronavirus crisis has exposed these realities to an unbearable extent. In a way, this is fortunate, because the never-before focus is now on the poor of the country. The below-poverty-line citizens, the poor, the lower income group people in India never had a lobby or an influence to work for them except for false election promises. Now, at least, the government can no longer ignore them.
No doubt India has been able to effectively control the spread of COVID-19 in the country with several states becoming free of the virus and many districts not reporting new cases in weeks. The Government of India also expressed its optimism which seemed to be reasonable as we had seen earlier on these pages. However, this optimism should not be misinterpreted so as to indicate that we have won the battle against the killer virus. Opinions are emerging, based on this optimism and the great humanitarian debate of lives Vs livelihoods, that lockdown can be relaxed now to help the struggling economy. The basic point to understand here is that the world still does not know much about the novel Coronavirus, and so its future course of action is uncertain and undefined. Also, that there was no option to fight the virus spread than by enforcing strict lockdown. We have seen several countries like Russia, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Australia etc. that have a similar experience like us so far and a whole lot of others where the virus is yet to show its dominating presence; but, it’d still be a premature call to take any decision based on such experiences. Last three days in India new cases and deaths showed big and bigger spikes in 24-hour periods with nearly 2000 new cases, the highest spike so far, and 49 deaths happening in the last twenty-four hours. We must, therefore, resist against any complacency creeping in.
Another opinion is also growing that the Indian massive response is disproportionate to the actual spread of the virus. Such opinions are obviously based on the basic assumption: normal diseases kill thousands in India annually, and so, the few thousand COVID-19 cases and a few hundred deaths just cannot justify the countrywide lockdown imposed on 25th March and extended on 14th April to 3rd May, 2020. Such views also emanate from vested interests: some people desperately wanting to go back to business-as-usual and indulge again in all the privileges that had to be sacrificed. This kind of mental condition can be said to be the exact opposite of what President Trump has been displaying. Totally overwhelmed by the unexpected surge of infections (nearing 1 million now) and the continuing spree of deaths Trump has been trying desperately to find reasons for his historic failure or to justify his mistakes, and for that he has been on a frantic lookout for scapegoats. As a part of strategic diplomacy he has been blaming China for everything, starting an intense propaganda that affected large parts of the globe, and demanding a probe into the Wuhan lab; in the form of a dear friend he asked India to supply Hydroxychloroquine medicine and at the same time threatening retaliation if India fail to do; he had criticized World Health Organization for its lack of clarity and went to the extent of cutting off the US funding to it; Trump then went to bizarre lengths suggesting injection of disinfectant into human bodies in the form of a cure. Further, it is no joke at all that there are nearly 3 million infections in the world so far with more than 200,000 deaths, rising daily. Ridicule of the pandemic thus can only be termed as absurd, ridiculous and insane.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his latest national talk ‘Mann Ki Baat’, said very clearly that the fight against COVID-19 is a long-term people-driven battle and people themselves must contribute towards achieving the final victory. By this he meant that people must adopt themselves to the reality and prepare to fight the virus for a long time to come, making the restrictions and the precautions a way of life; that they cannot at all expect to rush back to normalcy or resume doing all the things they loved doing before lockdown, and so, they must never indulge in wishful thinking, and try putting in everything as COVID Warriors instead. If the battle against COVID-19 is to be won, it must be won by the people united. He said this, and we all must adhere to it.