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!
They are safe at home—he, his wife and their two boys. So far, that is to say. Their house is in a red zone—declared by the government due to the spread of the novel Coronavirus or COVID-19. For nearly two months now they have continued to stay at home, at times working from home and he has been very strict lately, not allowing his young sons to go out at any cost. He has heard that young people, even if infected, can get on well without even showing symptoms and recover quite easily, but the problem is the possibility of their infecting elderly persons who are prone to having serious complications if infected. Naturally so then, he thinks, why grandsons are separated physically from grandparents. Their rations come mostly from online orders. At times, he has to go out to the fruit or vegetable vendors for the odd and fresh requirement.
Things amuse him; although he had never seen such unprecedented times or heard about in his lifetime, and that humankind is going through a critical time. Wearing a mask is compulsory while venturing out; rightly so, he supports, because the goddamned virus thrives on human droplets. It all boils down to the plain fact that human beings can no longer open their mouths freely and unchecked. He talks to a stakeholder through a mask and the other one interacts back through his/her mask thus preventing scattering of the droplets while sound waves do reach them both, though a bit muffled. However, that is still not enough, there has to be at least one and half meters of social distancing between them so that the droplets somehow escaping the masks fail to reach the targets.
He remembers his language teacher very clearly now; the teacher was notorious for his split-wide mouth spitting out the words, and he being a front-bencher was exposed to the droplets sometime landing right on his cheeks. In those innocent times the mouth-openings or floating spit particles hardly bothered anyone. Now, the droplet syndrome has landed on humankind like a bombshell. No wonder, he muses on, the schools and colleges are closed indefinitely: just imagine the free-flow of droplets, invisible or not, oozing out from the spirited teacher and all those of the students in equally spirited response. This is serious man, don’t make fun, he cautions himself; but his musings cannot be checked—even in the times of rigorous checks and controls.
The crux of the problem is opening of the mouth, he thinks more seriously now. Why, this is going to affect every field of human activity in future: even in small allowed gatherings of the business or homely or the religious kind the main speaker will not be able to indulge freely in opening or demonstrating his/her mouth cavities; in entertainment shows the actors will have to restrain themselves from mouthing or lip-concentric exercises, confounded because in their scenes before the camera they cannot possibly wear masks; in restaurants/bars, even after strictly following social distancing norms, there will be precarious moments when customers let go of the masks for the pleasure of eating/drinking and allowing words regurgitate through the holy mess of saliva, food and drinks; debates or petty quarrels in any form of public transport will have to be guarded strictly against and even in one-to-one encounters caution must be exercised as to how much of mouth-opening is being adhered to.
A profound question comes to his mind now: why humankind has been singled out for this? Have the human beings been talking too much? Well, he reasons, more than being talkative the human beings perhaps have been indulging in too much of needless and harmful talking—leading to all kinds of unrest most of the times. He recoils back in wonder: wow! look at the animal world—all animals, birds, insects are totally spared from this regulation; the animals are really freaking out everywhere, in all sites mostly infected by human invaders, and are opening their mouths in ecstatic boundless joy, in their word-less natural sound waves; even the mosquitoes at his home now finding exquisite pleasure in searching and hunting out their victims. Well, at his reasoning best, perhaps humankind has imposed untold torture and misery on the unsuspecting animal world over the centuries, and so now is paying for it.
He turns his attention to the television screen for the latest updates. He looks fondly at his wife sitting quietly by his side and at his two sons busy with their smart-phones. He smiles in satisfaction: he can still open his mouth freely here. So far, that is to say.
Disturbing thoughts are invading many minds of the people in India. Has the India Lockdown been somewhat compromised down the line? Have the governments decided to open up too soon? Are the on-going heavy spikes of new cases in several states of the country following the natural graph of COVID-19 spread or have these been the result of the said compromises? When is the migrant workers crisis finally going to end? Has the delay on part of government of India in dealing with the migrant workers caused irreparable harm to our fight against Coronavirus?
Unfortunately, answers are not at all forthcoming. We can only look at the developments with mixed feelings of doubt, regrets and trepidation. While India was still within the Lockdown in only its second extension the government of India finally decided to provide trains to shift the migrant workers to their destination states. However, after nearly a month the process is far from being completed with thousands of workers still trying to get any means of communication or waiting in the stations of cities like Mumbai and Delhi for days in the hope of getting trains. Matters are getting worse with the Railway Minister and the concerned states being embroiled in cross-allegations and passing the blame. With the heat wave hitting most parts of the country migrant workers started dying inside the roasting train compartments having no food or water for days; others suffering waiting in the stations without even a resting shade; still others commuting by whatever means and dying due to exhaustion or accidents. With the Lockdown continuing some of the workers who decided to stay on had to leave due to bankruptcy and eviction by landlords. Now, even the top court in India had to step in ordering the government of India not to charge fares from workers and to provide food, water and shelter for the affected whenever or wherever needed. So, this human tragedy shows on indication of coming to a conclusion.
Running hundreds of migrants trains the government had decided to start regular train services partially from 12th of May, still within the third extension of lockdown. Once you decide to open up trains the opening of domestic flights cannot wait for too long, logically speaking. Finally, domestic flights started from the 25th of May, despite objections by states that suffered the worst. Now, this all-round movement of huge masses of humanity is putting most states under tremendous pressure—to accommodate thousands in quarantine and protecting the local population from possible infections. In fact, the movements have contributed to the spikes of new cases in several states—some of which are still under strict curbs while some others have been gradually opening up. We take the example of Assam: the state was well under control with less than hundred infected; but after the various influxes of people infections have shot up to nearly a thousand in a matter of 3/.4 days, and the state having one of the poorest health infra could be reeling if the COVID cases cross five thousand. Delhi that showed an unusual hurry to open up has been having huge spikes, and Kerala—the model of the Indian fight—is beginning to have worrying spikes too.
One point is rather blurry. When a lockdown is extended some curbs do stay on for desired results; but it has been observed that these norms are changed or reversed well within the lockdown period when the rules still prevail, with or without the consents of the states concerned. Such moves can well be interpreted as compromises. Okay, from the economic point of view we are forced to ease some of the curbs, but not at the cost of creating possibilities for an uncontrollable spread.
For the last ten days India is having 6500—7500 new cases every day, and fortunately the death rate is still low at 2.8% which is one of the lowest in the world with Russia showing a rate just above one percent. Experts are saying that the Indian Corona peak is expected during June-July, 2020 and it has been observed from the experience of several countries that the COVID-19 virus starts showing spikes from its third month of spread and it continues for nearly a month after which new cases start stabilizing; but the disturbing question is whether that peak will take it out of control—at least in some of the states, and in that unfortunate event the low fatality rate would start rising ominously. With Lockdown 4.0 ending on 31st May, 2020 the general opinion that emerges is that in the containment zones the lockdown cannot at all be lifted while the process of easing the curbs would go on. Some states in contention for Lockdown 5.0 would be Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Telengana and others. But what about the states and union territories like Kerala, Delhi, Assam, Karnataka, West Bengal etc. that had already opened up significantly from the third extension onward? Well, the situation is far from being rosy at the moment, and depending on the unpredictable behavior of the virus it can worsen further or improve suddenly. We can only hope for the best.
For the last almost ten days India’s rise of new COVID-19 cases per day hovered around just below the 10000 mark, and finally the mark was breached as India reported over 10500 new cases in the latest twenty-hour period with number of deaths per day crossing the 300 mark for last three days. Meanwhile to get valuable insights into the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic in India a serological survey was conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in May, 2020 in collaboration with state health departments, National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and World Health Organization (WHO), India. The study was conducted in 83 districts covering 28,595 households and 26,400 individuals. The study found a few good-news results and a few mixed ones. Before going into the findings let us know what exactly is a Serological or a Sero survey.
Serology is the scientific study of serum and other body fluids which in practice means the diagnostic identification of antibodies in the serum. Such antibodies are typically formed in response to an infection, like here the COVID-19 pandemic, or against other foreign proteins. Experts say that Serological tests may be performed to diagnose infections and autoimmune illnesses to check if a person has immunity to certain diseases, and in many cases the person’s susceptibility as per his/her blood group. Serological tests may also be used in forensic serology in crime scenario investigations. Serological surveys provide the most direct measurement to define the immunity landscape for many infectious diseases, yet this methodology remains underexploited, experts comment. In this context India has done a tremendous job in conducting a serosurvey. If a person is positive for antibody test under serology this means that the person may have had symptomatic or asymptomatic infection in the past, in this case COVID-19, and need still to protect himself/herself in future, because there is no proof that the person may or may not have the infection again. For a negative antibody result the person might not have had any COVID-19 infection in the past, and would need protective measures in the future.
The Director General of ICMR narrated the results of the serosurvey in a press briefing on 11th June, 2020. He first dwelt on the good-news part: in India the percentage of infected persons per hundred thousand is the lowest in the world and so is the fatality rate (0.08%). The study also clearly points out that the measures taken during the lockdown have been successful in keeping the transmission low and in preventing rapid spread of COVID-19, he added. However, he revealed that compared to rural areas, risks of spread are 1.09 times higher in urban areas and 1.89 times higher in urban slums. Therefore, he stated that still large parts of the Indian population are susceptible to getting the infection and the states/union territories of the country must not let their guard down at any cost. He concluded with the warning that although at the moment the spread of the virus is not a matter of grave concern for India the virus may come back stronger.
In a further reassurance gesture the Indian Health Ministry official also said that the numbers in India should not be compared with that of various other countries because of India’s vast population and a very high population density. In the context of the relentless media ‘investigations’ into hospital lapses based largely on stray cases and in selected states only, the official parried a question by saying that a suspected case of COVID infection should first report to the health helpline of that particular area and follow the instructions given regarding tests to be done, when and where, instead of directly approaching the hospital of his/her choice.
As experts all across the world have been repeatedly saying that the killer virus is in no hurry to leave humankind alone the people, the governments, the medical fraternity, the police and law enforcement authorities and the media in India too must learn to adapt to the new challenge of living with the virus and take all precautions as notified instead of panicking, beating around the bush and create an atmosphere of mistrust and doubts. During this time of the worst crisis ever faced by humanity a united fight should be the motto all over, particularly for India where politics, conflicts and avoidable dissents occur at the slightest pretext.
Once upon a time there were two brothers in a village. The elder brother was of the gentle and peaceful type while the younger one was openly villainous, foul and quarrelsome. After their respective marriages, the petty quarrels became serious, and so they decided to separate—building their own houses dividing the same plot of land. On the border between them was a longish pond and the elder brother’s household did not even catch a fish coming out of that pond to their area on a rainy day as it was not their property. Occasionally on some issues the younger brother used to storm into the elder’s house—threatening him with a dagger at times. Although the boycott was total for decades the new generations of both households used to meet often defying the ban; some of them were close friends; a few of them went to different cities on jobs and there, members of both families used to enjoy togetherness freely. The point being made here is that a boycott plan does not even work at the microscopic level. Therefore, at the macro level where it involves two large countries who are neighbors too a boycott plan is totally unrealistic, harmful for both and unworkable. India and China should get this message straight and sweet.
Why exactly the rather primitive skirmishes between the Indian army and China’s Peoples Liberation Army happened at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh in the night of 15th June 2020 happened is not known and is not revealed by either side. Both countries charged each other of violating rules and being aggressive first. The soldiers reportedly used rods, clubs and stones and fought within the Indian side of the LAC. A Colonel of the Indian army along with 19 soldiers were martyred while the Chinese never revealed the casualties on their side even as news agencies put the figure of their casualties at 43. Deaths of 20 brave-hearts created waves of shock, disbelief and anger across India—many questioning the government why the Indian army did use arms even after an officer of the rank of a Colonel got killed. Knowledgeable sources refer to a bilateral agreement signed between the two countries in 1996 which prohibited use of firearms within two kilometers of either side of the LAC. The uproar against the Chinese aggression which, in fact, started about three months back when US President Trump charged China with mishandling and spreading the new Coronavirus led naturally to waves of patriotism and jingoism and a total boycott plan of Chinese goods and products. While at the official levels some contracts with China were terminated several people’s organizations took up the movement against Chinese goods.
China has been India’s biggest trade partner after the US, and it accounts for nearly 12% of India’s total imports. China accounts for more than 70% of India’s cell phone market, and supplies various other products like toys, firecrackers, garments etc. at the cheapest possible prices which allow thousands of vendors do business with profit margins. Various multi-national corporations are working with huge Chinese investments. Some corporates point out the there is nothing wrong with Chinese investments because it helps creating employment and allowing huge benefits for consumers. Self-reliance goals for India cannot be achieved overnight, it has to be a long-term strategy. From China’s point of view too it cannot ignore a huge and growing market like India and so cannot risk antagonizing India to a more serious extent. There are reasons why both countries dislike each other: India doesn’t like China’s growing closeness with Pakistan in the last one year while China doesn’t at all approve of India’s proximity with the US; there is also the general opinion about China’s ambition of emerging as a global superpower which is in sharper focus now due to USA’s apparent disastrous handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the equally disastrous fallout.
Both countries are suffering from extensive economic downswing because of the COVID spread; China managed to effectively control the pandemic with a total lockdown but is now fearing a second wave while India now is in the thick of the virus and in the throes of the unlocking process. Both countries desperately need to recover economically; China is much ahead of India in terms of economic growth for over a decade but cannot afford to suffer further losses; with probable negative growth rate threatening India for the next fiscal it cannot at all risk another disaster.
Therefore, a boycott plan would prove disastrous for both the countries and would heighten the tension not subsiding as yet. Prospect of a war should be the last thought on their minds. Continuous dialogue and negotiations are the natural course to take for both countries. Patriotism is good and righteous, but it should never be at the expense of the country. People of India should realize this, and the government should educate the citizens on this rather than trying to capitalize on passions of patriotism and jingoism.
She loses her temper very often nowadays. ‘Not at all surprising under the present circumstances’, Nandini reasons. Her life has been reduced to a saga of non-stop drudgery—from early morning to late night, without a break till she falls like a log on the double bed more than half of which is always occupied by Barun, her husband. Well, she does not mind work, she has always been an active and agile person who preferred to remain busy; she in fact hated idleness. However, in this case, she’s getting mercilessly deprived of her privacy—her private moments were always important in her life. Nandini finds herself unable to wave off the strong sense of nostalgia. Nostalgia? What the hell! It’s been just four months earlier when her life was going on the usual way.
Since her marriage about twenty years back she’d been getting used to a set daily routine. She would rise early from bed, make tea and the meals, send off Barun to office with the ever-present tiffin box, have her breakfast, then would welcome the maid for the domestic clean-up while chatting with her carefree and relaxed; after the maid left she would have the rest of the day to herself for relaxing, making phone calls to parents or relatives or her friends till her husband joined around 7 in the evening. Everyday except for holidays and Sundays when the time spent together or the outings seemed heavenly. The arrival of the children, first the daughter after two years of marriage and then the son with a two-year gap, made her routing only tighter, but still giving her the private moments, she was always so fond of. She was a bachelor degree holder, but never really wanted a job, taking care of her household being the most important assignment. And that had been the story of her life as a housewife till four months ago.
Now everything has changed. Every single member of the household would stay put at home: the children would occupy most of the hall of Nandini’s one bedroom-hall-kitchen flat with their smartphones often requiring absolute quiet for their online classes; Baurn would sprawl on the bed watching television news as if he were the only one on earth needing to be abreast of happenings the world over and the maid would not come. Nandini would remain confined mostly to her humid kitchen cooking and cooking, she was surprised that all of them seemed to be ravenously hungry at all time despite the long idleness, and worse, they’d want newer and newer dishes to be prepared. Nature of Barun’s work made work-from-home minimal and whenever he sat down before his desktop in the bedroom, he would complain more of the WIFI net service being monopolized by the children than work.
First Nandini took her routine a natural new-normal, but slowly and steadily got bored and impatient. How could she just go on like this: rise early morning to clean the house before everyone else woke up; then preparing the breakfast—first for her children and then for Barun who rose from bed in an infuriatingly leisurely way; then she would start preparing for lunch—not able to combine cooking for the night too as the exquisite connoisseurs did not want stale food for any meal; she’d hardly manage a catnap as the chattering of the late-rising Barun never ceased; then time for the evening tea for all preferably with a hot snack and by the time she felt a little free it was time for preparing dinner, and when finally past midnight she’d fall flat on the bed like a log the television would still go on.
All essentials came home, that is to say, at the lobby of the society from where these were to be collected which job Barun did generously— all deliveries from online booking or from the local grocery store orders. She’d often encourage Barun to go out for fresh vegetables and fruits from the vendors who served till about 7 in the evening. But he would not budge: he considered himself as the elderly although he was not yet fifty and so would not take any risk, for that very purpose he barred the children too from going out.
Over the days the suffocation became unbearable for Nandini and she was really desperate now. Petty quarrels with her husband started becoming violent eliciting tremendous disapproval and ire from the children. And then she hit upon an idea. It was true that she found the bananas delivered online not at all fresh and hardly lasted two days as all of them gobbled up two or three bananas every morning. She tried with her banana-centrist idea and said to Barun,
“Look Barun! This continuous stay-home without some physical activity is not good for you, it’ll slowly decrease your immunity and finally when everything becomes normal, you’ll be most likely to get infected the moment you go out. These are not my words, but experts’ you know. You must do something to increase your immunity. I’m never free dancing around the house most part of the day and so I don’t need to exercise…see, now evening walks are allowed, and you can see how bad the bananas are. You all love bananas! So, go out in the evening, take a stroll, sit the garden and buy fresh bananas from the local vendor—only a little away from our society complex. Please…!”
It worked! To her great relief! Every alternate day gave her the much-needed free moments on the bed—gratefully alone and private. It didn’t matter for how long—just fifteen minutes of privacy did wonders for her distressed self. Of course, she never ceased thanking God for keeping them safe and relatively better-off from many others because Barun had his monthly salary still ensured. Nandini, a classical homemaker, wished well for all in her family and for all of the whole country and the world…
The boss asked me to come around 8 in the evening. Actually, he was not my boss, but one of my good friend’s. Once when I visited my friend in his office it so happened that the boss came to him on a query, and since I was sitting in his cubicle, he introduced me to the boss—a painter by profession, that is to say. The boss seemed to like me at the very first instance asking me to come to his chamber for a cup of tea. Lively discussions ensued on creative arts, paintings, the market for artistes and so on. I found him to be open-minded and devoid of any air or ego. So, in a way, I liked him too—at the very first instance, that is to say.
Later on, I learned from my friend that the boss, in fact, was a very influential person in society and had tremendous contacts. Considering my not-too-healthy artistic pursuits in recent times my friend planted an idea in me: why not approach him for some references, he resides in a posh housing society—just 10-minute walk from my residence. To tell the truth, I needed some connections and references to be able to hold a solo exhibition in the best art gallery of the city and also to take things further in selling my paintings. Naturally then, I clutched at the idea like the proverbial straw.
I visited the boss again in his chamber on the pretext of meeting my friend and with lots of beating-around-the-bush I finally raised the subject of somewhat seeking a favor from him. To put me at ease he was very encouraging and told me that a famous cultural figure lives in one of the apartments of this society; he promised to take me to him. He asked me to give him a call before coming, preferably on week-ends.
I called him several times in the recent weeks, but always he found an excuse to not being able to do that on that day. Although I was a little put-off and frustrated and although I was not used to seeking or getting favors in my existential struggles I did not give up. And finally, today he calls me home, and will take me to the great personality. That was some solace to my sense of self-dignity; I looked forward to the promised meeting.
I pressed the doorbell of his first-floor flat, and I was ushered in by a housemaid. After about ten minutes he appeared beaming at me and dropped himself on the sofa from a considerable height. He was clad in a home-stitched traditional white pajama with a white vest tucked into it. Well, I ponder, it must be because of the humid heat. However, I continue with my thoughts, I do hear a mild whirring sound of ACs in operation inside: as I look around, I see an AC in this sitting room too, but not operating, and the ceiling fan gyrating rather too weakly. Well, I continue still, perhaps the boss avoids expensive ways of treating guests, particularly a non-profitable guest like me. But in any case I was a little disappointed at not finding him ready.
As he continued smiling at me in a rather worryingly relaxed way I managed with a gentle query, “Sir, how is everything? …are we going to see him presently?”
“Oh yes, definitely. But there is no hurry as such, he is as nocturnal as me. Ha! Ha!” he bellowed in the same nonchalant way. And he started chattering on a variety of subjects, often not waiting for my response.
After nearly an hour of inanities and my growing impatience he exclaims suddenly, “Ah! It’s so hot and humid! I really need a bath! Would you mind if I do?”
“Not at all Sir! Please do!” I replied with the inner-me not at all supporting my response.
Half an hour later, around 9.30 in the evening now, he came back and occupied the sofa in the same way. I was confounded finding him in the same dress—pajama, and the vest tucked in. And there begun another session of banter, my impatience slowly giving way to boiling anger. Another half-hour elapsed when he exclaims again, “Oh damn it! I feel very hungry now. We’ll surely go to him, but let him also have his supper. Please bear with me…I must!” He withdrew to the dining room inside. For a fleeting moment I considered storming out. But controlled myself hoping for action finally. I continued sitting there, and I was not welcomed even with a glass of water.
Just before 11 in the night he entered the sitting room again fondly caressing his belly; again, he was clad the same way with the drawstring cord of his pajama dangling out dangerously; again, he crashed into the velvety sofa, overwhelmingly relaxed and again he started one more session of inanities. I could hold it no longer.
About perhaps a ton of ire had been accumulating like phlegm at the middle of my stomach; now it surged up in great fury and it was thanks to my best of efforts that I could allow it only to scratch at my throat and stop dead there. The efforts made my countenance rather distorted as I felt my lips curling up gnawing both jaws and my eyes almost bulging out. I somehow managed, “Forget it for today…it’s got quite late. Good night!” I moved towards the main door without waiting for his response.
“No…no…dear fellow! We can still make it...but if you insist let’s do it next time. Please call me…!” the boss’s voice trailed off as I stormed out.
Although I was exhaling and inhaling only fury and a temper of the highest order, I couldn’t stop myself from laughing out like a mad man on the way back home. I pitied aghast at my apparent helplessness and surrender and pondered why at all. Well, I decide, one should never do things against one’s wishes; one must be on one’s own at all times, odd or even…and keeping exchange of favors at bay.