Either we wait for vaccine or open up and face the wolf outside?

Is Modi all at sea with the much, much bigger Bharat which, having been locked out, is beginning to look like a monstrously hungry wolf on the other side of the outer gates?

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: social media)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: social media)

Saeed Naqvi

In this, the second month of lockdown, as I look out of the room I use as my office, the deserted neighbourhood park has begun to look like our personal lawn. Since this window has been my vantage point for well over a decade, I have grown accustomed to the goings on in the park. The very first sentence in our Constitution describes “India, that is Bharat.” This neighbourhood is “Bharat” even though the language at the Resident Welfare Association meetings is a kind of homespun English.

The “India, Bharat” enigma with which my late editor, George Varghese, grappled with urgent sincerity, had begun to resolve itself in the 60’s, soon after Pandit Nehru’s death.  The Statesman’s first Indian editor, Pran Chopra revealed all the chips on the then elite’s shoulder: he juxtaposed Nehru’s association with the world inhabited by the likes of Yehudi Menuhin, with Shastri’s comfort level with calendar Gods.

In my park, the dilemma has been long resolved. A chintan sthal at one end is used for pujas and aartis even on Independence and Republic days respectively. By popular demand (let me add in parenthesis), my hand is always there on the rope which unfurls the flag.

This part of Bharat finds itself protected, even pampered by the lockdown. It has made itself even more exclusive by shutting the gates to the apartment blocks and with a stronger gate at the entrance to the street.

Some residents have found ways to salve their conscience by allowing the “sweeping-cleaning” women to leave with guarantees of monthly envelopes to be delivered to them outside the second gate. But who delivers the envelopes? This is unresolved.

In a nearby colony where friends live the intractable issue has been the disposal of garbage. Why can’t residents of individual apartments fill plastic bags with waste accumulated over 24 hours? These can be taken to the garbage dump which is only a few hundred yards away. Resistance to this proposition is widespread. In fact, resistance is in inverse proportion to the income of respective householders. RWAs work largely on consensus. How does one arrive at a consensus in days of corona without holding a meeting?

An enduring consensus has been reached. The colony will employ a “scavenger”. That is the preferred job description: its Hindi variant is considered politically incorrect. For an RWA so fastidious, settling on the job description alone is not the end of the matter. The “scavenger”, after all, will come from outside, possibly a “bastee” or a slum, by definition Corona-infested. When he rings the bell to collect the garbage bag, he will without the shadow of a doubt, leave Corona on the switch. Moreover, he will have to open the gate to reach the “bell” and in the process “pollute” the gate.

Ingenuity comes in when obstacles are insurmountable. An inspired RWA member solved the problem. The “scavenger” will be given a whistle of sufficient shrillness as to be heard by individual residents. They will bring out the bag and hand it to the “scavenger” without making physical contact.

That the name of the “scavenger” is Ashraf which comes from “Sharief” which means a gentleman. He is clearly on the downward spiral accurately grasped by the Sachar Commission. He may be of interest to the Tableeghi Jamaat, the Muslim religious reform group whose headquarters or “Markaz” at Nizamuddin have become famous as the epicentre of Coronavirus. Globally, the west will, on a given bad day, refer to the “Chinese” virus. In Bharat, political masters may consider the creative coinage: Mohammadan Mahamari Markaz. That may tend to be an exaggeration.

The currency such an alliterative chant is to be given will depend on the shade of saffron required at a given time. Our maestros of communal politics have learnt a profound lesson: communalism pays dividends only when tied to nationalism. For the game to be ramped up that high, the leadership will require Kashmir and Balakot Plus. But for good strategy, the old Persian saying is apt:

Har nukta muqam-e-darad”

(Every word has its appointed moment;

Every dot, its appointed place.)

Anything else is not strategy; it is Trump in a China shop.

The season of Coronavirus, however, may not be conducive to high wire acts, which require a stout safety net, which means a calm home front. But there remains that imperative of keeping cadres on their toes so that they don’t turn sluggish. Calmness, yes, but with sporadic Tableeghi bashing, beef lynching and such like will continue by way of mood music. There is a built-in deterrence on Love-jihad. Mutually assured infection, to distort a phrase from the Cold War, has closed that window of opportunity.

So far, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been spectacularly blessed by the Gods. Citizens protected by his dramatic lockdown are in his thrall for having being saved. Adults do not appear on balconies with their kitchenware as percussion, interspersed with the sounds of conch shells unless they are in awe or a spell has been cast on them. But too much of anything, even abject devotion begins to pall. Kaifi Azmi wrote:

“Ram kab ayenge maloom naheen

Kaash Ravan hi koi aa jaata.”

(How long do I wait for Rama? Even a Ravana’s appearance will liven up the scene)

Those locked-in are neither being afflicted by the virus, nor do they see vials of vaccine floating on the horizon. It is bit like Becket’s Waiting For Godot: two characters are waiting for Godot who never shows up. The play is a masterpiece on life’s meaninglessness.

Metaphysics aside, do we not sympathise with Modi who faces an acute dilemma? The Bharat which is locked-in is with him. But is he all at sea with the much, much bigger Bharat which, having been locked out, is beginning to look like a monstrously hungry wolf on the other side of the outer gates?

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