Lockdown Diary Part 2: Fighting to save the mind

If the mind is taken over by trite phrases, colonized lobe by lobe, in the end there will have be reason left to fight for survival

Photo courtesy- social media
Photo courtesy- social media
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Mrinal Pande

April 5th :

The media arrives at my doorstep with banner headlines in Hindi papers reminding citizens about lighting 9 lamps or candles exactly at 9 pm that evening. We are supposed to switching off all lights so the glow shows up better in the ensuing dark. We are all united India will tell the darkness, and we shall overcome!

We are not expected to bother about the migrants trudging home in utter despair through dark roads; only our own survival, our own nine lamps burning bright. I decide not to go out and buy lamps or candles. I am fighting to save my mind. If my mind is taken over by trite phrases, colonized lobe by lobe, in the end I will have no reason left to fight for survival.

My sister calls and says she will light not 9, but one big candle on her balcony. She gets irritated when I say I will not. It’s not political, she says solemnly. It is an expression of solidarity, she says.

The pensioners are being told all the time they have a higher chance of catching the virus and dying than the young. The statistics say otherwise. There are photographs of a 79-year-old waving to the hospital staff as she is wheeled out, all cured.

No one dares to point out the obvious lacunae in the statistics and the lack of protective gear for health workers and masks for citizens. Nobody dares in the media. The I & B minister has said anyone spreading wrong stats about the pandemic will be arrested. The editor of a prominent news portal, we hear, is served with a show cause notice on the ground.

The media now is a vast public mural on which government spits its betel red juices absentmindedly as they go up and down the staircase of the day’s sanitized meetings with masks.

Our roles, our desires, our history…all being falsified. Everyone talks of caste, of religion, of being a Shaivite or a Hanumanite or a Sanatani,but I am losing my will to continue with religion, for lack of love and understanding all around among those who consider themselves religious.

Night television is full of views of Diwali like festivities. People grinning into cameras. The RWAs are in an overdrive. My sister says they enjoyed it so much in their gated colony, that they’ve decided to come out once a week on their balconies and clap, yell, shout, sing whatever! Great release for emotions, she says.

April 6th :

The morning papers are predictably full of images of celebrations in the midst of the most fearsome pandemic whose full power we do not yet know. There are large photos of The Big Leader posing pensively like a latter day Vivekananda, dressed in flawless white with what the papers call an Assamiya Gamchha, but is not. A beautifully polished antique lamp burns before him casting a glow on his profile. I realize with a shudder the man does not know any boundaries his power or our minds.

Sanctions against Muslim clusters keep mounting. Tablighi has become a bad word overnight. Mosques are closed. Many eminent Muslims have called them irresponsible and urged they be quarantined by force, if necessary. But the damage is done. All of a sudden all Hindi papers are saying almost two thirds of the infections are due to ‘them.’ Their women in labour are being sent away. Fruitsellers are being asked not to allow ‘them’ to set their carts in the markets.

April 7th:

All schools, colleges, universities are closed sine die. In US things are spinning out of control.Trump urges Modi to send him India’s stock of hydroxychloroquin tablets. He talks of retaliation in a naked language. He gets his tablets and pats Modi on the back. Ditto the Brazilian autocrat Bolsanero. He calls Modi a Hanuman.

April 9th:

My granddaughter sitting in a far away home in North Carolina turned 21 yesterday. The clan gathered on a Zoom screen to wish her. Brother, wife, sisters and sister in law, with sons and daughters-in-law, several grandchildren of various ages. We boomers need time to adjust to the new social non-distancing of the virtual sort. First instinct is to cross talk and then shut up abruptly with apologies. Children begin to run off after a while. The birthday girl beams dutifully. Her mother, a doctor, is at work, brother at school. We sing a rather tuneless ‘Happy Birthday’ after clearing our throats and switch off one by one.

Un-mandated but new age social distancing of this kind hits you hard. You don’t know when you’ll see them next.

Terrible stories doing the rounds about children quarantined from Asia to the Americas watch their parents’ bodies being handed by hospital staff to some NGOs for cremation.

Muslims in Indore carry abandoned corpse of a Hindu woman with dignity due to another human being. Also in Indore, two doctors queuing up for rations outside a Kirana shop, are abused and slapped by bullies saying they are spreading coronavirus. In Noida in UP, there are images of Muslim fruit and vegetable sellers’ carts being upturned by Right Wing goons.

The largest selling Hindi daily writes on how ‘their’ women too need watching as they live next to mosques and have large families. They are likely to become infectious nodes.

MP’s new Chief Minister who has no Cabinet yet after upturning the voted in govt with help from royal defectors, says those English speaking liberals who only spoke of Guy Guy! now ruefully and reverentially refer to our Gaay, Gau Mata. Such Leela of Gopala!

The Shakespeare of shit.

April 14th:

The Leader arrives on TV at 10 am. The lower half of his face is covered with an attractive north eastern hand woven scarf that he calls a Gamchha but is still not.

Then he speaks in stentorian tones for 20 minutes.

He begins with greetings uttered with grim lips, for the new year that starts in Vaishakh for Sikhs, Begalis and Malayalis. One can’t see much joy or love in those dead eyes. Is it because states of Punjab Kerala or Bengal are all under rule of rival parties?

The thought is mean but not entirely incorrect for a leader who flew a special plane into Uttarakhand when terrible flash floods swept almost a lakh pilgrims suddenly. He had arrived, he said Rambo like, to rescue only his Gujarati people!

In an uncharacteristically short speech today, he nevertheless manages to slip in his trade mark gestures: raising his hairy index finger in stern warning, frequently joining his index and thumb together to emphasize his words with his head tilted just so. Clapping, reports the Godi media happened again and again, see? See? Once, twice, thrice. Commanding attention, then some more to underscore His Words. Words.

Words of warning, threats to those who do not carry out their duties as good citizens. Not a word on the poor, the homeless rendered penniless with the closure of cities, or the beleagueredMuslims being spat upon and pushed away for no fault of theirs.

Then he says that detailed plans for phased opening up will follow after the 20th April if all is well. And yes, the curfew will only be lifted on 3rdMay.

Well ?Well !

April 15th:

Yesterday around noon, crowds of migrant labourers began collecting like locusts in Mumbai. The visuals reminded one of the ‘Bhaggi’ in Delhi. The police looked helpless. Finally it swung into action with a Lathi charge and soon the poor migrants keen to go back to their villages were running back to their hovels, many losing even their only pair of chappals behind.

Today’s papers reveal a TV channel known to be close to Right Wing parties spread a rumour that the poor could go home in special trains. To confound them further the Railways guys opened booking windows in Bandra and Mumbra , and all hell broke lose.

Similar scenes were witnessed in Surat and Ahmedabad.

The poor are losing it. No money, no jobs. Curtailed salaries all round. Banks unwilling to give loans.

They are truly fucked. What are they doing to us,the man with the dead eyes asks the cameras. We are here with our families waiting for factories to open and living in chawls 6 feet by 5 feet. How do we do social distancing? Do we fear disease or death by hunger?

Unhinged by poverty and hopelessness, a young mother in Bhadohi in UP, has already drowned her five hungry children in the river. Mothers, traitors to the proud Hindu nation being built in their name, traitors to their men who bring children into the world but cannot feed them. Traitors to the Hindu tradition, bearers of life and death.

In Ahmedabad they are segregating Hindus from Muslims in Covid-19 wards. A man refuses food being doled out, saying he has never eaten food cooked by lower castes.

Whispers. About the NSA secretly meeting the head of the Tablighi Jamat, about the Home Minister making a silent visit to Mumbai and huddling up with the ex-CM smarting under recent defeat at the polls.

A crackling tension is in the air like electricity before a storm.

All day we call up friends and family. The young are better. They exchange facts and memes. We grownups only exchange horror stories and paranoia about the coming days.

All I hope now, is that we survive the curfew: all of us, young and old, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jews, the good guys and bad ones, the refugees travelling hundreds of kilometers to their village on foot holding their children and water bottles. I hope the overworked and hugely underappreciated health workers, doctors and nurses don’t die leaving behind inconsolable families.

But I also hope the world order and our national politics as it is today, does not survive Corona. This world where people compare our numbers of infected and dead to those in Europe and America and boast India is ahead of them. Where a failing Brazilian President Bolsanero calls our PM his life saver Hanuman. Where the POTUS praises Modias a good friend and sells him arms for having sent him vital drugs Indians needed so badly. When our leadership says we will fight Corona to our last breath, I feel it is my breath he is talking about not his.

ALSO READ: Lockdown Diary: Refugees with a balcony and a roof

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