You are all that you have
It is depressing, but it is the established truth now. For accept it or not; we are all that we have today. Close family and friends have been all but reduced to just a few available phone numbers, and alone we will be for a few months, wrapped in a cocoon. A booby-trap, I hope, one which will not transport us into a new world
Good introduction, no? NAH, TIS NOT. It is terrible, scary even. Unfortunately, though, it is the truth. Personally, I am scared and petrified. Yes, I am educated enough to bore the scales off you if I want to by writing a messianic full-page on India's defence preparedness, depleting water canals and indigent nuclear power plants, the introduction of electric cars, Climate Change, (y)our possible in-house weight-loss tips and probable cryogenic resurrection over the next 100 years in our brave, new world. Would you be interested? Normally, maybe. Today, no. You won't. For, you are as worried and scared as I am—we all are.
And that's because all you and I care about today is our immediate tomorrow, for we worry if there will be a tomorrow at all in a torrid new world where the 100 next days are what matter most. Let's cut to the chase and admit what we are all asking ourselves on an hourly basis—"Will my immediate family members and I survive and be okay. Should I take the vaccine?" This is the only true question that burns and singes our very core and every withering cell today. Admit it, and you and I shall be a step closer to surviving, for we may perhaps tone down the scale of the stupidity we have displayed over the last few months.
Yes, we will probably survive, 'par yeh jeena bhi koi jeena hai, lalloo' ("Is this any way to live, my loveable idiots")? The famous Bollywood dialogue by Amitabh Bachchan that we grew up with doesn't sound quite so romantic anymore. It cannot and it will not. For we and our families are suddenly hanging in the balance, this little twist and quirk of life. All I can say is hold fort, my friends, for it is the only thing that we shall have to live on with for quite a bit now, again.
Get, set and go?
Not at all and we have nowhere to go, nor can we even if we want to, quite truthfully. The next 100 days are all that matter rightabout now, for our very survival and continued being on this planet depends on it. This is no fear-spreading or rumour-mongering. It simply boils down to us now shedding the scales of idiocy and ridding ourselves of our foolishness. What happened, you ask? Those in Delhi, Mumbai and many other parts of the country already know the answer—India and our true Indians reverted to type and donned their old skin for a bit. Butter Chicken, Daal Makhani and bars-in-cars returned to our lives. Hell, we have all seen videos of people dancing on the streets and inside raucous, garish bars, where petite ladies can be seen twisting, turning and contorting themselves, as wads of currency notes speckle their delectable and impossibly distended necks, heads and other bodily parts. For that absolute lack of sense and utter foolhardiness on the part of a few, over a 135 crore people today cower in their homes, hiding, scrubbing and cribbing. And as we all pay the price today, it may perhaps be an opportune time to grow some nuts, for this may be, and probably is, our last chance to do so.
We just have to get, set and go. Yep, we simply have to because the authorities refuse to do so, as they have so amply proven over the critical phase of the last one year—while we worried, feared, facing anguish and sudden, gruesome death. Through mankind's deadliest pandemic in a 100 years, we have been discordantly talking defense and health budgets, electioneering and rallies, farmers' agitation (or the sham it has been made out to be, for they are not farmers at all, are they?), target numbers for hospitals, rebounding Gross Domestic Growth (GDP) numbers. And state elections—let's not forget the Hoorah in the tale. To cut the tirade, we have just gone blah, bloo, bleep and then some more blah. Enough blah and bloo; it is now time for boo.
What the hell is boo?
Boo. Yes, boo is what these numbers shall tell you. The Government outlined a Rs 69,000-crore outlay for the health sector in the country in the Union Budget of 2020-21, inclusive of Rs 6,400 crore for the Prime Minister's Jan Aarogya Yojana. The Government of India received deserved applause for its stated objective of increasing healthcare spending to 3 per cent of the GDP by FY 2021-2022. While all that is nice and proper, the outlined figure of Rs 69,000 crore for healthcare for 135 crore people, in a COVID-19-impacted year, is startling, especially so as it is eerily close to the Rs 68,000 crore being spent on acquiring 36 Rafale fighter jets from Dassault Aviation of France. Sure, it was a landmark deal, for it saw a first-ever increase in the Offset Clause; from 25 per cent to a whopping 50 per cent, which would generate employment for millions of Indians. COVID-19 had other ideas, and existing white, blue, yellow and orange collar jobs are now all but gone (are there any colors left)?
Well, but far more is needed. Let's look at Wikipedia's take on India BEFORE the COVID-19 crisis. "The Indian healthcare system, influenced largely by the British colonial rule, has been historically dominated by the provisioning of medical care and public healthcare has, thus, been neglected. Around 11.9 per cent of all maternal deaths and 18 per cent of all infant mortality in the world occurs in India, ranking it the highest in the world. (As many as) 36.6 out of 1,000 children (in India) are dead by the time they reach the age of 5 years. (And only) 62 per cent of children are immunized, while communicable diseases cause 53 per cent of all deaths in India."
Not very ingratiating, is it? On a normal day, I would take on Wikipedia and take them to task, especially as their editing skills are completely pathetic and non-existent. But the facts presented mirror the truth to some extent. Let's forget British colonial rule and only talk the last one-to-two weeks, as you and I return to curfews and lockdowns after our brief and prematurely-terminated love affair with Butter Chicken and Dal Makhani. We have been bombarded with news reports of zero availability of hospital beds, no ventilator-supported facilities, dwindling and dying (if not dead) oxygen supplies and a crumbling healthcare system. Hell, Chief Ministers of leading states are crying wolf and fowl (foul, sic) and claiming that their designated supplies of life-saving COVID-19-fighting-machinery are being commandeered by neighboring states. And hence the lockdown… Aha, now I understand. But over a year of death, preparation and lockdowns, why didn't they?
We lost the plot
Somehow, the blinkers worn by our resting race-horses on Raisina Hill and Jaipur Polo Grounds in Delhi have suddenly been thrust onto our own eyes. And vision suddenly obliterated, we lost all sense of discipline and all veins of restraint, despite having lived through a year of hotspots, color-coded city zones, rapid test kits and lockdowns. Learned TV anchors and soothsayers peppered us with utter untruths and complete nonsense, them in their chairs as oft as out of them, screeching their premature and indigent verdicts so shamelessly that most of us stopped watching the telly altogether.
Even today, sadly, India continues to be in the same self-denial mode and we refuse to accept that we can be personally infected by COVID-19, eventually ending up as a frozen-in-time statistic. Or more chillingly, as a listless number nonchalantly scribbled on a tag and attached to our cadaver toe in an over-flowing mortuary. With no crematorium or burial ground willing to admit us even for our final passage.
I mentioned just last week that the numbers are doing the talking. Well, in that less than one week of a lockdown, the numbers have increased by over 50 per cent, countrywide. We now have the distinction of being a world-best—we have over 300,000 confirmed, new infected cases being discovered each day. If we talk Delhi alone, we have over 25,000 new cases daily and there are only around 500 beds remaining, mostly without ventilators and / or oxygen, at last count. People are regularly seen dying outside hospitals and relatives try to get close to sanitized and sealed off bodies, even as they scream for justice.
What do we do? Last year, we feared that if we were found to be COVID-19-positive, we would be quarantined or hospitalized for 14 days. Today, it is far more macabre and sardonic, especially as a grinning virus cackles, snorts and taunts—"I finally got you. Where will you go now?" Indeed, there are no hospital beds unless you know very influential people and no one is answering why the authorities went about systematically dismantling and shutting down the largest facilities in the world (in India), set up to take care of our own. The Novel Coronavirus seems to be having yet another laugh, and I certainly hope it is the last one that I hear.
My point: You are alone
This is the only reason that I wrote this column; that you realize that you have only you and I have only me. This 'you' encompasses you and the few that you share a home with. Everyone else, even your closest relatives, siblings and life-long friends are anathema today and not welcome. It is the truth, accept it. If you don't like this statement, then do realize that it is I and you who inadvertently conspired to make this happen. Remember Butter Chicken, Dal Makhani, car-o-bars and the dancing in the bars and on the streets? To garner sympathy, let's blame it on the powers-that-be, who didn't do their jobs properly or recognize the crisis at hand.
I can turn into a teacher and provide lessons on sanitization and hand-jobs, but you already know it, having lived a year of that, in fear. Instead, when you feel bad for yourself, think of those who lost their lives and had faceless deaths in covered shrouds (their numbers are increasing by the day). Think of your friends or next-door neighbors who have lost their jobs over this last year and cannot even order supplies or home-delivered food, even as we see again begin to see advertisements of brand-news cars in a shrinking economy.
And when we have a moment to spare from (y)our star-spangled bungalows, penthouses and designer flats, let's spare a brief moment for the migrant laborers. On our assurances and manifestation, hordes of them returned to our cities, especially as MNREGA only provides for a few months of continuance. They were back. And now they are all walking again, or taking buses and trains, cursing us. This is not the right time to be cursed by anyone, is it?
As the number of cases increased in the National Capital Region of Delhi, a friend decided to travel back to his home state by air, to stay safe and work from home. What better way to beat the check-points—no RT-PCR checks and no PUC (sic) reports needed, right?
Well, no, for he was confronted with mayhem at Delhi Airport's Terminal 1. Scores of migrant laborers were squatting or sleeping on the floor of the swanky and now near-abandoned airport. Why? I ask this only because none of these people had the wherewithal left to pay even for a bottle of water at the airport, leave alone a snack, but they had bought tickets to go back home, dreading a week-long march on the roads yet again to get back home. Most had scrounged and sold all their belongings for a ticket for themselves and their families to return home.
"Aisa kyon kiya (Why have you done this?)," my friend asked them. The stoic reply: "Ghar jaana hai, is baar nahin chalenge, nahin marenge… (We have to get back home. This time, we won't walk on the roads, or die there").
What message are we sending to our masses and the believers in the true, rising, India—that we shall fetch them, use them and then condemn them the moment the skies turn slightly dark? In the larger scheme of things, it will not work and it is we who shall eventually pay.
At any cost
At Delhi's Anand Vihar and other Inter-State Bus Terminals, teeming masses congregated and their only refrain was "I need to get back home without walking…" Asked about Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's assurances that the lockdown would not be extended beyond 6 am on April 26, 2021, they all but thumbed their noses and said: "Kiya tho?" ("What if he does?").
Such is the lack of faith in our system now. A Chief Minister who has brought about a visible change in the scheme of things in the Capital City is not trusted anymore, not even by daily-wagers; a pity. It is also a total loss of piety. Not Kejriwal's or the migrants' fault this, for these are the lessons of last year, with people now feeling doubly betrayed as they head to go back to their villages once more.
Have you ever wondered how it works for them, at the ground level? Think. And think hard. Your average home- or office-worker is an over-achiever in his / her village, one who has been repatriating money from Mumbai or Delhi or Kolkata or Patna for years, their savior. And suddenly, he / she return to the gaon (village), flock in tow, with empty pockets, visibly famished and broken in mind, body and spirit. What message do they send out to the real India; or of us, our vibrant and emerging India? You know the answer. Prosperity and self-respect aren't reserved for you alone.
This is an appeal to everyone in every town in India, and overseas if I may. Do not hoard on essentials, especially medicines and hygiene supplies.
I understand that it is a good feeling to have that extra sachet, strip or bottle of this and that, and it makes for a good sight when you open the washroom closet and see them sitting there, waiting for your indulgence. But there are others who desperately need them for their very survival and shamelessly hoarding them is not the answer.
I do not want to sound macabre, but you may be in their boots tomorrow, and it is a very lost feeling to be unwell, running from chemist to grocer to kiranewala, only to find that most of these things are off the shelf. I am not talking Remdesivir or Fabiflu (and home-administration of these drugs is banal anyway). I am talking of the humble Crocin and Disprin, Paracetamol and Dettol, Harpic and Dr Muscle, or other basic medicines and disinfectants. At last count, none of these are readily available anymore, for they have all but been sold out.
Please stay clean. Stay safe. Just stop being a complete moron. We have had and done enough of that. A hoarder in today's times is a moron, a rather heartless one at that, for he may stealing someone's lifeline only to mindlessly fill up his cabinets in mad panic. Take a deep breath. Watch TV. Pray. Wait. Hope. At an over 36-per cent positivity rate (Delhi), there's little else that you can do. You only have you.
The writer is a communications consultant and a clinical analyst. firstname.lastname@example.org