Corona Time

Living Dangerously

Bhaskar Majumder

It may seem surprising but in difficult living of the common people in India, as may be in many other countries, some new terms had been invented in day-to-day distance communication among the people. Covid-19 or Corona time provided one such scope for invention of vocabulary like quarantine, social distancing, lockdown, vaccination and all that. In many situations people forgot to pronounce many other relevant terms like unemployment, hunger, debt, inflation and all that. The undeniable fact remained that everybody needed food daily whether or not everybody slept full stomach at the end of the day.

This seems to be the first time in independent India that each one was made to understand the value of one’s life. Hence, each one obeyed the Advisory and stayed home under the banner ‘stay home, stay safe’. Safe living was not that easy, however, for the daily wage workers, mainly the migrant workers, for reasons well understood by the rationalists by now. It is a different question if the value of life differs depending on who is a regular flier, who travels only in local trains and who pulls rickshaws. In the face of perceived threat to life, that kind of differentiated understanding vanished. Each one was engaged to save her/his life. The question of community/collective living disappeared in urban space.

What the innocent people learnt during Corona time was to live in fear, die in indignity and abstain from understanding what Corona was. Some even thought it was a ghost, some thought it was a girl from north-east, some thought it was something imported from abroad. Some thought it was life-threatening ‘something’ and clapped their hands to drive it away, apart from occasional banging of home utensils, offering puja (prayer) at home and in temples. The Corona patients became untouchables and it was painful to imagine if one could afford to die during Corona time. It was a long period of health-recession since past 500-plus days. Initially each day was a nightmare for the innocent people.

What the innocent people learnt during Corona time that prolongs was having masks and put those on mouth-nose inappropriately, purchase -use sanitizer at home, and wash hands many times and maintain distance among members intra-house. The fear of death tomorrow (or tonight) encouraged many of them to go for long queue in front of butcher shop in Kolkata to buy meat to cook well at home and eat last time.

What the innocent people learnt was advising each other how best to wear mask and what medicine to swallow in case of any ailment post-vaccination. Many of them also stood on the queue and fought to get the vaccination first lest the liquid-stock got exhausted. Vaccination was seen as the panacea for living long life. The quality of life was never on the agenda of these innocent people.

What the innocent people were made to understand was the semi-starvation of the saints in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. The innocent people were also made to understand that the tallest statue was built in the state of Gujarat in glory of Sardar Ballavbhai Patel. Occasionally they were made to understand that Corona came from the neighbouring state China and hence brewing of a sense of hostility against China.

What the innocent people were made to understand was the existence of one and only one disease in the country that was Corona post-Covid-19. This was because every medical check up needed Corona tests. Availing public transport, if allowed to run by the Railways and Ministry, needed Covid--19 test, positive or negative. All waited to get ‘‘negative’’ result.

The innocent people were floating in the processes and observed the consequences. The consequences were death of the walking migrant workers, non-running of local trains and hence the unemployment of the hawkers, ‘‘invisible hand’’ raising prices of basic commodities, children locked at home, youth in mental disturbance. The innocent people failed to foresee the future.

India glorifies single leader. In case they got it by any means they would not come out from that. It was like self-caging. They did it and they continue to do it for they suspect worse in case they come out from the cage like the chicken going into the mouth of dog once it comes out of the butcher’s cage. The innocent people liked to be nourished—even if it was at the bottommost level. They were in no competition and no comparison. This suited their plain living (not high thinking).

Innocence has intrinsic advantages —the innocent individual will die but will not question. She/he does not know what to question. She/he lives local and glorifies that. Hence lockdown-led mobility-obstruction does not disturb her. She lives happily in a narrow frame or she lives in Hindu marriage frame—once in, never out—or, employment frame in the Government Department. Being non-ambitious, she lives a life that suits social status quo.

Let there be no elasticity of imagination that all the innocent people accepted Corona time identically. The marginalized sections were in no mood to accept their continuing marginalization; these sections, however, had no means other than holding hands of the low-layer political leaders to save them. Some tried to survive by being vegetable vendors and street hawkers. Most of the people stood on different queues to get food quota from ration shops, admission into Covid hospitals, and access to different types of Cards. The middle section (often called class) was confused in Corona time that it tried to conceal. Many of them in regular employment worked from home for they were home-locked.

Urban non-slum people in general learnt to live self-centred isolated life. Urban slum people as constituents of the urban informal economy depended on public administration for free or cheap food. Rural rooted people continued to live in low-level equilibrium; it was not clear if some of them became more indebted during corona time. Most of the wage-workers in rural areas had no doubt about the absence of job in the villages notwithstanding MNREGA type programmes. Going back to the previous destination for jobs was difficult for logistics in corona time. Workers remained at the receiving end in general—be it rural or urban. Corona was anti-labour.

People learnt irrelevance of formal institutional education or more precisely the irrelevance of ideology in education. Most of them understood different ideas revealed by the enlightened individuals in the public domain as anti-government that was made elastic to be interpreted as anti-state and hence anti-country and anti-civilization. Most of the people, however, did not try to learn the differences in connotations of government, state, country, civilisation. Corona time ensured their happy life: ‘’stay home, stay safe’’.

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Vol. 54, No. 9, Aug 29 - Sep 4, 2021