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Monday, April 27, 2020

COVID-19 Diaries - Day 34 of Lockdown


CONTINUED FROM - COVID-19 Diaries - Day 24 of Lockdown



Changing Attitude

27 April 2020


A few days ago, Sugreev informed me that they are running out of grocery and it would be helpful if I called the Government helpline (155214). The last time they had called, the officials wanted someone who could speak in Kannada. So, I called the helpline. A man at the other end took my address and ensured that I would be contacted soon. We waited for three days and there was no response. I called them back again and this time a lady picked  up the phone and told me that it always took sometime to get the grocery and I should hear from the supplier within a few days. It has been more than a week now and we havent heard from them. Therefore, I decided to buy the grocery myself. So, that is Government COVID-19 helpline for you!

One day, Sugreev called me and informed me that there were several people standing outside our apartment. He wanted to know if they were supplying food. Upon enquiry, I learnt that a businessman who lives in the apartment opposite to that of our's has handed out coupons to some slum-dwellers via his employee. He was now distributing food grains to them. Two women came down and handed over big sacs of groceries to the people and took some pictures with them. So, that's Dhaan (Charity) by Upper class for you!

Sugreev seemed delighted that Oxford university is conducting human trials of a vaccine. He also informed me that they have taken details of migrant workers in the village. UP Government recently arranged buses to bring back students studying in Kota, Rajasthan. So, there might be chances that the labourers too would be brought back. 

I have noticed one big difference in my interactions with people such as vegetable vendors, grocery store owners, neighbours etc. Everyone has become much more compassionate towards one another. People are more polite now than ever before. The irritated, arrogant attitude among some people has disappeared. I hope we stay so when things get back to normal. 

We had an interesting class on philosophy of art. We discussed Tolstoy, Collingwood and Croce. In another class, we had an introduction to Rasa theory and a detailed study of a research done on Bhoota Kola ritual. As an artist, it was very interesting for me to understand the concept of rasa (Aesthetics or a sublime experience of an emotion). 

In Subaltern Studies, we discussed a little on Brahminical hegemony and Dalit movements. Mam made a good observation that I can completely relate to. She mentioned that as a Brahmin herself, she has always had an advantage in terms of how she was treated in the society. It is therefore, she said, that most Brahmins do not hesitate to object openly. For example, we do not hesitate to take up a fight with a boss or argue with someone if something seems wrong. Others may let it go or some may just accept orders. We, who have never been socially oppressed, often, revolt back. This also develops a certain arrogance in us that is hard to get rid of. In some small way or the other, it does show up in our behaviours. 

I completely agree with her. I have constantly been in this process of unlearning but there is a long way to go. Invariably, since childhood, several customs, mannerisms and behaviours have made us feel superior about our own lifestyle and it is really hard to let go of it. However, it is important to be aware of it in the first place so that we can make an attempt to change it. 

I recently watched a movie called 'Platform', that very well mocks our society. If only we eat as much as we need and share the rest with the others, there will be enough for everyone on this earth. Unfortunately, human greed at every level of this society has damaging effect on this planet and ourselves. 

***

Blacky, our apartment dog is doing far better with its injury curing rapidly. I had to submit a chapter of my dissertation for review and that kept me terribly busy for two full days. 

Continued Here - Covid-19 Diaries - Day 44 Of Lockdown

Friday, April 17, 2020

COVID-19 Diaries - Day 24 of Lockdown


CONTINUED FROM - COVID-19 Diaries - Day 20 of Lockdown



An Extension

17 April 2020


Anti-muslim sentiments are growing day by day. Social media is filled with posts on how Muslims should be kept away as they are supposedly spreading the virus intentionally. A vegetable vendor I spoke to other day was suspicious of a Muslim man trying to sell her some potatoes for a wholesale rate. After he left, she told me that one has to avoid speaking to Muslims. When I asked her why, she had no answer but instead told me that that’s what people are saying. Sugreev and Upendar on the other hand, also told me the same. "This  disease is spreading because of Muslims." They watch local news and get most of their information on WhatsApp and youtube where such rumours are freely floating around. What is shocking is that, even some of the popular media houses in the country are spreading hatred and fake news. 

Other day, Sugreev and his friends ran out of cooking gas. The cylinder refill station was closed, therefore, they were considering to cook using firewood. I asked them if I could  prepare some rice for them real quick. They declined my offer as they did not want to trouble me anymore. My wife normally stores the coconut shells which come handy for construction workers who use them as fuel for cooking. We decided to give a sac of shells to them. One of the men helped Upendar with Mundan (Shaving of head when there is a death of close family member). 

While speaking to Sugreev, I learnt that he has four children. He tells me that in his village people get married very early, around the age of 20 or 22. In fact, he tells me that child marriages are still practiced in most villages though the girl moves to her in-law's house only after she turns 16. I asked him why he chose to travel and work here instead of staying back home and farming. "Are you paid better here?", I asked. He told me that they get almost similar wages in their village. But the only difference was job opportunity. There is more construction work happening in the cities than in his village or a small towns close by. Also, people there are okay with say, single coat of paint, while here, people are conscious of quality. More days they spend working, the more they earn. On the contrary, if they do not work, they don’t earn and therefore they can’t afford a meal. 

Migrant workers all over the country are facing such issues. Thousands of migrant workers in Surat, Gujarat staged a protest other day requesting Government to allow them to return to their respective villages. On the 14th of April, our Prime Minister announced that the nation-wide lockdown will be extended till the 3rd of May. This promoted a protest by migrant workers in Bandra, Mumbai.

Of course, with no work or income, they are unable to feed themselves. Additionally, they are also worried about the condition they are living in currently. Psychologically, they are suffering from home sickness, which tends to aggravate in such difficult times. 

A Tamilian woman who sells vegetables near my house is finding it difficult as well. She tells me that she gets the vegetables from Electronic city (Which is around 15km away). There are no buyers and the vegetables go stale as days pass by. She is left with no choice but to sell them at a much lesser price than intended. She even offered me some vegetbales for free. As always, I bought extra to share with Sugriv and his friends.

With the lockdown extended, things will only worsen for them. One can only hope that right measures are taken to ease their problems and that things would soon get back to normal. 


***

Well, here is what has been happening with our pets. Blacky, our apartment dog, is badly injured as it got bit by some stray dogs. Our watchman who takes care of the dog, got him vaccinated. To prevent Blacky from licking the wound, he requested me to get a mask and a spray for the wound, which I did. By the way, the kittens are doing great. After almost a week, they have now opened their eyes.


Monday, April 13, 2020

COVID-19 Diaries - Day 20 of Lockdown


CONTINUED FROM - COVID-19 Diaries - Day 19 of Lockdown



Charity v/s Sharing

13 April 2020


In continuation to yesterday's episode, this morning, I asked Upendar if he had received any document from his village. He told me that after some contemplation, he has decided against traveling. His family had suggested him to stay back, as returning home did not seem like a feasible idea. First, he had to find a way to return home, which might take him at least a week, if not more. Even by train, they take 4 days to reach their village. Then, he will be in quarantine for 14 days in the village school. By then, the final rites of his daughter would be complete. So, considering this and all the other difficulties that he might have to face along his way back, the family decided against his travel. 

I called my student’s uncle who had some food supply to share. He arrived with some grocery that would suffice the labourers for at least ten days. There was a commotion out there when my student’s uncle met his friend from the apartment opposite to ours. This friend of his was loud-mouthed and together, they began to abuse the labourer's owner for not helping them. I was a bit worried that the owner might listen to this and cause trouble to the workers by asking them to vacate. I asked them to let it go. 

Then, the friend wanted to show off a bit. He called our watchman and made him tell how he offers them tea and snacks every evening. "Do I take any money from you guys for that?", he asked our watchman to which the latter shook his head. The friend then asked the workers why they never came out and that he did not even know they existed. All this boasting seemed extremely weird to me. I thanked my student’s uncle for his generosity and dispersed the crowd. 

Later that day, head constable Sriramalu called me. Sriramalu had helped us extensively during the mugging case. He has now become a good friend of mine. He told me that they were running out of good quality masks and jokingly asked me if I could buy him some from Bangalore. Well, with the lockdown, that seems impossible. I told him the story of Upendar and asked him if there was any chance of him being able to travel even after getting the pass. Sriramalu told me that it would be difficult as he shall have to hire a private vehicle to reach his village which is more than 2000 km away and that would be very expensive. "Video cameras are helpful during such events to view the final rites", he added. Indeed!

That evening we had an interesting class on subaltern studies. Mam introduced the topic and narrated a few examples. She mentioned about a Facebook post that she had read only a day ago. Someone had posted a story about their charity work during the pandemic. When they had gone to supply grocery to the poor, the poor had asked them - "Sir, food is fine, but what about the jobs? we have none." Someone had replied arrogantly to this post calling these poor ungrateful. "Even when you feed them they aren't happy and ask for something more", the reply was something in those lines. This in itself is a very elitist attitude. 

We tend to help people based on our opinions and thoughts on their situation. But we fail to understand their perspective. We tend to believe that if we feed the poor, their basic needs are met, and therefore, they shall remain satisfied. But, do we make an effort to put ourselves in their shoes and try to understand what they really want? Does their self-respect allow them to keep accepting our charity? Or do they want to earn their living, without relying on others? 

We also discussed the concept of Dhaana (Charity), which is prevalent in the current times. People are posting pictures of how they are helping the poor, and some, like that man from the apartment opposite to ours, want to brag about their petty favours. Mam clarified that Dhaana is a Brahmical or upper caste concept. We offer something as charity because we have an excess of it. But on the other hand, when a Dalit feeds a dog, he considers it as sharing of his possessions and not as charity. This struck me really hard.

Coming from a Brahmin family, I have seen this word being heavily abused. I have often been sceptical about this idea of Dhaana that lacked empathy. We often speak of Dhaana as a matter of pride. It is also an act of redemption. We go to the extent of calling the act of giving away used clothes as charity. It is also believed that our problems and difficulties would be transferred to the one receiving our used products. Even the idea of helping others, may give rise to a certain arrogance in people.

On the other hand, when Hanumma, a daily labourer living near my house in Surathkal, gives us some pulses that she has harvested from her fields, she does not consider it as charity. She is only sharing her produce with us. Therefore, it is not sympathy that we need to acquire, but empathy. This class gave a lot of clarity and comfort to me as I had been struggling to arrive at a solid conclusion to the doubts I had about these practices. 

When Sugreev thanked me for my help and told me that he shall remember my favour for the rest of his life, I thought to myself - I am just sharing what I have and that is my duty. Hence, through the subaltern's perpective, we can understand the subtle flaws in our own behaviours as the privileged. This clarity of thought, I believe, will allow us to be an empathetic individual. 

CONTINUED HERE - COVID-19 Diaries - Day 24 of Lockdown

Sunday, April 12, 2020

COVID-19 Diaries - Day 19 of Lockdown


CONTINUED FROM - COVID-19 Diaries - Day 18 of Lockdown



Grieving Alone

12 April 2020


Despite lockdown, today has been an eventful day. In the morning, I took a walk around my house to see if any salon was open. Unfortunately, I found none. On my way, I noticed a man chase a motorbike that was racing away. He told us (who had gathered there) that the two boys on the motorbike had snatched his cellphone. Deserted streets seems to have aided crime. Our apartment watchman informed me that a theft had taken place in his locality as well. The motive there was to steal some bottles of alcohol. There are several reports of people addicted to alcohol finding it hard to deal with this lockdown. 

I bought some vegetables and fruits from Gandhi bazaar. Once a busy market, today, received a small handful of customers. I have previously observed some of the vegetable vendors in Gandhi bazaar to be arrogant. They are known to quote higher price as compared to other vendors in the neighbouring localities. But today, they seemed eager to sell their products. Their helplessness was clearly visible on their faces. 

I bought some lentils and vegetables for the migrant workers. I also included some extra wheat powder that we had at home. In a piece of paper, I wrote down the Bangalore south helpline number (9946499464) that was launched by the local MP to help migrant workers and senior citizens. I also wrote down the house address in Hindi so that they could direct the officials. 

At home, our cat Baki did not budge and stayed in her basket all day, licking the kittens. I cooked Bisi Bele Baath for lunch and finished some University work. As part of my Philosophy classes, I was going through a study material on Subaltern studies and it was then that  a thought occurred to me - I should be narrating the story of this lockdown on my blog. Though the idea seemed interesting, I remained lazy to start penning down. 

A student of mine lives close by and she had mentioned on her WhatsApp status about some shelter and aid provided to people in need. When I enquired further, she told me that a school in Chamarajpet (a locality close by) had been converted into a shelter to house migrant workers and the homeless. They were served two meals a day. However, when I mentioned about it to Sugreev, he seemed a bit sceptical about moving to a Government shelter. They thought that it would be more like a prison for them. on the other hand, here, they had all the freedom. The only concern right now was managing food without money and work. 

I also enquired with my student if there was some aid provided in terms of grocery. She put me in touch with her uncle who has been distributing grocery for the needy and might have some stock left. I decided to call him the next day. 

In the evening, when I went to the terrace as usual, I enquired if they had contacted the helpline. Sugreev told me that he had called and they were directed to another helpline that  has been established by the state Government (155214). They had called that number as well but unfortunately, the person at the other end did not understand Hindi. The official had requested them to take help from someone and provide the address. I assured the men that I would do so. 

Meanwhile, Sugreev told me that daughter of Upendar had passed away last night. "I saw him crying last night and I thought may be he was feeling home sick because of the lockdown. But only later did he tell us that his 8 year old daughter had died", Sugreev added. 

I was shocked. Upendar stood silently next to him. He appeared stoic and that really made me uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure of his mental state and therefore hesitated for a while to ask him any detail. After a while, I asked him how she had died. He told me that she had suffered severe vomiting and diarrhoea. He had in fact spoken to her the previous day and she was fine. Upon further questioning, I learnt that they do not have a hospital in the village. A village doctor had diagnosed her. In the evening, when the situation worsened, they decided to take her to a hospital in the neighbouring town. On the way to the hospital, his daughter Sonakshi has passed away. Though he remained stoic, you don't have to be a genius to understand that he wanted to be with his family now. 

I advised him to go to the police station and narrate the incident so that the cops could may be help him. He thought about it for a while and discarded the idea thinking it wasn’t feasible. Since every state was under lockdown they may not be able to help him reach his village. It made sense. I returned back to my house, but remained extremely disturbed by the news.  

It simply did not seem right and I had to do something about it. Coping with grief all alone during lockdown seemed like one of the most difficult things to do. So, I called the Basvanagudi police station for help. They informed me that my locality came under Hanumanthnagar police station and I could reach out to them. I did so and the constable at the other end of the telephone asked me to bring Upendar to the station.

Upendar and I rode to the police station. There were several motorbikes parked on the outside. I considered them to be bikes confiscated from those breaking the curfew. I walked in directly to the head constable who was sitting in the main hall, speaking to an other constable. When I approached them, he asked me to maintain distance, wear the mask, and speak loudly and clearly. I restated the situation and they gave me a sheet of paper and asked me to write a request. To be honest, they had a rough and arrogant attitude. However, the tone of their speech did not bother me at all. If this was the first time I was dealing with the police, I might have felt offended. But, having dealt with them enough during the theft case, I remained unaffected by their behaviour. From my past experience with the mugging case, I have learnt one important thing -  if you are fully convinced that what you are doing is the right thing, you will have no fear or hesitation in dealing with it. 

I did not have a pen to write the letter so I asked a man standing next to me. He handed me his pen, but told me that he had to leave soon. I began to write the letter for Upendar in English. Meanwhile, I noticed that the man was eager to leave though he politely asked me to finish my letter. I therefore asked a lady standing next to me for a pen. She pulled out a pouch from her handbag and dropped a few pens on the table. At that moment, I failed to understand why she had not handed it over to me directly. I picked one, returned the other pen to the man who was in a hurry to leave and continued writing. After I was finished, I showed it to the head constable. He glanced at it and then asked me to take a signature from the SI (Sub Inspector). 

I walked into the office of SI and handed him the letter. SI asked me the motive and I explained the situation again. "Then you should be writing that", he said and wrote down the same thing in Kannada on the other side of the paper. I had actually detailed it out well in English. I shall allow you to arrive at the signification of this act by yourself. He then signed the paper and stamped a seal on it. Then, he asked me if Upendar had any proof of the death. Upendar remained clueless. "How could we believe anyone without documents?", The inspector added. He handed me back the letter and explained to me the next steps in the process. 

Next, I had to take it to the office of Assistant commissioner (AC) located in South end circle. He asked us to carry some proof of the event; a certificate or letter perhaps. I requested Upendar to get some note from the hospital, the village doctor or the village head. He made a telephone call to his family and told me that it could only be arranged the next day. By the time we returned home, it was 7:00 PM. We planned to visit the AC office the next day. 

Oh! by the way, when Upendar returned the pen to the lady, she refused to take it back. It is then that her behaviour became clear to me. She was avoiding contact. 

When I came back and reflected upon what had happened, I was deeply saddened. Everything seemed so strange. Here was a father, helplessly mourning his daughter’s death from thousands of miles away and we are asking him for documents to prove her death. I am not blaming anyone in particular for this. I am just shocked at the times that we are living in, that has made us incapable of easily trusting another human being.

Back at home, I had forgotten about my online class. I apologised to my student who lives in New York and began my class. After the class, I continued to watch the video on Subaltern studies. 

It was then that I realised how important it was to record these events; to narrate how this lockdown has affected common people. No journalist, no politician, no historian who is bound by an ideology or theory can record this without a grand narrative. It had to be the voice of common people; the subalterns. May be some day in the future, my blog posts would serve a bigger purpose of understanding the times that we are currently living in. Because, nobody else will report how Sugreev and his friends longed to return back to their village and how Upendar grieved alone. 

 *All previous post on lockdown are backdated. I began recording the events, this day onwards

CONTINUED HERE  - COVID-19 Diaries - Day 20 of Lockdown

Saturday, April 11, 2020

COVID-19 Diaries - Day 18 of Lockdown




Rhythm

11-April-2020


Everyday, I make it a point to speak to the migrant workers next-door and update them about the situation. With a lot of fake news and opinions being circulated, people tend to loose focus on the required information. Two important questions that Sugreev always asks me are - Have trains begun to ply? Has a cure been found for the disease? For both these questions, I have no affirmative answers.

"There are so many doctors in this world, but they seem to be useless", he said during one of our conversations. With the limited knowledge that I have in this subject, I tried to explain to them that finding a vaccine is not as easy as one may think. First, the virus has to be studied and its genetic sequence has to be arrived at. Then, a possibility of producing an immune response needs to be investigate. Several iterations of vaccines are then tested on animals. When there is success, they are mass produced and distributed. All this takes a lot of time; several years sometimes.  Of course, technology has helped us arrive at vaccines faster than before. 

Sugreev also told me that their owner has been hinting at them vacating the premises. He asked them to see if they could walk to a toll gate along with vegetable vendors etc, get on a truck and find their way to their village, which by the way is around 2400 Km away. Everybody is creative; it is just that they use their creativity to meet different objectives that they have assigned priority towards. 

Our apartment dog, Blacky, has been very happy. With no vehicles on the road, our watchman, who is very fond of the dog, sets him free. Blacky is often seen with the female dog from the opposite house, exploring our neighbourhood. Life seems to have fallen into a new rhythm. 

We have begun our university classes online. Apart from my French classes, I also attend classes on Philosophy. Back in the University, during my free time, I would attend Philosophy and Political science classes. I found that extremely useful to develop my knowledge and understand my own subjects (Linguistics and literature) better. With schedule perfectly matching, I am now able to attend all Philosophy classes along with my French classes. 

By the way, Baki had given birth to three kittens on the 7th of April. Until two days, we had no clue of where they were. On the 9th of April, we found them under a car parked on a neighbouring street. We immediately decided to bring them home as it was dangerous to leave them there. So, we have now given shelter to a homeless family of three - A mother cat and three adorable kittens. Here they are!



Tuesday, April 07, 2020

COVID-19 Diaries - Day 14 of Lockdown



Celebrating A Pandemic

07 April 2020


On the 3rd of April, our Prime Minister (PM) addressed the nation again. He assured people that everything was on track. He even apologised for having caused inconvenience to the migrant workers and the poor. He thanked people for contributing to PM care, a fund raiser initiative for fighting the pandemic. As always, rhetoric superseded data in his speech. Before taking leave, he announced another task for the citizens. On the 5th of April, at 9:00 PM, he wanted everyone to switch-off the lights at home and light lamps, candles or use flashlight for 9 minutes, as a mark of solidarity. With all that had gone wrong last time, we could have expected nothing but a circus this time around. People indeed are fed up of staying indoors. 

After weeks of being locked indoor, my neighbours seem to have finally decided to show their faces. They are now seen playing shuttle badminton or taking a walk in the premises. The apartment opposite to ours, is regularly conducting a sort of shuttle badminton tournament in the evening. Of course, the children and adolescents are finding it difficult to contain their energy and enthusiasm under this lockdown. They have to be constantly kept engaged.  Me on the other hand, have been taking a walk in the terrace, which allowed me to take notice of the migrant workers living next-door. 

The house next to our apartment is under construction; almost nearing completion. I have seen a few construction workers there for a while now and had always meant to find out if they were doing okay. On the 4th fo April, I noticed one of them at the balcony and asked him if the construction work was still in progress. He told me that they have run out of material and therefore there was no work to do. 

There is Upendar, a carpenter from Bihar and four painters from Uttar Pradesh (Sugreev and his 3 friends). They generally live in the construction site until the work is complete. While Upendar stayed and cooked in the third floor, the others lived in the fourth floor. Upon enquiry, I learnt that the owner, who has recently moved to the first floor, isn't very supportive. With no way to earn, they have to spend on their own. When I asked him if he needed any help, Upendar mentioned that his cooking gas cylinder was empty and the nearest filling station seems to be demanding double the money. Speaking to my watchman, I learnt that there was another filling station nearby who charged only Rs 20 extra. I directed Upendar to that place. This incident reminded me of others who may be in need of help. 

Several years ago, we used to live in an apartment complex, located three blocks away. An old couple, whose son lives in the US, lived in the opposite flat. Though we had stayed there for only a year, we had developed a special bond with them. I decided to visit them and check if they were doing fine. The old are vulnerable to the disease therefore, even though they asked me to enter, I stayed at the door. They are doing fine and the neighbours are helping them with grocery as needed. 

During my evening walks in the terrace, I made it a point to speak to the migrant workers who are stuck in the construction site next to our apartment. Among all, Sugreev is the only one who speaks without hesitation. He told me that with nothing much to do all day, and no one to speak, it was getting frustrating. The vegetable vendors or store owners rarely understood their language and thus it was always a challenge for them to buy what they wanted. Additionally  the vegetable and lentil prices have skyrocketed, making things more difficult for them. All they wanted now was to return to their respective villages. 

The roof of every house in the neighbourhood was covered with small yellow dots. Sugreev suspected that it was medicine sprayed from the top. It seemed funny to me that someone would spray disinfectant on roofs, but I had no better explanation at that moment. I learnt later that those were honey bee poops. It is spring time and all trees have begun to blossom. It is interesting that we are now paying attention to nature and understanding it better; something, we have perhaps forgotten. 

They also told me that their friends in Delhi are receiving free ration and had no issues. I have often seen the Chief Minister of New Delhi give press conferences with detailed updates on what is being done, the challenges being faced and what remains to be done. The state of Kerala too has handled the situation well. Bhilwara model of Rajasthan is also a good case study. Anyways, the very next day, I bought some vegetables and lentils for the men next-door. 

As soon as our PM had announced the Diya Jalao event, astrologers on all television channels took up the responsibility to justify this decision. According to them, this was an auspicious day and time, meticulously chosen by our leader. All religion, in some way are the other, seem to endorse this belief in apocalypse, which according to me, is the constant fear of extinction, that humans live with. It also imposes the superiority of morals and rules established by a religion; which if ignored, may cause devastating effects. 

The Hindus believe in the concept of Kali yuga, the final stage in the cycle of four yugas (Stages). It represents a world devoid of morality which will be fixed by Kali, an avatar of lord Vishnu. The Christians, who believe that man is born in sin, consider this as God's punishment. Such claims are well contested in Albert Camus's "La Peste". They also await the second coming of Jesus. The Muslims, on the other hand, seem to believe that they are safe under the protection of Allah and this is the apocalypse mentioned in the Quran. Islamic literature appears to suggest that Jesus will return to abolish Christianity and confirm the truth of Islam. So, with all these belief systems in place, one could only expect extreme behaviours on the 5th of April, by the devotees of God and the Government. 

On the 5th of April, at 9PM, the lights went off and people began to light candles and lamps. Others came out to their balconies and terrace to wave their flashlight. We also witnessed some firework. Within no time, social media was flooded with pictures of people lighting lamps and celebrating this event like the festival of Diwali. All Pro-Government news channels and journalists went crazy talking only about this for about two days and turned this into a mega event. There were videos of people bursting crackers, parading the street and setting up camp fires. To be honest, I made a conscious decision not to take part in this show. I found all this absurd and even insensitive to a certain degree. 

You can stay at home all day, only if you have one. One may never step out of the house, if one did not have to look for food. One can celebrate this event only if one has enough money to buy some fancy lamps and oil. I appreciate our Prime Minster’s effort and ability to mobilise the citizens, but we need to reflect upon what we are mobilising the people for. 

Dressed for the occasion, our PM released a video of himself lighting a huge lamp. He donned a mundu from the South of India and an Assamese gamosa from Northeast India and a Kadi (Cotten) kurta. Self publicity, brand building and showmanship doesn’t seem to have taken a backstage even in such times. 

Honestly, that night, I could not sleep well. I had this mixed feeling of anger, sadness and contempt. We were perhaps the only country in this world to celebrate a pandemic. Words fail to express the gamut of emotions I experienced at that moment. Therefore, I chose to paint them. 



Friday, April 03, 2020

COVID-19 Diaries - Day 10 of Lockdown



Nouveau Riche

03 April 2020

RBI has announced moratorium on EMI (Equated Monthly Instalments). This means that term loan instalments that are due for payment between 1st March to 31st May can be deferred. This includes all home loans, personal loans, car loans, working capital loans and agriculture loans. Credit card dues are also eligible and the credit score of the users will not be impacted. The moratorium will therefore shift the repayment schedule by three months. The borrowers who will avail of this facility will have to pay added interest accrued during the three months after the moratorium expires. 

The city of Bangalore is under a complete lockdown; so it seems, in my part of the town at least. Only a few grocery stores are open. The police is confiscating two-wheelers if anyone is seen loitering around. People are asked to walk to the nearest stores to buy essentials. Thankfully, pet stores are open and we were able to buy some food for our cats and the apartment dog. As my wife feeds stray dogs, we also ensured to have a good stock of biscuits for them. 

Speaking of dogs, a friend of mine from the University, along with her sister, was feeding street dogs while people in that neighbourhood verbally abused them and asked them to leave. People complained that this would increase the number of stray dogs in their locality. "Care for humans, not animals", they are said to have added. In an other incident, a lady was almost beaten up by the locals for feeding street dogs at night. After several such incidents were reported, the Police has informed that people who are feeding the animals will be issued a pass at the Police station which will help them confront those who are objecting it. The true nature of each human seems to be surfacing during this time of distress. 

While there are many landlords who are being kind to their tenants during these times, there also exist some who are asking frontline workers to vacate their home or sleep at the hospital due to fear of contracting the disease from them. Some Students and bachelors living as paying guests are also finding it difficult. A fruit vendor near my house, complained about police demanding a bribe from him. On the other hand, social networking sites, where most of the upper middle class and rich seem to be residing these days, are going crazy with stories of how people are dealing with their boredom. 

Instagram travellers are making a list of the places they have visited and their favourite places for various reasons. On WhatsApp and Facebook, people are challenging each other to post a certain picture from a particular time in their life. Women are posting pictures of themselves in sarees, so on and so forth. Well, all that is okay but some are posting suggestions like - "Why doesn’t Government make use of this lockdown to fill potholes and lay new roads?" As if the lives of the labours are of no significance. I saw another educated friend of mine posting a forward on how people have all along been criticising Brahmins for practicing untouchability and now are following the same practice. How does that justify untouchability? Is it so difficult to give it a thought before forwarding such posts? Many of them, in their blind faith towards the current Government have turned a blind eye towards the issues that migrant workers and homeless are facing due to this lockdown. The frontline workers are also struggling with lack of enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Anyone pointing out these issues or shortcomings are trolled for being antinational and anti-government. 

These behaviours have proven one thing for sure, that the lucky to be educated and employed graduates of India represent the new Bourgeoisie. These Nouveau Riche seem to view the world with rose-tinted glasses. Their views on this world, often boldly displayed on social networking sites, are devoid of the struggles of the poor. What they do not understand is that they themselves are nothing but a part of modern-day slavery; working for a foreign country, in exchange of a marginal salary.  

***

Personally, I have been busy with my dissertation. I am conducting a comparative study between two characters - Swami (Swami And Friends) and Nicholas (Le Petit Nicholas). Additionally, I am conducting online classes for my students. Thanks to the technological development, students will not be deprived of education. We are soon to begin our University classes online. 

During free time, my wife and I decided to revisit some traditional dishes. Scorching summer helps the preparation of Sendige (Sun-dried spicy rice and sago paste). Sendiges can be prepared from different ingredients and can be stored for several months or even years. They are deep fried in oil before being served with rice and curry. 



A stray cat visits us every now and then. When she had first come to our house, looking for some food, she was extremely thin and weak. She would gobble up everything that was offered in a minute and ask us for more. We therefore named her Baki (Short form for Bakasuri - Imaginary feminine form of Bakasura - A demon from the epic Mahabharatha, who ate a lot). No, we are not being mean to her. It's a common colloquial usage in our culture to call someone so, if they are seen gobbling and eating excessively. She has been doing good now. Currently, she is pregnant, hence she spends most of her time at our place. She visits us at least two or three times in a day.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

COVID-19 Diaries - Day 08 Of Lockdown


Negativity

01-April-2020

We live in times where nothing spreads faster than hatred. Thanks to Social Media, opinions promoting hatred and negativity, cheap memes and underdeveloped thoughts not only get easily published, but also gains quick viewership and circulation. However, the biggest problem lies in these posts turning into beliefs. It is appalling to see the so called ‘educated’ people confidently and shamelessly forwarding posts that are discriminating, racist and hateful in nature, towards one or more communities. Until recently, the focus has been on the Chinese. 

According to some posts, the Chinese have intentionally spread this virus so that the world economy collapses. Some criticise them for their food habits and call this a Chinese virus and few others are asking people to boycott Chinese products all-together. It is sad that, today, most people in India rely on WhatsApp and Facebook posts to educate themselves on current affaires and form an opinion. Many do not seem to take a moment to  analyse the forward or post they have received on their phones. 

Can we not promote and buy India-made products to boost our economy, without hating other countries? Do we not acknowledge the interdependencies between countries and people in general? Can we not first research the food habits that exist in our own country before pointing fingers at others? Every country, every culture in this world is guilty of exploiting animals and nature in general. No one is walking away with a clean chit. Ironically, this propaganda has turned some Indians hostile towards our own people. In some places it was reported that North-east Indians were prohibited from entering stores. However, now, all the negativity and hate mongers have begun to shift their focus from the Chinese to another community. 

On the 25th of March, 6 people in Andaman and Nicobar islands were tested positive for COVID-19. What was alarming is that all of them had attended a convention at headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat, a conservative islamic organisation, in New Delhi. This raised an alarm and quick investigation revealed that the convention which was held between the 12th and 22nd of March, included around 2500 people. There were participants from all over the country and from some South-east asian countries. While approximately a 1000 of them had left the place, the rest were unable to move out due to the nation-wide lockdown announced on the 24th. Several of these attendees turned out to be COVID-19 positive cases. Soon the Markaz (Centre) became India’s largest COVID-19 cluster. 

Since the event had participants from all over the country, who have now returned to their respective states, perhaps carrying the virus, it has become a mammoth task to trace down all participants and quarantine them. During this process, some people resisted quarantine and attacked healthcare workers, including doctors. This was clearly a foolish and unjustifiable act by those people. But instead of looking at this as independent cases, a super narrative promoting hatred against the Muslims in general began to spread like wildfire. 

Several videos and posts were circulated calling this a Corona-Jihad. In their hatred towards a community, people forgot to focus on relevant questions like - Could the Government have avoided such mass gatherings during these times? Could we have stopped entry of international flights earlier? While these questions allow us to analyse the situation and prepare for such crisis in future, questions and discussions on preparedness to trace the infection, test as many people as possible, efforts and support required, awareness among people etc would be crucial steps to deal with the issue in hand. I fail to understand why people get hung up on one aspect of the situation and keep lingering around it? According to me, when it comes to superstition, false hope and stupidity, every religion is culpable of misguiding people. 

The Government has announced strict action against those are promoting hatred against communities and has setup a special team that is identifying fake news on COVID-19. However, many Facebook and WhatsApp users remain ignorant of their crimes. In the recent times, specially in the last 6 months, our country seems to be heavily polarised than ever before. While some continue to blame the Muslims, the others do not want people to communalise this issue which will only make things more difficult in these times. With cellphones in the hands and not much work to do, how can one stop being exposed and influenced by such unnecessary information? 

As for me, I had realised the effect of such memes and posts on our intellect around three years ago. Taking everything lightly and accepting other's opinions without any contemplation has made people more insensitive towards one another. So, three years ago, I chose to exit all my WhatsApp groups and limited my interactions on Facebook. I wrote about it in detail in a previous post

This has helped me distance myself from such unverified stories, misinformation and vague thoughts. I have turned towards legitimate Newspapers (The Hindu), books on history and philosophy to educate myself. Because, only knowledge can defeat stupidity and ignorance.

***

So, here is what has been going on with me. I baked a cake for the first time. I made a Rava (Semolina) cake and it turned out pretty well. Oh yes! I also built a support system (Chappara) for my malabar spinach creepers.


Globally, 34,610 have died and 7,27,080 tested positive. It has taken 12 days for India to reach 1000 cases and 39 deaths have been recorded. 

CONTINUED HERE - COVID-19 Diaries - Day 10 of Lockdown.