5-Personal thoughts/Experiences of COVID 19 (April 16, 2020)
Personal thoughts/Experiences of COVID 19 (continuing thread and updated periodically)
It is over 35 years back I first started work with disaster mental health at Bhopal.
During the last 4 decades, I have learnt the following:
• Disasters are a challenge for everybody.
• Disasters are experienced by each individual in his/her own way.
• There are as many ways of coping as rghwerw are people.
• Support of every type limits the suffeting and long term consequences.
• Every type of intervention, meeting needs, human support, music, spirituality etc is helpful in healing.
The availability of experiences can help others to understand, what they are experiencing, and not feel that they are alone in this situation. It will also help the learn from other individuals experiences.
Further, it will also build an understanding the INDIANS response to the pandemic.
Please note that this is a compilation of experiences and opinions.
Please feel to share your thoughts/experiences through my email: firstname.lastname@example.org Your contributions will be added to the thread.
The following are a set of writings from a number of sources including THE HINDU-OPEN PAGE, reflecting on the various ways of responding to the COVID 19 Pandemic and the ‘lockdown’ situation.
The common themes in all of these articles is one of HOPE and consideration of the changes with a POSITIVE APPROACH.
I am thankful to the authors and The HINDU to include the writings in this blog.
I hope it makes it easy to make sense and master the current pandemic.
OVERVIEW of the contributions of this section.
Pandemic and making sense of the same……
The majority of the articles are from THE HINDU, from the Open Page. They all are very special as they reflect the way different people from a widely varying backgrounds have reacted/responded to the pandemic in general and the lockdown in particular.
I enjoyed reading them. Thanks to the authors for permtting it to be brought to the special audience of the blog.
Srinath in his article, ‘O death. Where is thy sting’ reflects on life’s larger lesson while spending time in quarantine, while staying in a hotel under quarantine for 14 days. He concludes, ‘For us to give ourselves the opportunity to live and live well, I wish not to allow for myself and my fellow human beings the pleasure of death saying, “I have swallowed you and I have won.” (31)
He has shared his thoughts in a recent two poems, one posted earlier(No. 29) and the recent one here.(32).
Sukumaran’s article, War against a virus focusses on ‘Survival can’t be construed as a victory, as we have to change our ways to prevent such infections…. The only panacea for epidemics, global warming and pollution that pose an existential threat for the humans is undisturbed and unsurveyed nature’ (33)
Arjit in his article, ‘mindful distancing’ shares his thoughts on, ‘In the absence of a meaningful education to engage with the inherent uncertainty of life, we are reducing existence into yet another self-centric strategy for mere survival. It is in this context that I wish to reflect on “social distancing”. …… However, it is not impossible to transform this occasion into an opportunity for enhanced ethics of care.
………True, the virus can kill us. But then, this very moment when you and I are alive is the only moment available to us. Can we live this moment with mindfulness, intensity and care? This is the real education’.(34)
Jaideep, in his article, Lockdown: Hop in and shut out, focusses on the value of books during lockdown. (35)
De-cluttering emptiness is the title of article by Jogendra.He reflects “I am glad that this has been thrust upon us; else we would never have been able to experience this. And I hope this experience will be frozen in our minds and that every once in a while, we will long for and practice this “emptiness” to cleanse our cluttered lifestyles, minds and souls.(36)
Nitasha’s ‘Undying frenzy under lockdown’ wonders, ‘Is it some middle class anxiety of a post-Partition generation grown up on tales of material loss and scarcity? Or is it something more recent, more selfish and insular, a creeping disconnection from the real world and real people that has permeated our society in the past decade or so?’(37)
Doctors at the vanguard article by Rishi, shares his thoughts as a doctor, ‘For doctors, the risk of contracting an infectious disease always swings above us like Damocles’ sword. Right from fatal diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV and hepatitis to non-fatal bothersome diseases such as scabies and influenza, we coexist with them daily’…… We are fighting a pandemic wherein the health personnel are at the vanguard but the cooperation and responsibility of all citizens are essential’.(38)
‘I had never thought that there would be days when I would be a watchman with unending shifts. Staying with my 84-year-old grandmother, who lives alone at Butala village, not a long way from Amritsar, eventually made me one’ was the way Sandhu shares his role as a caregiver, in his article, ‘Guarding against Corona’. (39)
Partha, reflects on the value of joint family system, ‘Bonding in joint families has a positive impact on the emotional quotient, though not everything is hunky-dory in such a set-up’.(40)
Dr.Susie Samuel, shares the impact of the lockdown in a retirement community.
There is a funny side to retirement and even to the lockdown!!(41)
Drs.Keith and Madhu Gammon, have two poems to lighten our hearts and minds. (42)
The final article is that of Mr.Mathrubhootham . You could not find a better way of experiencing lockdown. He muses in his article, Couples Cleaning time’ ‘ Sometimes something will happen in life and you will think kaduvaley, what karumam is this, full peace of mind is gone. But then, what is the true story? True story is entirely different. True story is that so much peace of mind is coming that Guinness Book of Records is also checking, ” Hello, Mr. Mathrubootham, this is too much peace of mind”.(43)
Tiny Nair draws attention to prevention, ‘ Despite the medical advances, we have failed to adopt preventive health care’.(44)
The last posting in this is a poem from Bhopal by Ms.Swapna Azar (45).
The above set of articles brought new understanding and cheer to me.
I hope you will find similar pleasure reading them.
31. O death. Where is thy sting
T. T. Srinath
The Hindu Mar 29 2020
Musings on life’s larger lesson while spending time in quarantine
The grim reaper is rearing his head once again, as he did during the Great Plague, the World Wars and the Partition of India. The last two events were constructed and administered by us human beings; so it tore us apart.
What we are now encountering, the novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2, is challenging us to stand together and not yield to any call of destruction.
I am in Delhi, quarantined by health authorities for 14 days in a hotel after having landed from the U.S. Several thoughts and feelings rose in me because of the manner in which I went through the immigration process and was questioned by Health Ministry authorities, and the subsequent internment in a hotel. Yet after the upheaval within subsided, I seemed to want to recognise a larger lesson being offered.
There is pain in the draconian measures that are being put in place, such as what I, like so many passengers returning from overseas, faced at the airport. I was impatient, at my wits’ end, waiting to be ushered through the various government bodies that ensured I was infection-free, yet I realise that this is no time to pick fights nor have pangas. I want to support the work that is being done without demur, for I know if I cooperate, my kith and kin will breathe easy and may remain disease-free too.
As Carlos Castaneda writes, “Whenever we think we are being annihilated, let us turn to death and ask if this is so. Death is our eternal companion. Whenever we think that everything is going wrong and we are on the edge of destruction, we can turn to death and ask if that is so.”
If we are willing to listen attentively to the message we are being given, we will hear the following words: “You are wrong and nothing really matters outside my touch. I haven’t touched you yet.”
For us to give ourselves the opportunity to live and live well, I wish not to allow for myself and my fellow human beings the pleasure of death saying, “I have swallowed you and I have won.”
(The writer is an organisational and behavioural consultant)
32. A POEMby Srinath T T
The past as I have known may never repeat,
Is my future then with fortune replete?
When nothing is being assured,
Neither career nor life ensured;
If so be my mind senses only doom,
Unable to shake off fear nor suppress gloom,
to what tomorrow am I going to wake?
What skills can I from with in me take?
that can help me relevant stay,
that can help me maneuver my way,
I know not whom or where to seek,
Want not to feel despondent nor bleak,
Yet I cannot subdue the fear in me,
Buzzes around like a bumblebee,
Unable am I to quell the sound,
Find myself on shaky ground,
I wish I can have faith in me,
Just let things happen just let things be,
then maybe when the dust clears,
when optimism it’s head rears,
I will strike gold again,
The years of effort thus not in vain,
And for this I must surely need,
My faith in God my devotion to feed.
33. War against a virus
Sukumaran C. V. The Hindu, April 12 2020.
Survival can’t be construed as a victory, as we have to change our ways to prevent such infections
As Hamlet says in second scene of Act III of the eponymous play, “It is now the very witching time of night, when churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out contagion to this world…”
The world today witnesses two wars — one is the alarmingly offensive war the deadly novel coronavirus wages spreading COVID-19 and killing thousands of people every day; and the other is the defensive war the nations of the world are waging against the microscopic pathogen, with their nuclear bombs and other lethal weapons ineffective in this exchange.
The world stands still in fear of the virus. The movement of humans by air, sea and land is halted. The virus has already killed thousands of people, and the death toll soars fast. Italy, Spain, France, the U.K. and the U.S. have been badly hit. Who knows when the virus will stop its killing spree.
As there are 7.8 billion people in the world, humans will, of course, survive this viral attack. But survival can’t be construed as victory. If we don’t learn precious lessons the virus is teaching us and are not ready to stop devastating the environment in the name of development, such development will only lead us to mass graves as the world faces today.
An article titled “Deforestation is leading to more infectious diseases in humans” published by National Geographic in November 2019 said: “It’s pretty well established that deforestation can be a strong driver of infectious disease transmission. The more we degrade and clear forest habitats, the more likely it is that we’re going to find ourselves in these situations where epidemics of infectious diseases occur.”
Pristine forests are repositories of fresh air and fresh water that are prerequisites for humans to exist.
As Henry David Thoreau says in his Walden: Life in the Woods: “We need the tonic of wilderness… At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us… We can never have enough of nature.”
The only panacea for epidemics, global warming and pollution that pose an existential threat for the humans is undisturbed and unsurveyed nature.
34. Mindful distancing
Arijit Pathak, The Hindu, April 2020.
The video-conference was called on the 18th day of the lockdown aimed at containing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Thirteen Chief Ministers spoke at the meeting that started at 11.00 a.m. and concluded at 3.00 p.m.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray was the first speaker and his Madhya Pradesh counterpart Shivraj Singh Chouhan was the last one.
Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao said his State used to get ₹40,000 crore each month in revenue, and this had now come down to a mere ₹4,000 crore. He expressed his helplessness in handling the COVID-19 pandemic with limited resources.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy raised a similar issue. He said 62% of the workforce in his State was engaged in agriculture. The inter-State movement of farm goods was abysmally low, with less than 25% of the trucks plying the highway. There were no marketing avenues. “How much can we absorb locally? Many families will face destitution if this continues,” he said. The industries could not be expected to pay wages while they were not working, he said.
“Today is the 18th day of the lockdown and we are yet to get a single paisa from the government to assist us in the fight against the coronavirus. My government has given ₹2,000 a family to all APL and BPL card-holders, ₹5,000 to farmers and a substantial aid to self-help groups. Where will we get the money?” Puducherry Chief Minister V. Narayanasamy said. The Prime Minister, he said, did not address any of these concerns.
Almost all Chief Ministers wanted the lockdown extended, but a few asked that it be limited to the hotspots.
Mr. Jagan Mohan Reddy said restrictions should be limited to zones with a high number of cases. “There are 676 mandals, of which only 37 are in the red zone and 44 in orange. So there are only 81 mandals affected by the coronavirus. In my opinion, the lockdown should be limited to the red zone,” he said. But he wanted the physical distancing norms to continue, with malls, cinema halls, mass transport systems and schools closed.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel said economic activities should be allowed within the States. He said international air transport and inter-State transport and train services should not be restarted. He also pitched for a special package for the micro, small and medium enterprises.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee raised the issue of constant interference from the Governors and the Lieutenant-Governors. “She told the Prime Minister that during this period of crisis some of the Governors are interfering in the day-to-day working of the State governments, which is now taking menacing proportions,” Mr. Narayanasamy said.
He said he was also facing a similar problem from Lieutenant-Governor Kiran Bedi. But he could not raise the issue because he did not get a chance to speak.
To begin with, it is important to acknowledge that modernity has not necessarily prepared us to derive a meaning of dignified existence — particularly, amid existential uncertainty. Instead, it has made us believe that life is an express highway — a smooth road to “progress”; everything can be predicted and controlled; bio-medicine and technology can postpone death; and all sorts of metaphysical and spiritual riddles are psychic obstacles to be overcome for sustaining a technologically controlled “order”. Hence, under “normal” circumstances, as the children of modernity, we go on with physical, vital and mental pleasures in this “taken-for-granted” world. Today as the modernist myth of “certainty” is over; we seem to be at a loss. We really do not know how to live meaningfully even amid this uncertainty: when any time the virus can enter our residential societies, we may find ourselves coughing and breathing with great difficulty, and local hospitals may refuse to admit us.
Ethics of care
In the absence of a meaningful education to engage with the inherent uncertainty of life, we are reducing existence into yet another self-centric strategy for mere survival. It is in this context that I wish to reflect on “social distancing”. Well, since there is a possibility of community transmission of the virus, doctors are not entirely wrong in advising us to remain in isolation, and reduce travelling, gathering and other social transactions.
There is a positive meaning attached to it. However, what is equally important to realise is that without the aesthetics of living, “distancing” might degenerate into a mode of living filled with chronic fear, purely self-centric pursuits, and utter indifference to the pain and suffering of others. We should not forget that in our times we have already created enough “distancing”.
While anonymity has increased in urban centres, the normalisation of surveillance sanctified through the new technologies of “discipline” has destroyed the possibility of trust and spontaneous relationships. Furthermore, the techno-hallucination that the virtual world with all its media simulations has created is not really conducive to the growth of a real and physically embedded social space. Again, as the market colonises every domain of life, instrumental and strategic rationality kills the possibility of therapeutic and dialogic communication. The paradox is that many of us, despite social media “followers” and “subscribers”, remain lonely. Under these circumstances, the question arises: is the spread of the virus giving us yet another excuse for this self-centric/instrumental living? Be a clever and strategic “winner”, but never a “loser”. Is it like feeling proud that “I have survived; but they could not”? Is it what living is all about?
However, it is not impossible to transform this occasion into an opportunity for enhanced ethics of care.
True, we need not travel much; we need not entertain meetings and gatherings. But then, in the name of “distancing”, we need not forget others. Instead, we can use — and this time humanely and creatively — our gadgets for a sustained social intimacy.
Instead of neurotically striving for Facebook “likes” and “selfie” perfection, we can truly connect to our friends and neighbours, and overcome all sorts of “otherness”.
Is it not the time to have a long conversation with a friend who cannot avoid travelling as his wife is undergoing chemotherapy in a hospital?
Is it not the occasion when you and I ought to write a long letter to a friend who is worried about his daughter — a doctor dealing with COVID-19 patients?
Or is it not the time to have a telephonic conversation with your domestic help, and enquire whether she is safe in the overcrowded slum she lives in?
Or is it not the time not to look at the clock, and have a long chat (over Skype) with your maternal uncle — a widower living alone in Rome, and invoke Mulla Nasruddin, crack jokes, and realise the joy of boundless laughter?
Yes, it is possible. And then, we will be able to say that this is not “social distancing”; instead, this is yet another form of social intimacy. We would be able to realise that technology is not for self-indulgence; it is bridge capable of connecting human souls.
It is also important to learn to make a distinction between alertness and obsessive fear. Yes, coronavirus is real; and the continual dissemination of headlines like “Days after partying, visiting malls, Andhra man tests positive”, or “Govt. investigating COVID-19 patient in Tamil Nadu without foreign travel history” causes fear. Yet, this is also the time to realise that obsessive fear is essentially counter-productive; it paralyses, and makes us incapable of handling any emergency.
Instead, every second we allow ourselves to die — ethically and spiritually. While alertness or appropriate medical care is important, we often tend to fall into the trap of fear, particularly in an age when WhatsApp messages, far from generating strength, spread negativity. Possibly, as I wish to state, we can transcend the psychology of obsessive fear not through the denial of the crisis, but through intense inner churning.
True, the virus can kill us. But then, this very moment when you and I are alive is the only moment available to us. Can we live this moment with mindfulness, intensity and care? This is the real education.
35. Lockdown: Hop in and shut out
The Hindu Apr 11 2020
Fortunately, the shelves that surround me in my apartment are designed for one and only one thing: escape
The first thought that crossed my mind when the lockdown was announced was: finally I’ll have time to read all those books, swiftly chased by: what if I don’t have enough?
As a freelancer, living off Maggi noodles and black coffee, unyoked from the calendar of night and day, social distancing is a lifestyle choice, not an imposition. But the thought of being stuck at home and not having anything to read was claustrophobic.
Binge watching is intolerable, given that I already spend so much of my professional life in front of a screen. The same goes for e-books; only the printed page will do. As critic Joe Queenan said, “My philosophy is simple: Certain things are perfect the way they are. The sky, the Pacific Ocean, procreation and the Goldberg Variations all fit this bill, and so do books.”
The lockdown came at a point when I didn’t want to read a single word any more about pandemics, pathogens or pneumonia. At the first sign of the approaching storm, I behaved like the usual news junkie, scouring the underside of the web for conspiracy theories, or looking up fiction about outbreaks.
As the storm hit, one moved from the abstract to the practical — does drinking Assam tea help (it’s the theaflavins you see), for how many hours does the virus survive on different surfaces, ranked, and so on. Now that we are in the ominous silence of the storm’s eye, you want to stop scrolling Twitter, shut down the newsfeeds, rather like King John who said, “Do not seek to stuff my head with more ill news, for it is full.” This is the time when you want to read yourself out of the moment. Fortunately, the shelves that surround me in my apartment are designed for one and only one thing: escape.
I grew up in a boarding school, located on an enormous island of basalt upraised into the sky, isolated and remote. At an early point in my scholastic career, it was found that my appendix was planning to kill me and had to be dispensed with. During a long spell in the school hospital I discovered piles of luridly covered American sci-fi magazines. Even in those pre-Internet days I knew that the model of the solar system these magazines conjured up had been hopelessly overtaken by science, but I didn’t care.
The image of Mercury with one side broiling under a sky-filling sun, the other in frozen darkness, and a thin strip of inhabitable twilight in between; the ancient ruins of Mars built by a master race now long extinct; the sinister denizens of the swamps of cloud-shrouded Venus — all these burnt like liquid fire in the brain, far superior to the world of class politics, slip tests and athletic bravado.
Once out of the hospital, my search for the fix led me to the senior library, with its soaring ceilings and wonderfully comfortable chairs next to wall-high windows. There, arrayed like archaeological strata, were rows of vintage sci-fi, filled with strange names like Asimov and Heinlein, Kuttner and Kornbluth, Le Guin and Williamson. Adventures featuring dashing spacemen on far-flung planets, quests that usually had whole galaxies at stake, impossible machiner and sleek-finned ships that cleaved the stars. This was the gateway drug that led me to fantasy, horror, pulp thrillers and other genre intoxicants.
Even then, there was always the unasked question that persisted through college and the decades beyond — when will you start reading something serious? When will you finally ‘grow up’? When will you put behind escapism and confront reality. As C.S. Lewis said, only jailors are opposed to escapism.
Only, in the immediate here and now, escape means not from tedious jobs or bad marriages but from rooms the size of our skulls. Nobody said it was easy — as long ago as in the 17th century, philosopher Blaise Pascal had declaimed “The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.” Indeed, being confined led the desperately bored 18th century writer Xavier de Maistre (he was under house arrest for unauthorised duelling) to write the inspired A Journey Round My Room, a parody of conventional travelogues (for example, Chapter V is ‘The Bed’).
Like other solitary workers from home, I know well this strange geography. How many times I’ve woken up at 2 a.m., having slept through the day, to start working. The days blur and bleed into one another. Sam Lipsyte advises in his novel Homeland: “When you work at home, fellow alums, discipline is the supreme virtue. Suicidal self-loathing lurks behind every coffee break. Activities must be expertly scheduled, from shopping to showers to panic attacks.”
By some fatal inversion, the inside has now become the outside, the hermeticism practised by the solitary worker suddenly replicated on a planetary scale.
For me, the only change is that now I am woken by birdsong instead of traffic noise.
As panic-stricken citizens were ransacking supermarkets, I have no doubt that others like me were casting a critical eye over their book supply — would it last three weeks?
The first estimate is invariably wrong: we grossly overestimate our reading speed — even at one book a day, we should have enough — but there are fears. Fears of being trapped in tedious narratives, starting on trilogies with missing entries and so on. However, a decade of collecting and even outright book-hoarding means I’m reasonably safe from such a fate.
The poet Frank Bidart is supposed to have boasted that were a cataclysm to end the world and only his cramped Brooklyn flat were recovered, it would still be possible to reconstruct the entirety of Western civilisation from its contents.
All bibliophiles secretly feel that their own collections will stand this supreme test, recreating whatever their obsessions were; in my case it would be literature of the imagination. By the end of the first week my apartment floor was littered with piles of books. I had decided to categorise them, make reading lists on a thematic basis, the daydream of every reader. For example, I could choose to read only those novels where chess provides motive power to the plot, say Zweig’s Schachnovelle or Pérez-
Reverte’s The Flanders Panel.
Another taxonomical method is size; as Stalin is supposed to have said, “Quantity has a Quality of its own”. One shelf buckles under the weight of a row of giant tomes, such as the Zones of Thought series by Vernor Vinge, a massive trilogy spanning millions of years and thousands of alien races that I’ve been too daunted to confront. Or Perlmann’s Silence by Pascal Mercier, featuring metaphysical mayhem at a conference of philosophers.
Another mode of organisation is picking an author and burning through their oeuvre. This immediately draws me to a shelf which holds the Fandorin series by Boris Akunin. Set in fin de siècle Russia, the thrillers have been described as what would happen if Tolstoy and Conan Doyle collaborated on a Russian equivalent of Sherlock Holmes. Akunin uses a literary mechanism that I always appreciate — the character ages as the books progress over two decades — making a sequential reading even more appealing.
In this manner more and more piles are now accumulating, but I haven’t actually started reading anything. In the face of the formless panic that stalks the air, the atavistic urge is to retreat into the cave and pull the blanket over your head. In short, abandon the new, and turn back to what once gave you joy. Re-reading gives a feeling of control, because you know exactly what the characters are going to do, their fates predetermined.
In Richmal Crompton’s Just William series, William Brown and the Outlaws will always save the day. Or go back to Billy Bunterandits repetitive but effective formula.
I know that the years I spent hoarding these treasures have not been wasted.
Meanwhile, news sites now have blinking icons showing infection counters. Over the vacant streets there hangs a silence. A silence that smells like an aftermath. Now I think of my home as a spaceship. Grocery runs means cycling the airlock and stepping into the uncaring void. Supermarkets are alien planets where you forage while thinking all the while, who is infected? Who isn’t? Paranoia is as essential for survival as a spacesuit.
It is not a coincidence that in fantasy and sci-fi the space ships always have escape hatches, wardrobes conceal portals, there are magical doorways drawn in the air, and wormholes to transport you away. Sometimes escape is the only option.
The writer is a freelance journalist and graphic novelist.
36. A de-cluttering emptiness
by Jogendra, The Hindu, April 2020.
The lockdown has brought back the peace and quiet that we had lost somewhere
For many days now, all of us have been inundated with information on COVID-19. News from around the world is devastating and forecasts are grim. I have ventured out of home only once in the past four days and that too for just 15 minutes adhering to the physical distancing norms. Receiving this barrage of depressive information and predictions while staying home, wondering if we are taking the right precautions and if our friends and families are safe and thinking of all the work getting postponed, is playing tricks on my mind.
Reaching the point of “information saturation”, I decided on Ugadi morning to just greet my family and friends and stay away from all viral news and updates for a while. The Telugu New Year celebration in our house was curtailed to just sending and receiving greetings. No Ugadi chutney, vada, tamarind rice or payasam. I decided to start off the New Year on a better note, not with more disturbing news. So, I went to the balcony and stared at the roads for a few minutes. Not a single soul nor a polluting vehicle went by. No calls from the vegetable hawkers or the sofa repair guys with their blaring messages on speakers. Absolute quiet. Just the cawing of crows and cooing of pigeons and an occasional eagle in the skies.
Calm as ever
I then went over to our living room with a hot cup of lemon tea that they say is good for your throat. Sat down and watched the hazy skies and mountains afar from the comfort of my sofa, and they seemed to be calm just as they have been for ever. But today, the city too has joined them in their stillness and silence.
Not a sound from anywhere. Just eerily quiet. Visakhapatnam, known as the “Steel City”, has transformed into a “still city”. Determined to stay away from electronic, print and social media, I then went over to our rooftop garden and walked amid the flowers and fruits my wife has been growing. Didn’t realise she had grown such a variety. I discovered the soothing fragrances of the flowers and their pleasing colours. I sat in the shade with a gentle cool morning breeze. No sounds from anywhere except from the wind chimes swaying in the garden. I should spend more time in the garden, I thought.
The natural surroundings are soothing, but the silence is “deafening”. I kept thinking how much we have got used to the noise and chaos we create and how far we have got from peace and tranquillity that once surrounded us, and how this new experience of lockdown of just a few days is choking us.
But I am glad that this has been thrust upon us; else we would never have been able to experience this.
And I hope this experience will be frozen in our minds and that every once in a while, we will long for and practice this “emptiness” to cleanse our cluttered lifestyles, minds and souls.
37. Undying frenzy under lockdown
Natasha Devsar, THE HINDU, April 2020
On Day One of the lockdown, I woke up early and rushed to my terrace to view the world around me. The first thing I see is two vegetable carts down the empty road, their owners hidden behind big handkerchiefs. A minute later a familiar young woman appears. Then a couple of teenage boys saunter by. As a DTC cluster bus roars into the bus stop in a cloud of dust and these people clamber in, I think how do you stop a billion-plus people from leaving their homes? How do you convince them that there is a rapidly growing menace that will soon engulf us, if we don’t comply?
As soon as the lockdown was announced, people rushed out and crowded their neighbourhood groceries — social distance be damned. The hoarding instinct, the crowding mentality and the complete disregard of the message of physical distancing was frightening. It would have been amusing, in a cynical sort of way, if it wasn’t for the fact that that we are more connected to each other than ever before in deadly viral networks. This behaviour is personal, and it endangered each one of us, our elderly parents and children.
Is it some middle class anxiety of a post-Partition generation grown up on tales of material loss and scarcity? Or is it something more recent, more selfish and insular, a creeping disconnection from the real world and real people that has permeated our society in the past decade or so?
Whatever the cause and whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, this is an unprecedented, unknown and overwhelming crises in which apathy, elitism and callousness will harm each individual, family, city, state, nation and the whole world. Could we in our wildest dreams imagine it would be so hard to stay at home. Human interaction will never be the same again.
38. Doctors at the vanguard
Rishi Kannada, THE HINDU, Mar 29 2020.
Health personnel face patients with infections every day, though many hospitals do not have adequate supply of masks and sanitisers
The world is in the grip of the novel coronavirus. The bug does not discriminate and keeps everyone on tenterhooks. Everyone is scared of acquiring the infection, though it has a low fatality rate in healthy individuals.
This fear has resulted in people scrambling to buy masks and sanitisers in huge numbers and even hoarding them. Consequently, many hospitals do not have adequate supply of these essential items while the mask business has doubled in its turnover in the past month.
The hoarders have conveniently forgotten the fact that if the infected patient does not have access to the mask, he would keep spreading the infection. While many countries have enforced a lockdown and people are forced to stay indoors, the health personnel continue to work.
When a friend asked me, “Isn’t it scary to work in a potential risky, infected zone?”, I told him, “It is another day in office for us.”
For doctors, the risk of contracting an infectious disease always swings above us like Damocles’ sword. Right from fatal diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV and hepatitis to non-fatal bothersome diseases such as scabies and influenza, we coexist with them daily.
A few years ago, a 40-year-old man was brought to the emergency room after breaking his leg in a road accident. His wife, who was riding with him, had escaped unscathed. The leg was badly mangled with a bleeding wound, and we had to resuscitate him from shock with fluids and blood. Multiple doctors and nurses worked in unison inserting tubes and setting up intravenous lines. In such a melee, often we get pricked with the needle or a sharp object, or sometimes our bare skin comes into contact with the patient’s blood or other body fluids. Since the focus is on saving a life or a limb at that moment, one tends to gloss over such “minor” things.
Later, in his test results, he tested positive for HIV. While we were in a conundrum to find ways to break the news to the patient and his wife, we were shocked to know that both were aware of it. They had kept the vital information hidden while the gullible health personnel were swimming in a sea of infected fluids to save the man. We were in for a further horror when one of the doctors noticed a laceration in her palm. What if the infected blood had seeped in through the laceration? She went through days of mental trauma, serial blood tests and chemo-prophylaxis.
Health personnel face such infected patients day in and day out. Some are known to be infected, while some are unknown. We never refuse treatment or wave them off. We follow universal precautions of washing our hands before and after treating a patient, and use protective guards to stay safe in an infected environment. Despite these precautions, the risk of contracting an infection from a patient always exists. Several healthcare workers at the forefront of containing the COVID-19 pandemic have lost their lives. Li Wenliang, the Wuhan physician hailed as a hero for desperately trying to alert the authorities to the novel coronavirus, died within weeks of being exposed.
The onus of preventing the spread of such infections lies with the infected person too. In the COVID-19 pandemic, the citizens need to show social self-discipline rather than be just reliant on masks and sanitisers alone. If you had been through a high-risk zone or in contact with an infected person, it has to be divulged to the health authorities. Keep yourself isolated for two weeks till the quarantine period is over. The news of possible human contacts of infected persons skipping the radar at airports and other checkpoints sends shivers to us. They are spreading the infection unwarily.
Fake and dangerous information being peddled on social media is another roadblock in our fight against COVID. We are fighting a pandemic wherein the health personnel are at the vanguard but the cooperation and responsibility of all citizens are essential.
39. Guarding against Corona
PathaPratima Mazumdar, The Hindu, April 2020.
Surely many must have become watchmen in the ongoing fearful times.
I had never thought that there would be days when I would be a watchman with unending shifts. Staying with my 84-year-old grandmother, who lives alone at Butala village, not a long way from Amritsar, eventually made me one.
I picked this role out of necessity and not of choice. I landed to meet her just a day prior to the national lockdown and could not return. For the first three days, it was hard to digest seeing the usual visitors coming to meet her, despite several worrying news reports on COVID-19 and the village gurdwara’s announcements urging people to stay at home to contain the spread of the virus.
In shock, I couldn’t hold asking each of the visitors, mostly elderly women, why they were not taking precautions. In return, I got evasive answers, and my grandmother stood with them. Of course, this was not the right means in current times.
The maids too continued coming, though I told them how unsafe it was for us and them.
So, how could I have let this go on? Which is why, I pressed myself into action and took the gate in my hand ensuring no one enters. Thankfully, I got hold of the lock. And round the clock, I keep it locked.
Still some visitors continue to flow, but I stand at a distance and stop them, alerting them to possible threat of infection. Or I give false excuses such as my grandmother is sleeping when she is wide awake. But some women are clever too and try to gain entry by saying that they have come for the leftover butter milk or for returning utensils. But I don’t forget to show them the red flag which by now may have already made me unpopular. But why should I mind as long as I am able to ensure the needed precautions?
Sure, my grandmother too must be a bit unhappy. I may have taken up all chores of the maid, besides helping her in the kitchen. Still she may be yearning for me to leave, as I didn’t let her visit the neighbour next door.
In between, when I pepper her with several dos and dont’s, I can sense an irritation on her face but I instantly change the topic, mostly asking about her childhood memories, especially when she was the head girl in the village school.
One day, while we were having an intriguing chat, I sensed someone at the gate and I rushed out, but it was someone at the neighbour’s door and I returned proud at being such a faithful watchman.
Certainly, across the country, many must have become a watchman like me to guard themselves and their loved ones. They may be irksome, but if they are, it’s for safeguarding everyone around. And to all those, who are still not taking the precautions seriously, let us not forget that prevention is better than cure. By the way, this virus does not even have any cure. So, why throw precautions to the wind?
40. It’s in the family
April 5 2020 The Hindu
Bonding in joint families has a positive impact on the emotional quotient, though not everything is hunky-dory in such a set-up
The family, in Indian society, is an institution by itself and a typical symbol of the collectivist culture of India right from the ancient times. The joint or extended family has been an important feature of Indian culture, but now nuclear families have become the order of the day. There is no denying the fact that socio-economic factors have played a role in the break-up of the joint family system.
Clearly, much can be said on the advantages and demerits of both — the joint family system and nuclear families. Societies evolve with changing times and any process that brings in progressive customs and practices should be welcomed. For instance, emancipation of women through education is essential to break the shackles of regressive social problems such as child marriage, dowry, violence against women and superstitions. Women should not only be empowered through education but also should be encouraged to be in the forefront of the battle against blind beliefs and customs, even if there is resistance from male-dominated patriarchal societies. As has been very aptly said, educating a woman amounts to educating an entire family and society, which is the fundamental requirement for the growth and progress of a nation.
One of the main advantages of a joint family system is the strong bonding it creates among siblings and other members of the family even while providing a sense of security to the children. It is believed that children who grow up in an extended family with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins will imbibe the qualities of sharing, caring, empathy and understanding. This might not always be the case of children who grow up in a nuclear family, though one cannot simply generalise. The bonding and bonhomie one finds in close-knit joint families has a positive impact on the emotional quotient of children. Of course, I do not mean to say that everything is hunky-dory in extended families. They too have their share of conflicts, quarrels and misunderstanding. Family values play an important role in shaping the outlook of people. Respect and care for elders are among the central principles in the Indian family system. It is saddening to know that the trend of the elderly being admitted into old-age homes is increasing. There could be many reasons, including lack of adequate residential space in nuclear families, or in a globalised world, overseas location of children, for such a situation.
However, without being judgmental, I feel that it is not good in the long run either for the country or society to neglect the elderly. That is when they become most vulnerable and need family support, particularly from their children. I also get disturbed when I come across news reports relating to the abuse of the aged. The government, of course, has enacted laws to deal with such instances, but every effort should be made by all to ensure that the value system of respecting the elderly is not eroded.
Another major advantage of a joint family system is the fact that grandparents or other members like aunts will take care of children when both the parents are employed. Living with close family members will immensely contribute towards making the childhood memorable and happier, a crucial factor to the overall personality development of an individual. It should also be remembered that the family system creates a strong bond of unity at an early age, paves the way for social cohesion and in a broader sense promotes national unity. The qualities of sharing and caring by senior family members automatically lead them to think of a secure future for their children by making savings.
Children who grow up in an extended family not only imbibe qualities of tolerance, patience and a democratic attitude of accepting other viewpoints but also develop a sportsman’s spirit while playing with siblings and cousins. Various age-old traditions, customs and ways of living are all products of the family system. In fact, the family system lays the seeds for social cohesion and democratic thinking. Families play an important role in preserving and promoting the cultural and social values in a society.
Adopting our age-old philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, which embodies the spirit of humanism, compassion, magnanimity and tolerance, family becomes the basic building block of a harmonious, inclusive society. Family can shape the world view, foster and reinforce the value system of the individuals and therefore, consequently, be the warp and weft of a sustainable, peaceful, inclusive, prosperous world.
As is true of most joint families, our grandparents were cared for, and consulted by, their children and loved and respected by their grandchildren. However, with the turbulent changes in society, the respect for elders is dwindling. Nuclear families, growing life expectancy, the generation gap, changes in the value system, adoption of Western ways of life, migration for better opportunities, and the increased participation of women in the workforce have marginalised the elderly in India. Many of them are forced to live lives of humiliation, discrimination, abuse and isolation, without financial, medical or emotional support. This is common across all social classes and across urban and rural areas.
There is an urgent need to expand geriatric healthcare facilities in our hospitals, a concept that has remained a neglected area of medicine in the country. It’s true that wherever the family fails to protect the elderly, the community, civil society and the government have to step in.
But why should family fail?
Why should our elderly face deprivation, dispossession, loneliness and abuse? Why should we establish old-age homes?
Our civilisation has always been proud of the way we treated our elderly. Reports and studies paint melancholic stories of the elderly that reveal the growing societal degradation as we move more towards material pursuits than towards our traditions. This is an unacceptable trend. When we fail to meet the needs of our elderly, we only write a dreadful preface to our own inevitable destiny.
41. LOCKDOWN @ The Anandam Retirement Community
Kodaikanal Foothills, Theni.
We came to The Anandam Retirement Village 4 years ago(2016), when I retired from The Global Hospital in Chennai. I was in search of a service community to look after us, as we grew older. I had had my fill of running a home and managing a household. I dreamt of a life with no cooking, no cleaning and no domestic staff who held us to ransom, played AWOL and made us leap through hoops when we needed them most.
A peaceful stress free time for what was left of life after 70.
We, the residents, were strangers, a motley crew of hostages thrown together from all the corners of India and overseas with very little in common, except for our ages and a few common receipts from the same Promoter.
To enter the community, you or your spouse had to be over 55.Friendships are difficult to forge after 55.
What bound us together initially, were common grievances and grouses. Whenever two or three of us gathered together, we grumbled and mumbled to our hearts delight, till Sam and I reined in and took a hard look at ourselves and found that we were wasting every waking moment of our retired lives grumbling.Whoa…we had not uprooted our lives by choice, from hearth and home into hinterland to do that.
So, one morning we decided that enough was enough. We decided that we would shed the grumbles and enjoy what we had, source what we did not have if it was available, or go without.
After that momentous decision we settled down to peace and quiet.
Slowly we became a part of the community and shared our festivals. We introduced Xmas at Anandam and started the tradition of inviting the community one evening in December to decorate our beloved Fibre Optic Xmas tree with the trinkets we had saved along with the Christmas crib . I love Christmas and if I had my way I would never take down the tree on Epiphany. I would leave it on for the whole year. I always took my Xmas tree out on October 1st, in all the other places we have lived, as one month of Christmas cheer is not enough for me. Of course I could not do that in Anandam. So, we settled for a day in mid-December, when the community came together to decorate the tree with trinkets and lights. This is followed by a high tea with heavily intoxicated Plum cakes, drowned in Brandy for the whole community baked out of the Samuels narrow galley kitchen.
If more than two people work in our Kitchen it would be a traffic jam as manoeuvring the narrow corridor between the built in cupboards is extremely challenging. Sam and I have mastered the art of walking sideways when we work in the kitchen. Would you believe then that we churned out 400 Christmas cupcakes last year? The human mind is capable of over-coming any obstacle if it sets its mind to. We even share our traditional Good Friday Fare of Kanji, Payar and Samanthi with our neighbours and friends.
We have Netflix, Prime Video and the You tube to binge watch. I have exhausted most of the Malayalam Movies, watching them solo, unless there are subtitles to interest Sam. We have music on the whole day, Gold FM from Srilanka, Country Music, Jazz, Gospel, Praise and Worship with or without lyrics on the screen for a sing-a-long. You name it we have it. We are never bored and quite honestly we do not know where the day goes.
So here we are, waiting for our 4th Easter, in our 4th year at Anandam, unfrazzled by the Covid 19 Lockdown.
We are not really worried if the Lockdown is lifted or extended. Life will go on at Anandam.
We are looked after, watered and fed, thanks to the Central Kitchen manned by a skeleton Staff who are like family now. Our food arrives on wheels in stainless steel tiffin carriers to open out on our 4 foot round dining table, tucked away in the corner of the cottage. We do not know how to spell grumble anymore, as the alternative would be scrambling at the market, ignoring social distancing to shop, store and cook food that needs to be Fridged and Tupperwared for resurrection and reincarnation.
They have suspended housekeeping and garden services. We do not grumble, we vacuum and swab our Doll house and water our rain forest ourselves, convinced that it is the best way to keep fit. In fact the Doll house is immaculate because we are careful to put things back where they belong and we pick up every crumb that falls. So much so, we are seriously considering doing our housekeeping and gardening ourselves even when The Covids retreats.
It may take four years.
One lives and learns.
42. Drs. Keith and Madhu Gammom, USA.
In this lies our commonality in confinement!
Even powerful think tanks need a brainwash!
Relax relax … Wear suitable comfortable clothes
Eat less , exercise fingers , eyes , ears and nose,
Mouth and throat breathe in and out so it goes
Head and shoulders bend to knees and toes
Now Sit still and Wait .. bit by bit..soul cleanse
As mind overflows ….till nothing is left behind…..!!
Aaah ! Now test your peace in rest repose…
Hope …start thinking again
Could this too be a simple remedy from home ?
Love covers a multitude of faults !
A strange silence on the earth has fallen….?
A ballerina waits in position on the rooftop,
Turns north , south , east and west
‘ Oh where o where have the people gone’
Then on a bold venture on search walks alone
‘ Tell me—-is anybody home?’
43. Couple’s Cleaning Time
The Hindu, April 12 2020.
Sometimes something will happen in life and you will think kaduvaley, what karumam is this, full peace of mind is gone. But then, what is the true story? True story is entirely different. True story is that so much peace of mind is coming that Guinness Book of Records is also checking, ” Hello, Mr. Mathrubootham, this is too much peace of mind”.
What happened? No more suspenses. I will explain.
Tuesday morning itself, Mrs. Mathrubootham came and said, “Old man, please do some housework. Whole day sitting and reading novel and watching news and cinema on DVD means house will clean itself?” I said, “Kamalam, breakfast idli has not even reached stomach, before that itself, you will start eating head for lunch?”
She came back with bucket and mug and said, ” You please put water in all the plants in house People are dying means plants should also die?”
Madam/Sir, this is the beginning of the whole story. Like that, like that, I went to the balcony. Put water in plants. Went to kitchen. Put water in plants. Then I went to front door. Nearby the lift, two-three plant are there. Whether dead or alive, nobody knows. There also I put off water. Then I told Kamalam, all watering is complete. She said, ” Don’t forget to put water in cactus on top of TV stand.” I said, ” Every day you have to give water means it is cactus or buffalo? Better to get buffalo. ”
Just then my mobile started making sound. I put the mug down and did some two minutes talk with my dear friend, Mohammed Usman. He said, ” Mathrubootham, you want to watch some film on TV and talk on WhatsApp at the same time?” I said, “Of course, any time ready. Have you seen ” Seven Brides for Seven Brothers “? He said, “Never, I will purchase online “. I said,
“”Usman, dance means this only is dance.it is superhit. ”
We set appointment for 4 pm .Then, Madam/Sir, as I am turning to put my phone down, my hand is hitting the mug of water. Mug fell behind TV stand. One kaja-buja sound, then boom, been, boom. Kamalam came running like Ashwini Nachappa.What happened? she asked.
“Means what? Water falling on plug. TV gone. DVD gone. Optic fibre colour changing table lamp gone, Internet router also gone. Nothing is working”. She grabbed bucket and mug and said, ” Please sit quietly somewhere. Better you do nothing only. Hopeless fellow “.
Madam/Sir, how to sit quietly in one corner? No TV , no DVD, no nothing. I tried to watch some internet items on phone. But Kamalam said, ” Old man, don’t use all internet, what if some emergency is there?” I said, “Ok, ok”. Then I put phone call to electrician. But he cannot come immediately because of lockdown. “Sir, I will try to come tomorrow”, he said.
Kamalam said, ” Never mind, please help me clean the storeroom.” After store cleaning, I said, “Kamalam, come to bookshelf. Let us arrange novels properly in alphabetical order.” Then , like that, like that, we cleaned both Godrej almaris, changed sitting room sofa position, changed two-three fused bulbs, put new painting on wall near washbasin, cleaned pressure cooker washer in boiling water, and then tried recipe for Punjabi lassi. Enjoyment means too much couple’s enjoyment.
Suddenly phone call came. It was electrician asking if urgent means he can get permission. I said, ” Kamalam, leave it, Tell him to come tomorrow. No hurry is there.” One big smile came on her face.As if Poornima Jayaram. Then we started to clean the freezer.
Yours in domestic satisfaction,
44. When prevention takes a backseat
Tiny Nair, THE HINDU, April 12 2020.
Despite the medical advances, we have failed to adopt preventive health care
It was a high-level meeting of a committee comprising top cardiologists, administrators and officials, discussing strategies to improve care of patients with major heart disease in the country. The meeting ended up with plans to have more cardiac cath labs, intensive care units, hi-tech interventions and staff training; sadly no one talked about prevention of a disease that can be kept at bay if measures are adopted early — on an average, a decade before it manifests.
I feebly suggested a few preventive strategies, with hardly any impact. People, awe-struck with advances in technology, big data and balance sheets, were already packing their files, closing laptops and putting left-over peppermints into their pockets. I prayed that the policy-makers answer my prayers — maybe, some day.
Vaccines, hand sanitation, nutritious food, regular exercise, all are meant for the same result: maintaining good health and prevent diseases.
But the high-level meeting discussing “preventive medical strategy for 2020” strangely ended up with handshakes (now namaste courtesy corona) and dates for the next meeting; and nobody believes that we are doing anything worthwhile. The first thing in a preventive strategy is the belief that the strategy will work.
A society that doesn’t believe in a strategy (for instance, vaccination) is unlikely to benefit from it. The main challenge in preventive medical strategy is its acceptance.
A person suffering from a splitting headache or an unbearable chest pain is likely to land up in the hospital emergency room, even if he hates a hospital (most of us do) or doesn’t believe in modern medicine. But decision to vaccinate a child, check blood cholesterol or following a healthy lifestyle needs acceptance; a conscious and voluntary decision.
A sick patient, with no belief in modern medicine, has a high chance of ending up in hospital, often resulting from the collective decision of more informed neighbours or relatives to rush him or her there.
But for a healthy man to adopt preventive steps, the stock answer will be “I am so busy”, “I don’t have time”, or “I would think about it”.
With all the hi-tech medical advances, scans and biomarkers at our disposal, we have failed to impress the people at large on our commitment to impart preventive health care. It is our fault; you and me included.
45. BHOPAL POEM-September 2012
Death that came as a Doom
While asleep, in the cosy arms, of night were they
Holding dreams afresh, of a morning next
To seek their dreams, unto its cherished ends
Recounted in detail vivid, the gory scenes of that night
Faintest glimmer of which, instantly dreadens my heart
Every moment of which, flashes with intense pain
Death that night, came as a fiery doom
Forcing everyone to devour, the deadly poison
Even today they weep, and weep ceaselessly ever
Repeatedly, when the memories get live, of the dear ones lost
This story of theirs, has sunk deep in my heart
I pose a question, to my self
Am I doing anything, for their grief?
Oh! that Missing Self
His very self was lost, somewhere around
Power to retrieve though, lay surely within
His life lingered, as mere one in the crowd
As though, a life-less body was in robotic motion
Neither had any wish, nor any cause for joy
Just kept awaiting death, to come across or be gifted by some
Therein lands an Angel, one day in his life
Who fondles him gently, into the meanings of living
Having found verily, this caring support
He gradually let go, all his grief
Responding to his sincere, words of love
He laid wide open, the gates of his heart
And lo and behold!
He was right there within
Having redeemed his real self
All over once again.
(Original in Hindi by Ms.Swapna Azahar,
English Translation by Prof.P.K.Singh, Patna)
From Manual of Mental Health Care for Medical Officers of Bhopal,
National Institute for Research in Enviornmental Health,ICMR, Bhopal.