The decline of Covid cases to double digits, in both Delhi and Bihar, signaled for me the opportunity to head for home. I booked my and my wife's tickets for Patna; a planned visit to Delhi for 18 days became a near permanent residency. I was under the absolute maternal care of my daughter and son in law, and my two grandchildren but thoughts of how things might be at home never left me.
I arrived home to an uncertain welcome. The torrential rains thwarted the many attempts of the pilot to land at Patna, ILS notwithstanding. We got diverted to Varanasi and could land only after the weather at Patna had cleared.
The Covid figures have again started going up, from a low of 25 thousand sometime back to 43 thousand yesterday. Kerala accounted for more than 22 thousand of those 43 thousand, a state with less than 3 percent of the population toted up 50% of the total number of new cases. Kerala, we are told is the most literate and progressive state. Its monitoring system was publicised as worthy of emulation. Maharashtra another standard bearer of modernity and prosperity has been consistently adding disproportionately large number of new cases. It is not in good taste to question these states. Only when poorer, laggard states fumble, it becomes a matter of national concern. Meanwhile the two states keep the hope of an early third wave alive. Or has it already, as one report on twitter says?
Covid 19 has proved to be the greatest disruptor known to mankind in recent times. We, in India, looked for redemption in the heat of the scorching Indian summer; it was a virus of the colder climes, we told ourselves. But summer came, the way it always did, spent its fury in vain and made way for an uneventful rainy season. Covid 19, contrary to our hopes, stood taller and firmer, if anything, notching up new heights every day. The fabled Indian immunity, acquired by our long association with filth, dirt, lack of civic amenities, its familiarity with tuberculosis and measles did not seem to be giving us a free pass either. It was another one of those chimeras which we had been pursuing!
Days passed by; seasons changed but we still had no idea how long would this ordeal continue. There seemed to be no end, no event, no hope in sight, only a paralysing sense of fear and foreboding: it could last a life time or go away in a year. Living and partly living, we pinned our hopes on 2021, in the upcoming Vaccine. Vaccine was the new redeemer! But come 2021 and Covid 19 numbers petered off. And up surged the self-esteem of our leaders, like ink to the nib. Some needless frontier bravado and avoidable chest thumping at having defeated the disease percolated down to the grass root levels. A wave of mass delusion swept the country and people let down their guard.
In The Plague in the city of Oran had similar delusions, “Our townsfolk were not more to blame than others; they forgot to be modest, that was all, and thought that everything still was possible for them; which presupposed those pestilences were impossible. They went on doing business, arranged for journeys, and formed views. How should they have given a thought to anything like plague, which rules out any future, cancels journeys, silences the exchange of views. They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences.”
The virus bounced back with vigour and redoubled ferocity, as if to mock the vanity of human agents. While we are getting the logistic right, we had overtaken as world leaders, notching up a figure of more than 4 lacs per day and rising. The surreality of dead bodies being cremated on pavements foregrounded our fears of an apocalypse. Those who tried to wish it away realised that, “A pestilence isn’t a thing made to man’s measure; therefore, we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogey of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn’t always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away, and the humanists first of all, because they haven’t taken their precautions”. Not even to a super man’s measure, one may add. The redeemer vaccine was way off in the future and has now started trickling down. The redemption had been postponed. We are still bobbing up and down the second wave, but at our backs we already hear the winged chariot of the third wave hurrying near. If we are able to vaccinate a large number of people soon enough, we may open a window for some fresh air to get into our lives. We are clinging to that hope, desperately. We hope to live a little between the second and the third wave because Covid like “the
plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.”
I guess, “That is how life will have to be: with happiness and moments of delight when all goes well, but with the threat hanging there - life set between parentheses.” as Simone de Beauvoir says in Adieu.
Like the proverbial mice, we will play a while, till a fresh Covid wave sends us scurrying behind masks and for cover in our homes.
India Today magazine once referred to Manoje Nath, a 1973-batch IPS officer, as being fiercely independent, honest, and upright. Besides his numerous official reports on various issues exposing corruption in the bureaucracy in Bihar, Nath is also a writer extraordinaire expressing his thoughts on subjects ranging from science fiction to the effects of globalization. His sense of humor was evident through his extremely popular series named "Gulliver in Pataliputra" and "Modest Proposals" that were published in the local newspapers.