CORONA DIARIES 10: The Dance Of Death & Other Random Thoughts
What can a person forced to stay at home possibly do? With going to office suddenly turning passé and stepping out becoming hazardous to health, those trying to break the coronavirus chain through social distancing could well revive the old tradition of writing on their diaries. In our special series, Corona Diaries, New Delhi-based senior journalist Akshaya Mishra captures the subtleties of life and the times we are in.
The dawn breaks languid and serene to the symphony of chirping birds. Soft, early rays of the sun lend colour and shape to silhouettes before painting the sky in many hues of progressive brightness. Trees in the public garden abuting the apartment’s wall stand brooding and dignified. There is a certain calmness to the surrounding unpunctuated by the noise of vehicles and human activity. For a change, you don’t inhale a cocktail of toxic chemicals as you breathe. A beautiful way to begin if you are an early riser. A perfect start always sets your mood for the day.
The problem, however, is it doesn’t. You don’t even know what a perfect start should be these days. COVID-19 has left the mind too clogged with the sense of gloom and pervasive uncertainty to let finer stimulations a chance to play with your mood and elevate it.
At some point, the thought hits home: constants matter. Nature would be so much more beautiful with other factors of life unaltered. What if it were a normal break from the hustle and bustle of the routine, and not a forced one with restrictions clamped? Would you enjoy music, howsoever great it is, with the news of someone close in hospital playing on the mind? You won’t. Corona has left constants in a flux, leaving enjoyable things less enjoyable. These are surely not normal times.
THE MORBID OBSESSION
As you rewind the routine during the lockdown, when one day is the carbon copy of the other, what strikes you as unusual is your new-found fascination with death. The internet delivers you the grim numbers and it is the first topic you surf early morning. The sense of trepidation is replaced by unnerving anxiety as the figures unfold click by click. Two thousand deaths in the US in a day, toll crosses 20,000; 900 in Italy, total more than 15,000; Spain…, France…, United Kingdom…you carry on, keeping India for the end as if worse news from the rest of the world would make any possible bad news from your country less shocking and more acceptable. You know there’s something morally untenable in this, but fail to place the finger where exactly. You feel a touch embarrassed, but the first thing you do early next morning is a study of the morbid numbers again.
KEEPING THE SPIRIT UP
Similar trepidation engulfs you when you find fellow Indians treating the killer disease with a degree of nonchalance and casual irreverence. “We Indians are born with superior immunity. That is why we have lesser death numbers than the Americans an Europeans,” you hear these days often from even educated people and get riled quickly. Also when you hear theories that the summer is going to decimate the virus. Perhaps you secretly expect both to be true despite all evidence to the contrary but you don’t want it to be talked about openly lest it transforms into a curse. Why would sundry people make boasts of such kind at a time like this? It is possible they don’t actually think themselves to be superior to the westerners or naturally gifted to fight the virus but are genuinely scared. Boasting is a way of keeping the spirit up.
FAREWELL WITHOUT FLOWERS
It is the season of farewells without family and flowers in some parts of the world. As the virus stays relentless in its killing spree, the last journey of the dead is marked by no ceremony. The rituals around death in every society are meant to remember the dead as well as acknowledge the inevitability of the end of life. Family and close ones bid goodbye to the departed soul amid whatever dignity respective religions allow. The deluge in the number of the dead in some countries allows no such dignified exit. Families in lockdown, it’s a lonely journey to the final resting place. From hospital to coffin to truck to the burial site in quick time, that has become the norm. Beds have to be vacated to accommodate new COVID-19 patients, other systems have to be declogged of the recent dead to clear space for the arriving dead, so no scope is left for niceties. Unfortunate indeed!
Mornings are fresh yet cheerless. Wispy clouds in a game of chase across the blue sky are pleasing to the eye but fail to raise the spirit. The air is clean and maybe rejuvenating, but it does little to dispel the sinking feeling that all is not well. Yes, these are unusual times. Nature, despite its best intentions, may come short at making things normal.