Corona Diaries 2: Of Lockdown, Paranoia & Nature

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.


Lockdown is shifting the world into the pause mode. With little activity to chew up time, days are longer. As you reconnect to everything that work, commute and other survival chores distanced you from all these years, the experience is worth preserving. You hardly had a chance to ponder over the world around in leisure. Here are a few stray thoughts.


Only paranoia can force the unimaginably divided humankind into a consensus. On Sunday, we had proof. More proof followed on succeeding days. Days now open to deserted streets, shuttered shops, idling vehicles and absence of surround noise as people confine themselves indoors. For once, there is a break from the usual quibbling, arguing and whining that any such call for voluntary public action unleashes. From New Delhi to Bhubaneswar to elsewhere in the country, ungrudging obedience to the fear within is apparent. The unceasing distressing news about Corona devastation has surely forced us to tame our unruly instincts. In the time of crisis, it is good news.


Paranoia is not without uses in these testing times. It is certainly far more useful than complacence. People in other countries who have been complacent about Covid-19 have paid an unfortunate price for it. European countries, specifically Italy and Spain, are examples. The US is headed their way. In such cases, the governments can do only so much. It is up to people to protect themselves. On Sunday, Indians signalled that they were not complacent and they are ready for what can be a protracted battle against the virus. If Janata Curfew was a pilot project of the Union government before a far bigger rollout, citizens, going by their response, are game for the challenge.


While on the subject of paranoia, it is advisable for governments to be paranoid in moments like this. Odisha deserves to be applauded for the alacrity it has displayed from the beginning. Several states were rather lethargic in their response to the threat perception from the pandemic. After the massive lockdown, the next big task for it should be to track down migrant Odia workers across the country and beyond it, and ensure their well-being. With authorities everywhere clamping down restrictions on movement, lakhs of Odias may have been stranded in distant locations, struggling for basic needs like food and shelter. They need to be evacuated home on a war footing.


Compliance to the lockdown has been fairly robust, yet television grabs present disturbing pictures of people choosing to have a good time when others stay at home trying to invent work or some engagement while on a break from the television and grim news. Bravehearts? Sure. The only problem, however, is there is little to tell between bravery and stupidity in times when a pandemic is on the prowl and in frenzied search of its next victim. Being brave — call it foolhardy if you will — is fine when one is risking one’s own life. Here we are looking at a pyramidal spread of infection. A single person can set off disaster by bringing it to his family. From close family to the extended family to small circle of acquaintances of each member to the wider community — we know how it goes. What’s the point of being reckless?


From the balcony overlooking the public garden the world is suddenly a different place. Trees stand in solemn grandeur. Unswept dry leaves form a brown carpet on the floor. The light breeze disturbs the pattern of brown ever so gently. Birds you thought had vanished chirp all-day. Stray dogs laze and prance about as if they own the place. Squirrels chase each other on boughs of trees. With the hum of human activity gone, nature is in evidence everywhere — in its beautiful sights, sounds and smells.

Didn’t you miss all this? Thank the lockdown for unlocking another world for us.

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