Corona Diaries 3: Between Malice And Mockery – In Unusual Times, Unusual Responses

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.

Fear of the unknown is known to drive people into making unusual choices — some cynical, some borderline malicious and some soul-sapping. How would you explain houseowners in certain cities throwing out doctors, nurses, airline staff and all those on the frontline of the country’s fight against the dreaded corona virus from their rented accommodations? The Prime Minister has hinted at tough action against such people, but it is not likely to be much of a deterrent. Crises, particularly those of the unmappable kind like Covid-19, tend to smother rational, humane thinking. As fear runs amok, people in several parts of the world have been responding in different ways, some funny, some not so funny. Here we go:


As Corona positive cases in their country gallop past Italy and China, guess what the Americans are making a beeline for. Guns. They are bracing themselves for a post-apocalyptic scenario where supllies dry out, the economy remains in a state of collapse, the havenots invade the streets, the hungry poor raid the stores and the homes of the rich, and lawlessness becomes the order of the day. There has been close to 800 per cent spike in the purchase of firearms in the country in the past couple of weeks, according to news reports from the country. This coincides with the spike in Corona cases, which had crossed 1,00,000 at the time of writing this piece. A similar response has been reported in parts of Europe too.


In far-off India, land of karmic fatalism, pseudosciences and one-stop solution godmen, many are looking at the option of mantras, tabeez and hamans with seriousness. Godman Swami Nithyananda, who claims to have 30 million followers, has suggested firewalks and nailing of lemons to human bodies among other things to trigger unbeatable immune response against coronavirus. In Uttar Pradesh, a certain ‘corona wale baba’ has run afoul of the police for selling talisman to protect people from Covid-19. In Madhya Pradesh, a godwoman made it to national news after offering prasad as counter to the virus. Odisha has always been a happy hunting ground for quacks and fake godmen. It is not known whether the resourceful lot has started peddling corona solutions yet. If they have not, they will soon. They flourish in times of crisis. The already stretched state government wouldn’t be amused at the prospect.


When you can’t beat it, make light of it. As the corona scare rages, humour and creativity have made a handy mix for the restless social media-savvy lot in Odisha. There is a memefest in the virtual universe and you have loads of corona jokes going around. Filmy dialogues are being twisted to suit the mood and funny videos are being uploaded like never before. So we have Pappu Pom Pom singing ‘chini mini chini mini chung chang chi, poka joka sapa benga sabu khauchi….’ to Humane Sagar’s ‘Jhia nuhe tu coronavirus’ (for which he had to apologise) to others offering serious musical advice on the virus. Since so many fertile minds are idling at home, one would expect them to generate stuff that is more tasteful. Not much taste is in evidence though. Still it is better than forwarding nonsensical remedies to the contagion.


As responses go, the police, it appears, are having a good time after a long hiatus in the state. At least the number of memes dedicated to the force makes clear as much. Lathis, that crude but effective signaller of the power of the state, have been mostly idling ever since the passage of the era of violent protests. Now that some people are mullish on not sacrificing outdoor fun come virus or what may, they are coming into good use. Loitering on the streets with no proof of purpose can earn you a few lathi marks on the butt and the back. For a change, not many are complaining of police excesses. The latter can carry on with no sense of guilt.


[The writer is a senior journalist and the views are personal]

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