Corona Diaries 43: Post Lockdown, A Case For Human Activity In Low Burn
It has been a measured comeback. And it’s loaded with tentativeness. The usual hustle and bustle is amiss. The din is subdued. The macadamised roads leading into and out of the city are forlorn in several patches. In pre-corona times you rarely had a view of the asphalt below. A blur of glinting metal, rubber and fibre was all that the eyes captured. One missed the Bougainvillea shrubs in many-hued bloom along the tree-lined city roads earlier; now with few vehicles competing for space alongside yours and blocking the view, they make their presence felt. At the marketplace, the instinct to linger without purpose is replaced by the urgency to get done with and rush back home. The bustling and bristling Delhi is now a sober place.
This is how it should be. An in-between city — not a ghost town as during lockdown days and not infuriatingly busy as prior to that. And this goes for all cities. They suddenly appear liveable, and, believe it, lovable. Perhaps a pause and slow reboot is what they needed to regain sanity.
The city-dwellers are living the terms of a compromise with the virus. If they go reckless, there will be a price to pay. A heavy one. The reminder keeps arriving on a daily basis through grim numbers. It is more than five lakh cases now, it can go much higher if we accelerate our activities further. The deaths have been on the lower side, but that is no solace. We are yet to get full measure of the killer potential of the virus. It is best to stay on low burn and recalibrate our lives to the new speed. The compromise was never on our terms; after hiding long to escape it, we decided to live with the virus. Mask on faces and sanitiser in pockets remain a rather humiliating reminder of a surrender.
Moderation. That is the operative word here in the post-lockdown world. We probably were exceeding even excess before that. It had consequences on everything around us. The air had gone toxic, rivers had resigned themselves to a slow death, mountains had turned dump yards, forests had become a bit more than collection of stumps and so on. Our assault on Nature was marked by savagery only human beings are capable of. Did we really need to go that far? No. The slowing down of activity after lockdown suggests we can manage without the breakneck speed. Moderation is the mantra to lead a life in balance with Nature.
THE NATURAL SPACE FOR SPECIES
The last two minutes of the movie ‘Contagion’ – a chillingly prescient story of a pandemic – tells the viewer about the origin of MEV-1, the fictional virus comparable to COVID-19 we grapple with now. An earthmover fells a tree sheltering a colony of bats. They move closer to a pig pen. One of the bats chews a raw banana and drops a bit of it near the pen where it is consumed by a porcine. The little pig, infected with a virus found among bats, then moves to a casino restaurant in Macau to be dinner for guests. The chef shakes hands with a guest after preparing the meat, and she in turn carries the virus to other guests. A pandemic is thus born, ready to transcend geographies and kill thousands.
It all begins with the destruction of the natural habitat of bats. The central point here is the more we invade the territory of animals, the more we invite them closer to us and the more we increase the risk of contracting whatever dangerous pathogens they could be carrying. The origin of the novel coronavirus is not clear yet but scientists suspect it is a virus that jumped species.
IN HARMONY WITH NATURE
Post the lockdown, we may have started frittering away the environmental gains from it. According to news reports, carbon dioxide levels have started shooting up in many countries soon after vehicles began moving. The emission of greenhouse gases is up too. In India, we had mentioned in an earlier article, the quality of water in rivers had improved during the curtailment of human activity. The air was much cleaner. We had more flamingoes visiting the mangroves and river dolphins were sighted in the ghats of Kolkata after decades. On the banks of river Rushikulya in Odisha, the endangered Olive Ridleys started day-nesting after seven years. While Ridley watchers don’t link it to the lockdown, the absence of human distraction during the period may have played a role. Are these set to change?
All good stories must come to an end, but it is upon us to make the lessons from them count. If we have understood the value of moderation well, then we may succeed in living in harmony with Nature. If we haven’t then we will make everything around the victim of our insatiable greed. It is ultimately self- destructive.
GREED WITHOUT END
Greed manifested itself in the spike in poaching during lockdown days. In Odisha, poachers took advantage of the situation as COVID-19 kept officers distracted. At least five leopards were killed. As many as 14 elephants were found dead during the period, some of which were victims of poaching. Elsewhere in the country, as reported by us, killing of wild animals rose manifold. While animals had welcome respite from human activity in their territory for two-and-a-half months, they also became easy prey to hunters.
As people in villages bordering forests stay longer at home without jobs, wildlife is likely to take the brunt. We may see large-scale assault on species such as deer, peacocks and rare birds for human consumption. We need to be on guard. Nature may not offer us the option of a compromise next time.
Also Read: Top Movies That Feature Virus Outbreaks