Corona Diaries 59: It’s Winter Again; Did It Ever Go Away?

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Winter is here. You feel it in the early morning nip in the air, the dryness of the skin and the lengthening duration of darkness. It’s just the other day one folded warm wear and tucked them neatly into boxes under the bed and suitcases. As one pulls them out again, the feeling is winter never went away. It was lurking somewhere around, taunting the apology of a summer for being so meek, rains being so unimpressive, and waiting to sneak back into our lives. It has been a crazy year indeed! It is not easy to remember when in our lifetimes entire seasons got nearly blanked out in this manner.

It’s smog season in Delhi. As crop stalks burn in neighbouring states, the citizens in the national capital don’t wake up to cheery sunshine and a soothing blue sky. Mornings are not sprightly and rejuvenating as darkish clouds hover like unexplained depression among people. The smell and sights are the same as yesterday’s as is the gloomy feeling they never fail to evoke. The thick cloud refuses to disperse till late in the day. When sunlight hits the ground it is more like a small concession, like a civilian’s access in occupied territory – limited, guarded and revokable.

The biting winter chill is some weeks away, but the smog announces that this winter is going to be no better than previous ones. This despite the pandemic-induced lull in human activity over the last several months. Nature, as studies reflect, had healed itself well in the period. The levels of toxicity had dipped in air, water and soil, making the city more liveable. Winter, the best season here, would be pleasant unlike everything else in 2020, it was predicted. But the prediction didn’t take into account the incredible capacity of human beings for spoiling anything good. In the last two months they have reverted to normal with a vengeance, undoing all environmental gains in six months.

Smoke from burning stalks, however, is not the only source of pollution in the bustling capital state. Familiar culprits such as dust, vehicular emission and industrial fumes have made a rapid comeback too. After Dussehra air quality has climbed to ‘severe’ level from ‘very poor’. It is ironical indeed that ‘very poor’ air quality would be the acceptable normal. It is not yet known whether the elderly and the asthmatic have already started packing their bags to move to more tolerable places but if they had any hope of staying back in Delhi to avoid catching the corona virus it has evaporated. In the overall depressing scenario, the only relief is most will be forced to stayed at home bundled in layers of warm wear.

Pollution and corona make a dangerous mix. It holds as much true of Delhi as elsewhere in the country. Add to the mix the year-end festive spirit. It can be deadly. Giving a damn might come at a cost. Close to 1.2 lakh people have lost their lives already. Keeping the hope going and staying cocooned at home is a better option. The end of the world predictions no more hold, but it won’t be an easy world to live in either.

CIVIC ISSUES & THE GREAT DISCONNECT

The beauty of our intellectual culture is that we discuss, in fact we discuss so much that a whole industry has come to exist around it. Watch the media – print, television and digital – a bit closely and notice how much discussion on any topic takes place or has taken place already. The problem areas are dissected and solutions offered on any subject, from farms to pollution to gender matters to nearly everything else. So far so good. But how much of this results in concrete action on the ground?

Pollution in Delhi has been discussed to death on the media and other fora. Come winter, it becomes, appropriately so, a hot-button topic every year. How come nothing has come out of it so far? By now everyone knows the solution to the capital-state’s bad air problem lies in co-ordinated effort involving at least four other neighbouring states. It requires political will more than anything else to address the issue. This is conspicuously missing.

It’s obvious that there is a disconnect between experts and solution providers, and the political class. The latter can afford to be casual because the former can do little more than debate. They don’t influence votes. That, in short, is the crux of all our unresolved problems, be it reckless urban growth, women’s safety or whatever. The next discussion in the media should be on finding a convergence point between the two. Otherwise, all talk is an exercise in futility.

HOPE UNLIMITED

The end of the virus menace is in the realm of hope right now, precisely where it was months ago. In winter, warn experts, it might get worse. There will be a rebound of cases given in cold months viruses, in general, affect people more. They remain in the air longer and leave people with respiratory weaknesses particularly vulnerable. This virus is not expected to be any different.

Well, we are prepared, whatever that means. Since we don’t give a damn anymore anyway it doesn’t matter. Normal pre-corona life has resumed. Masks are on but social distancing is some kind of a joke. And we are in the midst of the festive season. There Onam celebration is believed to have led to a fresh spurt of cases in Kerala. This should have rang warning bells elsewhere in the country. It hasn’t. We prefer to let our hair down and leave everything to hope. The government says by February next year the virus will have affected 50 per cent of India’s population. Experts say it may help slow the disease down. More hope. Surely we can live with that.

IPL: THE BOSS IS BACK

The ‘Universe Boss’ has started bossing around and it, given the colourlessness of the IPL this time, is great. It’s not about Chris Gayle’s big-hitting prowess only, it’s about his persona, the sense of abandon he exudes. Sports across the spectrum need such fascinating characters to be interesting. The emphasis on correctness all around seems to have led to the decline of this breed of sportsmen. We don’t see players displaying eccentricities or letting lose raw emotions in public. Most of them are serious, restrained men, much like someone in a 9-to-5 job concerned only about meeting targets. However, it must be said that the boss is less than his usual self this year. Haven’t seen him doing a jig yet.

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