Corona Notes: Neither Here Nor There

As a dreaded virus spreads its tentacles across the world, it is imperative to share experiences and learnings for benefit of different communities. In this Odisha Bytes special series titled Corona Notes, we would publish articles by people residing in different countries and continents on how they are coping with the COVID challenge.

I find myself in an exclamatory mood, bandying about clichés such as ‘ironical’, ‘a mockery of fate’, ‘hoist with one’s own petard’ as I sit down to pen my corona thoughts.

On February 12, my wife and I left India to visit our daughter in Holly Springs, North Carolina. Fears of the novel coronavirus had just begun to grip the nation and we had beaten them by flying to USA. Our anxieties were to do with whether, being from a country that is China’s immediate neighbour, we would face a tough time at the immigration, worse yet, be denied entry. We travelled, firmly
clutching the two N95 face masks and a small bottle of hand sanitizer, bought at Bhubaneswar.

When we landed at Logan airport of Boston several hours later we were relieved to see absolutely no coronavirus-related – COVID-19 had not quite caught on then – signs of fear or concern. Not even one person among the surging and heaving multitude in Logan – America was soon to learn the high cost of such ‘unmasked’ gregariousness – was wearing a face mask. Another couple of hours later we landed at RDU airport of North Carolina and were happily reunited with our daughter. We congratulated ourselves on having left the novel coronavirus behind. Not merely that; after four days I triumphantly mailed to my friend’s son in China 20 N95 masks. Our escape from everything sickly, grim and morbid seemed complete. Yet only in two weeks time America was to hurtle headlong into its worst catastrophe of the century as it became the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic with ordinary Americans having to scrounge around for masks, sanitizers and toilet papers.

Today, nearly eight weeks later, America is on lockdown and there are over 50,000 dead Americans, more than the number claimed by the Vietnam War. And just when some States, North Carolina – with 322 deaths till the time of writing – included, are thinking of reopening the economy, we are wishing that we were back in India even if it meant embracing one of the toughest lockdowns anywhere in the world. That toughness of response, of course, means far fewer lives lost,
although it also means many lost or wrecked livings.

If America faces the problem of balancing personal freedom with collective safety, India’s problem is to balance life with the loss of livelihood. But the irony of irony, we cannot return to India because
as long as the pandemic holds sway, we as America-returned would be a threat to Indians. So the wheel has come full circle and we remain like Trishanku, at home neither here nor there. And whatever might my joy be over the recent acceptance of our translation at Penguin India,
that came, as a friend said, like ‘rain into the dreary desert of the corona’, it cannot measure up against what the world has lost, what we have lost.

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