Coronavirus evokes images of some invisible demon in a sci-fi horror movie running mad to catch the Homosapiens to slay them all...Or a hydra-headed monster on a killing spree, multiplying at a furious pace and sending off its clones in search of man everywhere. Be on your guard; outpace it, outsmart it. That alone seems like the mantra for survival.
For me, this beat-the-virus game began in late February by which time the footfalls of Covid-19 had already been getting louder. Vaguely apprehensive of the impending trouble, I had got a mid-March flight booked and made it in time from Bengaluru to Chandigarh just before the Lockdown 1 and thus escaped being trapped in the claustrophobia of apartment-living in a mega city.
Further, ignoring pressing reasons to prolong my stay at Chandigarh, good sense prevailed and I decided to travel home and barely missed being locked down at the city beautiful. What’s more, I was prescient enough about the possible corona curbs and the long drawn battle ahead, and whisked some beer/whiskey from the UT while returning to my home-town Palampur!
Therefore, I often had a triumphant chuckle while sipping my sundowners during the lockdown days. But all good things do of course come to an end. As my Bharat entered into Lockdown 2, the stocks had dwindled and so had my spirits, forcing me to live in a self-imposed regimen of strict rationing.
Old is gold
For a home-worm and a word-cum-bird lover like me, lockdown poses no Himalayan problems. With a little (though unkempt) green patch outside, avian-friendly trees in the otherwise unfriendly neighbourhood, a small stretch of road for a walk, and the view of snow-laden Dhauladhar grinning benignly at us to spend hours looking at, it is, in a sense, even a blessing. But one thing where I lost it to corona was books. With the online supply chain snapped, I couldn’t buy my ‘save-for-later’ books from Amazon or Flipkart. By temperament I am not given to reading any book a second time (excepting Shakespeare, Tagore’s Gitanjali and Harivansh’s Madhushala). To overcome this handicap, I had to dig into my Dad’s old collection, dust it off, and ended up striking gold! Among the few that I picked up, the most prized one was Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. So, after the initial setback, I was in a position to thumb my nose at Covid-19 again!
But this novel coronavirus is a wily creature breathing down your neck, ready to grab you at every turn. There were occasions when in this see-saw battle, this vicious monster had an upper hand and scared the daylights out of me. At the Bengaluru airport on March 12, the lack of adequate safety protocol against the virus was appalling. Let alone most of the passengers, even the aviation personnel were without face masks and some were freely mingling, shaking hands and hugging each other. After boarding, to find the aircrew too going about their business unprotected and unsafe, was no less disconcerting. But the bigger shock comes when a young and athletic man in sportswear with unkempt beard and long unruly whiskers extending beyond his face comes and occupies the aisle seat next to me. He is coughing, sneezing and blowing, and wiping his nose and face with an overused handkerchief which he then spreads out on his left and right knee by turns to dry. I am scared; and angry: both at him and at the airlines. Why was he allowed in in the first place without proper screening? Why is he not even wearing a face mask…for his own and for others’ sake? I feel like taking up cudgels with him and the crew. But better sense prevails. No use. The verbal diarrohoea it would trigger will aggravate rather than mitigate any potential risk. Fuming and fretting silently, I snuggle to my left and try to keep distance to the extent possible. The 3-hour travel becomes an ordeal overwhelming me with fears, quite convinced that the sly fiend has outwitted and out-run me…and rather too early in this life-and-death game.
It is now the fag end of lockdown 3. Despite strictest rationing, the closet housing my meagre alcohol supplies now wears a sullen, vacant look. Countrywide, the Covid-19 toll is mounting. The denouement seems nowhere near yet. The migrants’ woes gnaw at the heart’s core. Did the government bungle it all? Should we have been wiser and done things a few weeks before the first lockdown…like Kerala? But then we had other weighty matters to deal with perhaps. Even if late, should we have done it with more thought, better planning and foresight? While these questions now rankle and haunt, the spirits tend to droop and I see this shaitaan virus having the last laugh. But thanks to Victor Hugo, it is possible to be upbeat again in the company of Monsieur Myriel- the good and kind bishop, Jean Valjean, the ‘noble’ convict, the double quartet of Parisian boys and their girlfriends, the pretty Fantine’s struggle for existence and so on. Almost every page is luminous- dipped in molten gold, as it were…
Finally, who wins: Corona or you and me? Well, your guess is as good as mine.
But here’s to lockdown 4!
(The author is a retired zoology teacher and now a small-town scribbler of small things. Views expressed are personal)