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Saturday, April 4, 2020

India Lockdown: Stress And The Feel-Good Factor!

Living under the biggest lockdown of the world ever is not at all easy. To be honest, it’s been extremely difficult, inconvenient and stressful. Things we could never imagine in our wildest nightmares are happening now. Just imagine the very basic things we are deprived of life now: like that innocent morning newspaper; forget about all other associated things. As a result several mental states of affairs like boredom, anxiety, frustration, desperation and even anger are bound to grow stronger. With the abundant time we suddenly had at our disposal many of us, particularly engaged in the professional fields, thought and planned many creative pursuits, but finally discovered nothing of that sort was possible as the mind was always preoccupied with the virus and its antics. For example, as a writer with all the time in world I wanted to finish all my pending writing work and start new ones, but couldn't progress thanks to the same reason. Whatever I did manage to write was always on Coronavirus, nothing else. I seemed to have lost my sense of humor even. Many others manage to be productive with ‘work from home’; but think of all others who have no ‘work’ to do once their offices shut down. Just yesterday I saw a report on ‘increasing domestic violence’ in Indian homes which was only waiting to happen. Then again, think of millions of not well-to-do Indians who have to live in cramped flats or tenements with 5-8 people crowding barely a 100 square-feet space, mostly members of three generations living together. With temperatures beginning to soar think of such people having to spend 24 hours inside. In general, only the main person of a family, in the appropriate age bracket, can move out for the most quintessentially existential job: queuing up and getting rations, medicines or the essentials.

Besides, various incidents of violations all over the country keep on irritating us further. We constantly nurture a feeling of self-sacrifice for the larger cause of saving more lives and finally our country: we are dismayed and greatly saddened by the orgies of death in Italy, Spain, USA, France and United Kingdom. That very spirit of sacrifice or solace is mercilessly hammered out of us by co-citizens brazenly ignoring social distancing and other guidelines or some fundamentalist religious sect performing an act of gruesome foul play and endangering in the process the whole of the country or significant failures on the part of the authorities and governance. In our lockdown-induced mental frame we constantly need ourselves to be reassured, encouraged and congratulated—however improbable or impossible it may sound. We do get the very important information from the media, Health Ministry updates, updates from related government organizations and also from the authorities of the state/union territory governments, but all the same we do get desperate for a word of complete certainty from our head—the Prime Minister of India.

The looming and continued uncertainty is nobody’s fault and however desperately we need to be solaced or comforted or reassured we cannot get this for the most obvious reasons on display all around the globe. We are only half-way through the 21-day lockdown, and so far it seems to be successful in at least delaying the scary Stage-3 or the start of community transmission so that the country gets fully prepared, medically and administratively, for the final assault of COVID-19. We also hope for another hope: that the onslaught of Coronavirus may not be as severe in India where early steps like the lockdown had been taken as in the USA or in the European states where the virus was ignored in the initial stage—for democratic reasons as well as for reasons of lifestyle, luxury and market economics. In any case, the intricate interplay of optimism and pessimism keeps us agitated and stressed.

Such a locked down mind also leads one to cynicism. We had seen earlier all political parties rallying behind the government of India on steps taken irrespective of ideological differences. That mood doesn’t seem to be working now. For example, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, perhaps sensing the public mood, suggested an evening of ‘lights off and prayers with traditional lights’ the main political opposition parties asked him to ‘get real’, that is to say, to give practical tips or promises on the medical and management fronts. Surprisingly, a large section of the public too seemed to be not agreeing to his ‘supposedly spiritual or astrological’ gesture, and demanded solid promises delivered and, as we mentioned earlier, a word of complete certainty and assurance. At the moment, we are mortally bothered about the possible lifting or extension of the lockdown—and, heavens, both scenarios scare us like hell.

Well, there seems to be nothing wrong in encouraging the 1.3 billion Indians, under closure, engage themselves in a new activity which promises indeed to strengthen the bond of cooperation and unity, and also allowing an outlet for relaxing the mind. We must brace ourselves for the next half of the lockdown, and be in readiness to face any situation before or after that. For the time being, cases of Coronavirus are on the rise everywhere in India with infections crossing 3000, deaths at 62; although a good part of the increase is sought to be attributed by some to the indiscriminate goings-on of the Tablighi Jamaat at Nizamuddin Markaz, right in the national capital Delhi, that chained in almost all of the Indian states in a vicious circle of infections and deaths—for example, the state Assam where there was not a single infection saw a sudden spike thanks entirely due to the ill-fated international gathering happening right in front of Delhi Government and the government of India in the middle of March, 2020.

Things are really at a head now: some crucial economic and medical decisions like announcing a more generous cash package for the Indian poor or taking a decision on ‘how, who and where’ of the imminent harvest season or empowering the states with more money and resources for vigorous ground exercises or ensuring enough masks, ICUs with ventilators and protection gears for the doctors and health workers must be taken at the earliest. While diversions of the ‘lights off’ kind are okay for a feel-good factor the government cannot afford to procrastinate on the ‘now or never’ policy decisions and concerted actions.


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