Smack in the face of a pandemic

April 19, 2020

Great human loss is still feared in Pakistan; and if our useless wanderings continue, we will definitely make a spectacle for the medicos

The whole world is dying from Covid-19. People from high-income countries, living under best possible conditions for which we’ve been envying them for generations, are dying. We have shared images (of course, fake) of corpses lying unattended, unburied on the streets of Italy. We have seen videos of trucks loaded with corpses silently driving to the outskirts for mass burials. We have heard from people locked in, not in jails, but their homes, forbidden to step out, in China. We have watched lions marching on the streets of Russia. We have even heard of the first victim of Corona hit in the head in North Korea. We feared the same for us, for our neighbours, for the whole country. We hoped, if not in development, we will outnumber them in getting infection, spreading infection and dying of infection. We fed our sadistic taste buds on the horrors plaguing others countries, and waited to satiate the same with the monstrosities at home.

Educational institutions were the first to shut down, postponing exams that relieved hundreds of thousands of rote-learning students. Parents, who disposed of the academic as well as the moral needs of their children to the schools they were sent to, were now forced to find a way of doing both at home. The semester work was resumed through online classes that the youth condemned vociferously on social media because they did not have ‘internet’ connections (or speed) to support such initiatives. Those who did not have to worry about a dime made progress on PUBG, raising the Pakistani flag high, or increased Netflix subscriptions. Later, when offices were forced to close down, jobians took a sigh of relief, enjoying once-in-a-lifetime paid leave opportunity. Closure of malls and markets gave relief to many tired of long working hours. I won’t deny that the first reaction was of relief.

The government started locking down, and we took a sigh of relief, because we feared that the virus that has not spared the world would inflict us. We hoarded the basic necessities — many gathered flour, rice, lentils and sugar while some collected meat, snacks, soda and frozen food. Those who used to send money from foreign shores returned home with the ‘gift’; those who went to holy places to seek absolution themselves came back as untouchables. Soaps and detergents remained the most sought after items while the sanitiser became the first to get short, followed by masks and gloves. Everyone wanted to keep their hands clean (so did the government).

The lockdown had a kick-start with surging fear among the middle class which owing to social media was much-misinformed and took instant preventive measures. This is the one that ran after the sanitisers, soaps, disinfectants etc. The lower middle class, uninterested, went on a spree, flooded the parks, and crowded the streets. Pharmacies went in short supplies of every other medicine that was announced by any Trump, Dick and Harry. (My own first-aid box has everything from hydroquinone to paracetamol, in case my time comes.)

The prime minister addressed the nation several times, and got criticised every time. People looked for two things: relief from the government and bad news from hospitals. Charity work also started: appeals to donate money or goods were made on community levels while the PM made the most convincing or despicable (depending on your political affiliation) call for donation.

The real but known face of the sick-to-the-core strata re-emerged in the shape of people stealing hand sanitisers from ATMs, returning charity goods for money, attacking cars to demand money, and spreading rumors of what-is-not-happening. All this swept away any peace that was left in our homes. Baggers emerged as the new ‘needy’ class, crowding posh streets and busy signals; some carrying shovels to boost their claims.

It was the daily wagers who had to disappear, locking down in their starving households, who were caught off-guard amidst a pandemic, knowing not from where the evil had come and from where their livelihood would come. For the rest of us, we call one another up, craving for bad news.

We are a clever people, so we have tried to make sense of what’s going on in the world. Some doubt China just like they doubt the quality of its products; some blame America for Trump’s ill designs. Many think that had the Muslims in Kashmir and Palestine not been locked down, the world would have been a safer place.

I don’t believe in any of this. I don’t know what to believe. I only know that the hand sanitiser market is making huge profits and petrol prices are coming down.

As a nation, I strongly feel, we are unable to decide how to react. We keep violating the lockdown, going out for trivialities and hoping to meet a spectacle on the way. We return with fresh stories of seeing or not seeing too many like us. Those affected by the virus aren’t being left to die on the roads to spread the contagion. Rather, they are locked in a ward, their immune systems battling for life in ICUs.

Great human loss is still feared in Pakistan; and if our useless wanderings continue, we will definitely make a spectacle for the medicos.

Smack in the face of a pandemic