May 10, 2020 1:00:26 pm
Why our anguish is reminiscent of an older world order that refuses to yield
Grief is now lodged in our lungs. I mean this figuratively. But I also understand that what the novel coronavirus causes is a ground-glass opacity in the lungs, making it very difficult, if not impossible, to breathe. I would persist with the metaphor to describe the heaviness we all are feeling right now except that the literal reality is so overwhelming — at the time of this writing, the deaths from COVID-19 worldwide, the human toll from lungs actually failing to work is 2,71,637. The total number of confirmed cases of those infected by the virus is an unimaginable 39,42,354.
Even those not directly carrying the infection are affected because what we have witnessed is an unprecedented alteration in our relationship with the world, our loved ones, and even ourselves. We are each quarantined in our own small spaces of survival or mourning, divided from each other by this cruel disease. Divided also from a sense of calm continuity, or of time unfolding in a predictable way, we now uncertainly await the future with masks on our faces.
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Ramayan on Doordarshan: Filmmaker Dibakar Banerjee looks back at the time that laid the ground for today
In the late 1980s, with the debut of Ramayan, I lost some close friends to Sunday TV. We were not “good”, spiritually-minded boys by any stretch. Our watch list ranged from Police Academy (1984) through Taxi Driver (1976) to the kind that needs a friendly video-cassette rental parlour and a dark, locked room. But these same friends of mine would disappear every Sunday morning as the serial blared from every middle-class window in north India. I found it tacky. What captivated me instead were the illustrated stories from Chandamama (Dravidian in origin, translated in Hindi), the children’s Ramayana in Bengali, C. Rajagopalachari’s unputdownable condensed version, and my sister’s rage at Sita’s fate. Arguing with my friends made me realise that having alternative takes on orthodoxy made one unpopular, lonely and prone to injury. That was the first time I felt like a minority, though I didn’t know what to call it. Now that I do, thank god for my name. I remember those “innocent” times as one of incendiary change and social engineering that laid the ground for who we are today. I was in Delhi when the Mandal agitation erupted, in Mumbai when riots broke out after the Babri Masjid demolition, in front of the TV when Atal Bihari Vajpayee orated provocative speeches, catching a bus as LK Advani’s rath passed my home, drums beating into my heart. I remember, I cannot forget and so I keep silent.
In Paris, an Indian filmmaker sees the lockdown bring fear, music and tragedy
It is 11 pm. I step out on to my favourite Allé Samuel Beckett, named after the great writer who spent the last decades of his life strolling under these beautiful plane trees. I, too, have been a regular promeneur on this road but, today, in the context of a ghostly lockdown, the avenue wears a forlorn look. It’s no longer its romantic self — no kissing couples, no whiff of perfume as girls go by, no rising hemlines to announce the onset of spring.
All I see around me are a few homeless men, shuffling shadows in the dark, lugging their unwieldy carts to god knows where. I know one of them, François, a haggard open-air inhabitant of the Avenue. He raises his tired eyes towards me and laughs sardonically: “Hey, monsieur, what happened to this world? What happened to the el dorado the politicians had promised? They don’t even have enough masks! Scoundrels!” As we are talking, the sound of a shrill sneeze comes piercing down from a building and, in one spontaneous move, we both stare at the invisible cougher in alarm. In the silence, a branch falls down from the winter-scorched tree, we both look up with a start. François chortles. “It’s scary, this wretched virus!” Fear, anxiety, panic.
Return to Innocence: Why humans still respond to the tug of nature
As we barricade ourselves indoors, animals and birds seem to be rediscovering the spaces we snatched away from them. Whether it’s a fawn frolicking and freaking out on a deserted beach, or a column of elephants parading through what seems to be a coffee estate in Coorg, or deer resting like cows in the middle of the street, or walking tentatively downtown — they’re being seen and videoed from cities and towns all over the world. But for me, easily the most wonderful clip (till date) has to be one of those leviathan whales rising from the deep, allegedly from the base of the Bombay High platform, like huge living submarines conjured up by a magician of the deep. A pod of at least three: a family? Rising like magic from the murky blue and blowing they’re spumed as they surfaced. It was almost as though they came around just to check on us: “You guys okay? You haven’t been making your usual jackhammer racket for days now or mucking up the water — all well with you?”
Madhav Khosla’s book on the Constitution engages with it as a pedagogical apparatus
Madhav Khosla has already given us a small account of the Indian Constitution with a splendid biography, an account of Jawaharlal Nehru’s letters to chief ministers, partly contexualised against political federalism, and several weighty articles which establish him as a scholar. His latest endeavour seeks to strike out on a new path partly portrayed in The Oxford Handbook of the Indian Constitution (2016), which he co-edited. Since these 160 pages of text and 56 pages of endnotes devour many libraries, its learning is exemplary, even if we are not wholly satisfied with the way the major makers and debates of the Constituent Assembly (CA) in the “founding moment” are presented.
From Renaissance Italy to now, how epidemics have shaped conversations around the poor and public health
I had never realized until now that the final tragic turn in the play hinges on a ‘lockdown’. Romeo had been banished from Verona, and Juliet was being forced by her family to marry Paris. In her desperation, she turned to Friar Laurence, who rather let his imagination run riot. His plan was as follows: he would give Juliet a sleeping potion, which would give her such a deathly pale that everybody’d assume she had died and cancel the marriage to Paris. She’d lie in the family crypt, while in the meanwhile Friar John would take Friar Laurence’s letter to Romeo (in Mantua) explaining the plot. He was to rush back, awaken Juliet and whisk her away. Unfortunately, Friar John was quarantined because the good brother had been tending to the stricken, and thus he couldn’t deliver the letter in time, resulting in Romeo’s fatal ignorance of the grand plot. Romeo heard of Juliet’s ‘death’, found her lying in the crypt and killed himself, alas moments before she awakened. Sudden lockdowns in the absence of back-up plans are always very tragic.
S Giridhar’s new book tells how government-school teachers prepare disadvantaged children to face the world
In 1999, a young farmer named Achappa Gowder joined the education department and was posted to the village of Jumalpur Dodda Thanda, an hour’s drive from the nearest town and 120 km from the district headquarters of Yadgir. A large number of agricultural labourers in the hamlet migrate for several months every year in search of work. Children often go with their parents, thus missing months of school. Gowder came up with an idea that was nothing short of radical. He first got his dilapidated four-room school fixed, its toilets made functional — and then converted two of the four classrooms into residential dormitories for those children whose parents had to migrate. Breakfast and dinner were provided to these children within the school-meal budget; teachers took turns to stay overnight to provide supervision and care. “This was possible only because the parents felt assured of the children’s safety and well-being,” says Gowder.
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