No time for tears! Roshan scolded herself, even as her eyes welled up. She pulled the knot of her long black hair tight behind her head and called to her eight-year-old son, “Tuktuk!” Her voice was muffled by her mask. “The van will be here any minute.” They lived in Garden Estate, which was the closest point to the Millennium Medical Centre, far to the south of New Delhi. She guessed they’d be the last to be collected on the early morning run.
She snatched up the house keys and hurried towards the front door, pausing by what used to be the guest room. “Ash?” she called to her husband. “We’re going now.” She was about to add, “It’s alright, don’t come out”, but he did, anyway.
His face was grey, unshaven. He hadn’t changed out of his pyjamas in days. He met her gaze and whispered, “What you and Tuktuk are doing is … God’s work.” Then his voice cracked and he turned away, weeping. The room was in darkness. But Roshan could see, on the floor behind him, the golden mound of marigolds still laid out on a white sheet, in the shape of a small body. There was, of course, nothing beneath the flowers.
Love in the Time of Corona
In thousands, migrant workers march home —
hungry footsteps on empty highways
accentuate irony — ‘social distancing’,
a privilege only powerful can afford.
Cretins spray bleach on unprotected poor, clap,
bang plates, ring bells, blow conches to rid
the voodoo — karuna’s karmic score, infected.
Mood-swings in sanitised quarantine — self-
isolation, imposed — uncontained virus, viral.
When shall we sing our dream’s epiphanies?
Viral Trap: Remembering the human stories behind the coronavirus news
I woke up the other day with a strange feeling that I am losing my memory. As I was going through the morning rituals of scrolling through news feeds and social media updates, I felt that I could not remember the world before corona — BC, if you will. It was a strange feeling. I am almost certain that three weeks ago, before the pandemic was announced, before the shutdowns were implemented, before social distancing and physical isolation became the bywords, there must have been other things that were on my mind and in my information streams. Try as I might, I could only come up with vague recollections about events, people, places, and plans that must have occupied my attention.
Laura Spinney: ‘We learn from each new outbreak, but not enough’
In her much-acclaimed 2017 book, Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World, Laura Spinney recounted the story of a forgotten pandemic, which left between 50 and 100 million people dead worldwide. The Paris-based writer and science journalist’s work, which shows how the pandemic was shaped by the interaction of a virus and the humans it encountered, has special relevance today in the time of COVID-19. Excerpts from an interview:
Why was the 1918 flu pandemic called the Spanish Flu? Was it directly linked to the Indian soldiers in the Great War?
The story of the misnaming of the 1918 pandemic is well-known. World War I was on in 1918, and the belligerent nations censored their press, not wanting to damage their populations’ morale. Spain, however, was neutral in that war, and when the first cases of flu occurred there, they were widely reported. Incidentally, it was called the ‘Naples Soldier’ in Spain, after a catchy tune that was being played in local music halls at the time. The disease had already been in the United States for two months, and in France for several weeks at least. That information was, however, kept out of their newspapers. So the world came to see the disease as coming out of Spain. This was also encouraged by propagandists in other countries, whom it suited to shift the blame.
What to read to counter viral pseudo-scientific information?
Now that Mother Nature has the whole world by the throat, it’s time we took another good hard look at our relationship with her – and how we’ve reacted to this monumental crisis. Judging by some of the WhatsApp forwards doing the rounds in India, it seems the magnitude of the crisis has been completely overshadowed by the magnitude of the ignorance of our “educated” class. While the poor Italians and Spaniards went out into their balconies to cheer and sing for their beleaguered medical workers, we, in India, did so to “spiritually cleanse” the country of the virus!
ALSO READ | Lakshman Rekha
What is a writer’s role in an anxiety-ridden world?
Being a writer is half as much the “being” as the writing. I remember at 14, spending more time imagining myself an ink-stained Jo in her attic, or a salty Joseph Conrad on the high seas at 24, than producing actual stories. Like all clichés, these two, of solitude and adventure as essential to literature, are founded in truth. You do need to think in order to write; and you do need experience to write about. On the other hand, I realised over the years that it’s perfectly possible to write in a crowded office – thinking happens in your head, after all, nobody needs an empty hillside for it – and that adventures don’t have to involve tossing waves. Friendship is as much an experience as love; reading about the past can be as thrilling as diving into the present.
Corona panic: Courage is not a trait or a quality; it is a practice
Corona has made us aware of the fragility of our human life. We are learning that despite the dead-ends and detours, we need to move forward. As we navigate the unchartered territory, one thing that can guide us through the worst storms, roughest terrains and darkest times is our ‘Courage’. Courage is an acronym I use to highlight seven core practices we will need in this unprecedented journey. Because as Anais Nin put it, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
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