Ruminations in quarantine – 1: Pandemic mechanics

Thursday, 20 May 2021 02:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

No one wants to die, all are predisposed to survive. That explains the long queues for the jab, Chinese, Russian, Indian or any other – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara


  • “If a way to the better there be, it lies in taking a full look at the worst” – Thomas Hardy

These are ruminations in quarantine. There is nothing like this pandemic to get you to ruminate on the fragility of life. 

Human beings are animals predisposed to survive in adversity. Cultural anthropologists have raised two simple questions about human nature. First, why do we have such a great need to feel good about ourselves? Second, why do we have so much difficulty in getting along with those who, we feel, are different from us?

These are worrying questions for which we must find answers if we are to fight this pandemic with anything nearing a national resolve. A kind of national solidarity that cuts across the tribal and parochial.  

The logic behind it is that no one wants to die. All are predisposed to survive. That explains the long queues for the jab – Chinese, Russian, Indian or any other. 

But the queues and the commotions are a disgrace. The data bank at the Elections Secretariat can be used for an orderly process of administering the jab. The long queues are tailor made for the spread of the virus. 

I did not stay in a long queue to get my first jab. All the king’s horses and all of king’s men will not get me to stay in a queue for the second jab of AstraZeneca. And I do not want a cocktail either.  

A few friends and acquaintances have told me that they have got their second jab with AstraZeneca. They are fortunate. It is proof of our animal instinct to avoid death.  

All governments are muddling through the corona crisis. The difference is that some governments muddle through competently. Some others are mired in the muddling due to sheer incompetence. There are still others, who are not only incompetent in handling the crisis, but in fact excel in their incompetence. 

Those that excel in incompetence in this life and death encounter stand out for their obdurate refusal to draw intelligent lessons from evidence staring in the face and experiences that clearly lay bare their past lack of judgment and rank stupidity. 

As I said earlier, these are lockdown ruminations. I am 79 years old. Hoping for an early end to this terrible plight or shall I say during my lifetime would be optimism stretched to extreme boundaries of absurdity.  

Lockdown or not, the COVID virus has compelled me to stay confined to my home and its compound. I can go around the compound with 436 leisurely steps. Yes. I counted them. I have plenty of time. 

In these dark days of the epidemic, you do not spend time. Instead, time determines how it will spend the day. It can panic, it can worry, it can doze off, and it can startle you with hope. 

Sleep, when it comes, is a sweet seductive angel, terribly flirtatious, almost kittenish in these times of awesome anxiety. 

There is a limit to reading or watching movies. Talking to friends also has limits. Children and grandchildren have better things to mind than listen to my ruminations. 

Yes. Ruminations is the appropriate word. In a down-to-earth sense, rumination is the act of reprocessing and reimagining something over and over. It is the kind of things that lazily relaxing cows do when they bring up food from the stomach to chew and chew them all over again. 

These are the thoughts I chew and chew all again. What I am chewing, what I ruminate about, are things I wish to share with others. That is the departure point of this heavy-hearted outpouring.        

I chew over one principal stumper.  What makes those in authority obdurately incompetent? 

I am not concerned with the twin comedies of dropping clay pots into streams and the mass hysteria over a magic syrup. I am concerned with the nonchalance towards science and the contempt for reason. 

Yes. We are at war with COVID-19. We must fight it. But can any general great or innocuous take aim at a pathogen the way a rifle is turned to a target? Fighting the virus like a war is tantalising political rhetoric. The war metaphor, taken too far, can have its unforeseen pitfalls. 

The entire nation must fight the virus. It is a shared responsibility.  That said, all of us cannot be soldiers. There is a vast difference between soldiery commitment and solidarity of purpose. We are all not soldiers. All of us are citizens in a desperate struggle to survive a deadly virus. A virus that spreads on its own with a velocity of its own, 

Instead of politicians demanding our obedience, knowledgeable experts who command public trust must build public awareness and appeal to the better sense of the citizenry to follow health guidelines. 

We are told not to be misled by false information. Whom can we rely on for correct information? 

Cloistered in my home, I am told that many are dying of COVID. Some time ago I read in the Information Department website that 29 people had died of COVID-linked pneumonia.

The list, while not giving names, provided the age of the dead. Fazlin – a very likable human being I knew well – died of COVID at the age of 62. The list did not report the death of a person of that age. That is an insignificant detail. But then, do not blame me for not believing the numbers of the dead and afflicted as given by officialdom.  

A health official addressing the press said that by the time they receive results of PCR tests, those found positive have ample opportunity to roam and transmit the virus to untold numbers. Those who disseminate information on behalf of the State are a special kind. 

Arundhati Roy in her ‘God of Small Things’ describes these arrogant mouthpieces for authority and power. They are people “without curiosity. Without doubt. In their own way truly, terrifyingly adult.” They “looked out at the world and never wondered how it worked because they knew. They worked it. They were mechanics who serviced different parts of the machine.”  

Indeed. They are mechanics who work different parts of the machine.

If you are 79, relying on beta blockers and angina alleviators, it is best to stay indoors awaiting the call for a second jab or exit from the circus, whichever comes first.

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