I have bitten my tongue several times since my last column. I may have spoken too soon when I suggested — rather, hoped — COVID-19 was as good as over. Now Mumbai is bracing itself for a second wave, as cases surge and people go into panic mode at the prospect of yet another lockdown. Most of us are bewildered — did we miscalculate something? Have we been reckless and irresponsible? What next? As reports were trickling in about an imminent sarkari announcement and stricter measures in the offing, I was tapping my feet and nodding my head to a raucous disco-celebration across the tiny bay outside the balcony. I looked out to see an improvised shamiana on the edge of the sea. Was it a wedding? Or just people getting together to celebrate Basant Panchami? Who knows? There was a live orchestra playing Bollywood dance tracks at full blast, as revellers squealed, shouted and screamed in delight. On one level, I felt overjoyed to hear the sounds of merriment, and smiled to myself thinking, “Oh well, the worst is clearly over. Thank God, people are letting their hair down once again.” Then came the news about the surge in cases and I half-died! Oh Gawwwd! Spare us!
A couple of days earlier, driving towards Mandwa jetty to catch the super-efficient, super-convenient RORO service back to Mumbai, I had passed at least three shaadi mandaps in the villages close by. All of them were crowded with colourfully dressed invitees lining up to meet the bridal couples. At one of the venues, an elaborate wedding feast was underway, with dozens of unmasked guests milling around. Just as businesses were limping back and there was a glimmer of optimism in the air, Mumbaikars may have to brace themselves for tough times ahead.
It has been a year of living precariously. On the whole, I’d say people have behaved themselves and been fairly responsible.The Maharashtra government has done a good job on the whole. But human endurance has its limits — we have been tested and how! Perhaps, we should have hung on to our patience a little longer. But how much longer, is the question. At the moment, nobody knows why we are seeing the surge. Let’s not blame it on the railways resuming service. How does a megapolis like Mumbai carry on without its lifeline? Besides, BEST buses are equally packed. Offices have been shut for months. WFH is not the answer for all forms of employment. Some jobs can be remotely performed, some can’t! People talk about ‘Health before all else.’ Of course! Especially if you belong to a privileged section of our dynamic society and can accomplish your professional commitments from wherever you are in the world, provided you have a fast internet connection. But for most Mumbaikars, this is not an option.
Let’s see what happens in the next few weeks. I remain optimistic. We definitely cannot afford to take our masks off or let our guard down.We have been naughty during the past month or so. And paying the price for it. But please, please, please don’t force me to stay locked up at home again — that’s my fervent prayer. Self-isolation may save us from COVID-19, but far too many people, kids included, are suffering equally from a sense of loneliness/ lovelessness. Human beings are social animals by nature. Yes, we fight, shout, scream and rage at one another. But we also touch, caress, kiss and smile. Deprived of physical contact and face-to-face interaction, we shrink and shrivel, and lapse into depression.
I have met toddlers who have never played with other toddlers! Their parents have kept them inside a bubble — perhaps, wisely so. But imagine the painfully restricted life of a kid who has not had the chance to meet other kids! Watching a couple of similarly deprived toddlers, my heart went out to them. Home schooling is a very poor substitute for the real thing. And most young parents are on the brink of a nervous breakdown, unable to cope with so much additional pressure. There are also those who have discovered their domestic capabilities and sworn to do without domestic staff, drivers included. Theek hai, bhai. People always adapt and manage when compelled to do so. I was hoping the end of COVID-19 would signal the end of quinoa salads and delivery pizzas at dinner. There is no substitute for daal-chawaal in my book.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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