Of all things I expected to experience in India, sitting in the houses and keeping social distancing was never part of the plan. This country is no-social-distance centralized. The anti-England when comes to the spontaneous gesture of social distancing. The country with a state like Uttar Pradesh, with a population equivalent to Australia. When the outbreak begins, the protocol is the first casualty. When a big aftershock hit the commercial capital of the country, Maharashtra, we panicked and squeezed for our dear life.
An announcement by the government quickly recovered and captured the lost senses of the citizens by requesting them to stay calm. The point is that we Indians are out and about. We are all living our lives as best we can, notwithstanding the hyperbolic news coverage of the nation’s plight. Frankly, when I watch news coverages, I feel like I should hoard canned foods and ammunitions, flee to a cabin in the wilderness and find God.
Then I step outside my place and see that people are still walking on the road carefree, my local departmental shop is open, the neighbourhood grocery shops are abuzz with patron’s mumbling and vehicles still rushing the road and strollers whizzing by.
The newspapers still come. The mails, too. The grocery guy still drives by every few hours. Touts still pass out fliers for advertisements. My neighbour still gives me the suspected looks like before. The prices of daily needs still skyrocketing just as before. Young hipsters are still jaunty as ever. Police on the roads are still busy as ever.
Look, we’re dealing here. We are worried, of course, and taking precautions. Flashlights, groceries, bottled water, storing our monthly food supplies, you name it. Not everyone is scurrying to the airports and jostling to the wilderness for safety. We aren’t being complacent; we know full well that dangerous virus threatens us. Really, we do. We choose to stay and fight and do our best.
So please, no more alarmist messages suggesting otherwise. Its amazing to me how everyone suddenly is a biology expert. Do this, eat that, rub this on your skin, read this report, run for the hill, are you bonkers? We appreciate the concern. We genuinely do. But when I turn on TV channels and scan my notifications, I suddenly feel like I need a drink or a hug or something.
Nation’s 134 crore residents could be excused for wondering if we’ve been cast in some bad end-of-the-world action flick. Yes, there was an almost biblical quality to the way the nation shook in the month of March. Yes, people did start hoarding daily need things and food supplies. There were unusually long lines in front of the shop.
At times, it feels like producer Jerry Bruckheimer might suddenly yell “cut!” as he finished up his latest apocalyptic box-office smash starring Nicolas Cage or Bruce Willis. Maybe John Cusack is in the town filming “2012, the Sequel.”
In the past week, I have heard many comments and seen many sights one would never in wealthy, cosmopolitan city.
“I’ve lived in this city all my life and I never thought I would be fighting for milk, bread and food,” said an elderly person in one of the lines that I stood in. “It's like some action movie – where the world ends.”
Then there’s the surreal financial news. Take the currency ebbtide. Normally, I would revel in its gains to merrily plan an overseas holiday. The currency weakening amid this level of uncertainty—lockdowns, high food prices, a coming recession – is beyond absurd. Its another challenge for India’s economy, not to mention the global one.
Do you know the interest-rate increase for which some Federal Reserve Officials are itching? Well, you can forget that for a while. The same goes for the European Central Bank. You know that Apple Inc. 7th generation iPad you had your eye on, the one that’s already sold out? Good luck getting that now in India, where factories are offline for a while now due to the lockdown.
True, things are far from normal. Prosperous India isn’t accustomed to the humanitarian crisis. It’s a shock to see shantytown popping up – hundreds of thousands huddled into overcrowded shelters without enough water, food, medical supplies and other essentials.
Yet the stoicism one sees in India, even as prospects for safety dwindles, is truly remarkable. It's not that we in India don’t get what’s afoot. We are just doing our best during turbulent times that we hope will soon end.
Amid such uncertainty, one thing is clear: Rumours of Nation’s death are wildly premature.
official writer - Abhishek Jha