Saturday, Sunday, doomsday

| Updated on June 26, 2020

Covid-19 cases may be rising steadily, but public attention has shifted to more doable things... such as boycotting a rival nation, a reader rues

Dear Editor,

Do you get the feeling that people have forgotten about the virus? I’m getting the sense that they have. It feels like decades since people posted pictures on social media of how ‘nature is healing’ and jauntily banged away at their steelware from their balconies as if it would help the cause of healthcare workers slaving on round-the-clock duty, wearing garbage bags in lieu of protective gear.

As people adjusted to the lockdown in March, friends sent excited texts to say that they woke up to birdsong. But towards the evening, the same folks would call to ask me through gritted teeth, “When will this lockdown end?” All of them despairing, yearning to be among strangers, anything to be away from the quicksand of domestic chores, having to share a laptop with a bored teenager while managing Zoom calls with a pressure cooker going off in the background. “Let’s all just get infected and be done with it, no?” a friend suggested out of exasperation. Like it or not, it looks like her wish may yet come true.

As Covid-19 cases chart a steady ascent with numbers exploding in major cities, I wearily watch the traffic snarl outside my window — an angry motorist, with a face mask dangling from one ear like the most unfashionable of earrings, shouts at a cycle-rickshaw driver whose gamcha hangs around his chin, a safe distance away from his nose and mouth. A crowd gathers around them. Nothing, not even a deadly virus, can curb the Indian enthusiasm for milling around the scene of a fight.

Elsewhere, my local market is teeming with people aimlessly walking through the aisles to escape their families. One of them — my retired father — cautiously enquires if the bucket he’s about to buy is of Chinese provenance. “Nahin, sir, Taiwan se hain,” the shopkeeper responds with an oily smile as he quickly scrapes off the manufacturer’s sticker with a flick of his nail. “Oh good, then give me two,” my dad declares, proud of his contribution to Indian foreign policy. “Only Maggi, none of this Chung’s or Ching’s foreign trash,” he says as he takes out the hakka noodles from my basket. I ask him how Maggi, manufactured by a Swiss man called Julius Maggi, could be more desi than Ching’s, which was set up by one Mr Ajay Gupta in Mumbai. The shopkeeper pipes up in response to my dad’s scowl — “Sir, your son is a very JNU type.”

As far as my father is concerned, the pandemic is over. Other, more pressing things have taken centre stage. The man who was the Chief Patrol Officer of the neighbourhood park in our RWA during the lockdown has now pivoted to international relations. He has been spending his hours trying to figure out how best to stick it to China. Last week, he studiously watched the video of the men in Surat defenestrating a flat-screen TV. He eyed our Samsung set, then carefully typed out on his smartphone, “Google please tell where is Samsung from”. “AH HA! South Korea,” he shouted triumphantly, startling everyone. “It is the better Korea also,” he said to us, as if in explanation.

“Papa, you have an Oppo phone,” my sister pointed out. “So?” my father responded belligerently. “Oppo is a Chinese brand,” she said gently. “Nonsense! It’s made in Noida. Who told you such lies?” he counters, but is unwilling to ask his friend Mr Google about Oppo’s heritage. He gets up before anyone has the chance to ask him about his Huawei laptop or his Xiaomi fitness tracker. “I am going to Binod’s house,” he addresses my mother. “Some of us from the RWA are gathering at his house to watch the Puri Rath Yatra using his new projector. He got rid of his Chinese TV. A true patriot!”

If there is a self-destruct button for the human race, I assure you that my father and his friends are sitting on it.

Yours in utter helplessness,

A somewhat JNU type

(Yours sincerely is a weekly record of grudges and grumblings from an anonymous reader)

Published on June 26, 2020

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