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Poornima Joshi

Staring at the Abyss

Poornima Joshi | Updated on April 03, 2020

Rajpath in New Delhi wears a deserted look during the first day of the 21-day lockdown   -  PTI

Surviving Self-Distancing – Day 6

A family huddles under the over-bridge and a lone man with a backpack stands at a bus stand where no buses are expected. The police have barricaded the NH4 from Delhi up to the Ghaziabad border a day after Home Ministry sealed all the state and district border. The streams of migrants have been dispersed; they’re now cowering on lesser-used routes as the police are guarding the highways. A photographer friend who has been tracking them all the way from Delhi to Lucknow says the queues are still moving, again not on the national highways but on smaller roads and state highways.

From gated communities and middle-class residential complexes, the few who are out with masks on shopping for groceries and daily essentials are edgy, fearful. A housewife carries a huge cloth bag for bulk-buying vegetables, fruit, milk and curd. An elderly lady at the Mother Dairy booth doesn’t know whether she should buy ten eggs or a whole tray and whether milk packets will keep for a week. “I live alone. I can’t come out so often,” she says. People have snapped, says the cashier, everyone is irritable and hurrying. Entire neighbourhoods are empty, roads are without traffic, there’s no sign of life anywhere. This is Delhi under lockdown, a ghost town.

An overwhelming sense of dread is getting harder to shake off as we proceed towards the second week of Covid-19 lockdown. The response of the panicked State, the visuals of poor migrants being herded and sprayed with disinfectants like cattle, our sheer collective unpreparedness stoke fear and panic and time seems to have slowed down. So what are the tools to reaffirm life, find resources that can better individual responses when governments seem to be failing us?

Doing, creating, physical activity may sound boring but I have found all of it more useful than resenting the situation. There’s no better validation in a day than a clean kitchen and an empty sink. Cooking too is helpful and the effort to rise above your petty little self and at least try and be kinder is immensely gratifying. Nilu, the temple girl who cooks, has been her unselfconsciously uncaring self and it takes a superhuman effort to not be offended by her belief that I don’t notice her cleverness. But since the effort is towards trying to be a better version of myself, I don’t let on that I have noticed her extra sweetness over the phone when she wants a pressure cooker, an assortment of provisions besides the extra cash et al because, in fact, that is the least I can do. I felt better after telling the security guards they can get some provisions, dal/chawal from my kitchen.

The only danger with this train of thought is self-righteousness. In very limited doses, trying-to-be-a-better-person has a feel-good effect but if you actually start believing in your own myth, please remember that others find it excruciating. I have to keep recalling the sudden spurts of violence that pious people often provoke in me to beware of the dangers of piety. But, in small doses, for general well-being, these are useful thoughts to entertain in bleak days.

Published on April 03, 2020

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