Maharashtra, Delhi and Punjab are in the deadly grip of the second wave of Covid-19. The election rallies in West Bengal and religious gathering in Uttarakhand further worsened the situation.

I am off to the Himalayas. No, the Second Surge, as Covid-19 is now being described, has not made me decide to hang up my boots, to hole up in a mountain cave, living my remaining years as a hermit — a far cry from doing so. It’s just that I am in dire need of a break or given the current scenario ‘a getaway’ the apt description, having been nailed to Delhi, dear Delhi, for exactly two years and three months today. Taking whistle-stop work trips cannot be counted as time off, so without a backward glance, hoping that the maid will adhere to ‘a watched kettle never boils’ instructions and manage to hold the fort till I return, have my bags all packed with a deliciously inviting picnic basket to lunch solo at whatever hour when the train chugs up to Shimla, my once-upon-a-time home town. 

 On 25 March 2020, the entire nation was in a lockdown, and for months on end, the only shops visibly open were your neighbourhood grocers or chemist outlets equipped with gallons of sanitisers (available in all possible forms!) soaps, masks, gloves…Yes, prepared for battle. Online schooling, tuitions, dance competitions readying us for the `new normal’ as was the, `more than one can stomach’ rallying cry. Now to stay in line one had to be online, all the time. The outcome: bleary, rheumy eyes, and a fogged-out, blurred brain. Very senior citizens too had to learn to pay their electricity bills and whatnot, online — a different story that their slowed down fingers and cloudy eyes could not catch the OTP numbers fast enough, and it would be an exercise in teary-eyed frustration to go back to the drawing board. And expecting 20-something grandchildren to explain or rather show the steps a second time over, an experience likened to jumping off a plane minus a parachute. 

  Last year, saw salaries being slashed into half for the lucky ones, for many it was, without a day’s notice, retrenchment; with many scurrying here and there for cover under the very roof that housed them. And contrary to popular belief, being huddled together at home, 24X7, was for the family, ‘too close for comfort’. Tempers soared, irritability was at an all-time high and the need for space was never more craved for and with no maids or help, the piles of household work read like a list as long as one’s arm, with a day drawing to a close, and arms still up in work. Here the husband believing that he was being motivational by going idiomatic, with statements such as ‘a calm sea does not make a skilled survivor’ with an incensed ‘better-half’ retorting in the same dialect. Surely one has heard of, ‘a wise head keeps a still tongue’. 

  At a snail’s pace shops lifted their shutters, the air catching wafts of coffee with cafés reopening, parks no longer held a deserted look with children in masks taking to the playground, chaperoned by watchfully cautious grandparents fortified with aerosol cans of sanitisers to spritz over swings and slides. Yes, haltingly, bit-by-bit, semi-normalcy was restored. And in congratulatory tones, we complimented ourselves for beating the pandemic, for managing to overcome it. 

  I shall talk of how we keep breathing in our own carbon dioxide, toxifying our lungs, and with all the aerosol cans spurting sanitised spray the ozone layer slooshing away, on another day. For now — with masks in place — about overhearing conversations to the tune of how despite India’s bursting population we had curtailed the pandemic. Quite unlike scantily populated Europe or the U.K. And the less said of Trump’s America, the better! And Brazil, good Gawd. The multitudes of Covid-19 affected people. The endless deaths on account of it. In Mumbai’s Dharavi — the world’s largest slum — the pandemic had been given a lick. Here, the gloating quite audible. Yes, despite being typecast as a nation with negligible regard for law and order, with us Indians being pigeonholed as carrying a collective chaotic DNA that was meant for breaking rules, had silenced the world. We were on the top of the game, we had dealt with this coronavirus ‘Kaihar’ intelligently — religiously done our share of the compulsive washing of hands and donning face masks while sitting in the rain, train or whether in a moat or boat. And with vaccination to do away with this virus being indigenously manufactured, India stood proud. Then with Bill Gates laudatory comments on how we had succeeded in keeping this disease at bay, we glowed like an expectant mother. Amid these head-to-head exchanges, jokes abounded how steel strong our stomachs were, of our fighting-fit immune system. 

  Then came April and we hear of India’s deadly Second Wave. Maharashtra was quite already in the grip of it. Curfews had been imposed. Followed by a Lockdown of sorts. Then Delhi becomes the world’s Covid-19 capital with Punjab following suit. The second strain had come in from the U.K., and with so many Punjabis living there, and making regular trips back home to their  pind/villages this particular type was bound to be imported…And what with the election roadshows held in West Bengal, with overrunning hordes of mask-free people elbowing each other for foot-space, inhaling the breath belonging to multitudes. The political kingpins, post these gigantesque mass assemblies, such grand exposure to the public, their ‘janata’ return to the Power Centre, and Delhi becomes the Covid-19 megapolis. That said, the showbiz spectacle particularly in Bengal takes the credit for advancing the ill effect of this untamable fiend. 

  With the outbreak of this ‘plague’, this ‘scourge’, 13 months back, places of worship remained, with conscientious zeal, out of bounds. Shut, padlocked till it was safe to pray as a community. Then how is it, that this time around, on 14 April 2021, over 10 lakh devotees took ritualistic baths in the Ganga — wading in all closeness? Last heard, 30 pandits overseeing the rituals had come down with Covid-19. The count of worshippers contracting or succumbing to this ailment is not a five-finger exercise, and so news channels are simply going by the guesswork. The number of pilgrims not enrolled, you see.

  I put this pen down with a heavy heart, and in a bewildered state, question, had we become so smug, so cocksure of having gained an upper hand over this harrowing disease that we thought it is quite fine to roam the roads in swarms, take en masse holy water dips? Had our war-footing vaccination drive inoculated us from better sense? Or was caution thrown to the winds, to mix politics with religion to rake in the votes, to win elections at all costs?

Dr Renée Ranchan writes on socio-psychological issues, quasi-political matters and concerns that touch us all.