Karuna, samyam and sankalp

Updated: 22 March, 2020 12:20 IST | Paromita Vohra | Mumbai

The beating of plates is like an audio reflection of this. A moment when we should come together somehow, devolves into predictable polarisation ping-pong around a specific action, rather than discussion of an issue

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Paromita VohraThe first thing I did on Thursday evening was go out and withdraw the maximum cash I could from the ATM. Then, I sat anxiously before the TV. A national address by the PM, could only mean something drastic or grave. Anxiety status at the end: Status quo, yaniki medium to high.

Given how blasé, yaniki fatalistic, most Indians (self included) are about risk, there was much worth in the PM telling citizens to practice social distance, maintain safe hygiene practices, work from home, give domestic help paid leave, not to panic and hoard, be considerate to others and so on. We know that people need to be taking this far more seriously.

A day-long curfew might be practice for something more demanding to come, or not.

But, what does it tell us about ourselves? A Sunday inside, while it can't hurt and might even help a little, is comfortable, like those socially conscious marketing campaigns where you perform one gesture, without questioning anything fundamental—about gender, class, caste or carbon footprints. Others sacrifice, we get to look pious, and forget to ask serious questions: Like what real measures are being taken to address testing and treatment as well as effects on the poor, daily wagers, sanitation workers, public health staff, airport staff at the frontlines (the Kerala government put out some impressive information on this front the same day).

It's great that the poor were at least referred to, and people were asked to be considerate to their staff. But, I longed to hear the head of our government address the hate crimes bubbling around—people in Ghatkopar sent hate messages to a man who tested positive even after his death. People from the North-East are being abused as 'Corona'. People are wishing Corona on minorities and Dalits in social media posts. Will this help us stop the virus folks?

While some cringe at the idea of thaali peetna in balconies, this is actually a remarkable quality of right-wing discourse: creating oddly literal versions of some abstract behaviours on the liberal left. Social media rings with the shrill clangour of privileged people scorning other privileged people, virtue signalling about their superior isolation practices. The beating of plates is like an audio reflection of this. A moment when we should come together somehow, devolves into predictable polarisation ping-pong around a specific action, rather than discussion of an issue.

When we say Indian citizens should unite, who do we imagine as an Indian citizen? Do all citizens have homes with balconies? Sure, in the land of Gurugram, from which they post videos singing hum honge kamyab and Gayatri mantra when they are Not. Even. In. Lockdown. What happened to the Indian tradition of antakshari, with its give and take togetherness, so unlike the faux unity of these segregated choirs?

While it is true that if I am swastha then duniya is swastha, it's also a deep truth that if duniya is swastha, then I am swastha. The duniya of India has people of different interdependent realities, and we need to expand our understanding of this interdependence, and how we care for each other. For that we not only have to cultivate sankalp and samyam—which we will surely need soon—but also, sahanubhuti and sahyog, no? Or, as they might say on WhatsApp, to find some karuna, in the time of corona.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at paromita.vohra@mid-day.com

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First Published: 22 March, 2020 05:01 IST

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