It is said in the military that bullets do not recognise ranks. Do not wear a helmet and the next round will find your head without checking your badges of rank on your shoulder. The same is true for the corona virus. It doesn’t care whether one is rich or poor, powerful or powerless, black or white, man or woman, Hindu or Muslim (or for that matter any other faith), the elite or the great unwashed; it simply goes for the unprotected lungs, whoever they might belong to. All of a sudden, money, power, connections, everything has been rendered irrelevant.
The only precious commodities are ambulances, hospital beds, ventilators, oxygen and sadly funeral pyres and burial grounds. The Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar’s lament, “kitna hai badnaseeb Zafar dafn ke liye; do gaz zameen bhi na mili ku e yaar men” (How wretched is your fate, Zafar, that for your grave you couldn’t get two meagre yards of earth in your beloved’s land) is ringing true day after day for decrepit families desperately trying to give a dignified send off to their departed near and dear ones.
The vultures and the sharks fill the space left by those mandated to govern and administer. There is a price to everything. Right from trying to get an ambulance to take the sick to a hospital to the collection of his ashes from the cremation ground; everything has a premium attached, robbing those left behind not only of hope but also whatever meagre savings they had to get along in life. There are stories of selfless service too from NGOs and religious institutions among others, but these are too miniscule for a country of 1.3 billion crying for governance.
Statistics are misleading at best and at worst plain lies. Take the case of the number of infections and deaths. Some would like everyone to believe that we are far better off than those in the developed countries, others would paint the picture of an apocalypse with the same numbers. Some others would not disclose the true numbers at all, leaving people to figure out the true extent of the tragedy by counting funeral pyres, burials and bodies floating in rivers. Positions are firm on both sides of the debate and the news media as well as social media platforms are aflame with acerbic arguments and counter arguments.
Till the tragedy hits home. Suddenly numbers lose their meaning. After all, how does a “drop in positivity rate week on week” matter when you have a father or a wife or a husband or a son gasping for breath with a sudden drop in oxygen, and no ambulance to take him and no hospital ready to admit him. The same social media platforms then become a means of SOS messages sent by desperate relatives and responded to by well meaning friends. The lucky ones will get to a hospital but that’s where luck ends and God takes over. A seemingly recovering patient suddenly has a cardiac arrest and its all over. The luckier ones come back home thanking their stars.
Hindsight is 20/20. There is no end to experts blaming the government and everyone else for taking their eye off the ball. Pray, where were these experts and opinion makers when the tragedy was looming in front of all of us. Didn’t we all indulge ourselves a little believing that the worst was over. Why blame anyone else? Even now when we are in the middle of a perfect storm of our own making, our political leanings and ideology takes precedence over getting together and putting our collective shoulders to the wheel.
Not a moment is lost in scoring a point and neither is the next moment wasted in giving an equally strong reply. On the ground it is a free for all. The virus has succeeded in many ways than one; most prominently in dividing us rather than uniting us in the face of a catastrophe. There is unity in death though. Whether it is “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”, or “supurd e khak” or “panch tatva men vileen”, its all the same in the end. There is no other equaliser.
About The Author
Major General Vijay Pande, Vishisht Sewa Medal (Retired) has served in the Indian Army for 37 years. He has been part of frontline combat soldiers and has extensively served in active formations along both the Pakistani and Chinese borders in junior as well as senior ranking positions. He has also served for four and a half years in Africa as a United Nations’ Military Observer and as a trainer of forces.
Among the important assignments he held in the Army are GOC 39 Mountain Division, Major General in Charge Logistics, HQ Western Command and Head of Training in the Senior Command and Staff College in Uganda. The General is a Postgraduate and M Phil in Defence and Strategic Studies and is currently pursuing a PhD in International Relations.