No Trouble in Paradise

Ratna Singh

Exactly a year ago, we in India were in the exact same situation – a lockdown. Except we’re now much worse. More frayed, more jaded, much sicker, more dead.

This piece however, isn’t about the state of affairs due to the virus; television is full of it. These are some conversations and exchanges with people primarily in my neck of the woods. A wide variety of beliefs & opinions. Some bizarre, satirical, thought provoking and some tongue-in-cheek.  

This patch of the planet that I inhabit is akin to paradise. It has an old-world quality and the rhythm of agrarian life continues unabated. The air is crisp in its purity and one in general feels healthier when here.

When the pandemic first hit, it was something happening far away, in another world. Then it reached India but only in the metros. Soon it inched closer and we hit the emergency brakes, grinding our world to a complete halt. Miraculously we survived the first wave of the pandemic – relatively speaking. We exulted in our little paradise and thanked the heavens for our wilderness, our pollution free existence and our health. Life trundled on and complacency tarred us all with the same brush.

But first let me dispense with the deaths. They were swift in arrival and regularity.

A man from the neighbouring hamlet – sinewy, agile.  If he was old, I couldn’t tell on account of his weather beaten visage.  He often dropped by our home on festivals, but not before he’d made a quick stop at the local bootlegger. Having imbibed a fair amount of hooch he’d carry out a conversation strictly in English. We had to infer what exactly he meant as his vocabulary was limited to, ‘good morning, yes, no & get out!’.

He’d been unwell for a few days, and when he found it hard to breathe, the family made the journey to the overflowing town hospital. He lay under a tree, while his sons tried to get help. He died outside the hospital before they returned.  

My cook was feeling a bit unwell, so he went home. He felt better after a couple of days of rest but felt breathless often. In the hospital he was given a few injections and sent home. That evening at a friend’s wedding, he dropped dead amidst the merriment around him. He was 23.

I have good friend, a young scientist who studies tigers. And no, he does not die, luckily. 

He developed a raging fever, body ache, sore throat, diarrhea and conjunctivitis. Alarm bells jangled and he made a dash for the town hospital. The place was teeming and the medical workers were overwhelmed. No help of any sort was to be had. Worried that he might have coronavirus, he consulted a doctor in Mumbai on the phone who advised medication for his symptoms and urged he be tested. After pulling some strings he was able to establish contact with the head of the medical services for the district. He was informed he’d have to queue up early the next morning if he wanted to be tested. The hospital that is supposed to cater to about two lac (200000) people, is allotted a daily quota of 13 testing kits only.

The scientist never could get tested, and neither could the old man and the cook. My friend hung between life and death for two weeks and is now thankfully on the mend. We’ll never know if any of these had corona.

Everyone has some sort of an opinion. Some blame the government; some blame the people for being too cavalier about a deadly disease. There are those who feel the government can do no wrong, while the others feel the government can do nothing right.

Here are some theories/statments that have stood out over the last few months as the virus has raged about us.

The devil may care/Covidiot, ‘we shall all die, sooner or later. Might as well party’.

The bizarre – ‘The govt. is deliberately letting people die, to thin out the Indian population. (? cue gasp!)

Tongue in cheek “waiting for free oxygen with jio cell connection”.

And perhaps the cruelest cut, “ I thought we were on our way to be a superpower, but have we been rendered Super Powerless?”

(Views expressed by the author are her own.)

Ratna Singh

Ratna Singh

Ratna Singh used to be a part of Taj safaris as a naturalist and then a trainer for naturalists for almost a decade. She is now working on an enterprise to help enhance guiding standards in both wildlife and cultural sectors, as well as helping boutique properties enhance their guest experiences. She has been a part of skilling of local youth in wildlife guiding organised by national park authorities in MP. Ratna hopes to be able to bring her wildlife/ training and hospitality skills to other parts of the country as well.