As farmers meet our most basic needs and untouchability reigns supreme, we are getting adequate time to reflect on what we have done to Nature. All of which were crucial factors in the worldview father of the nation
We Indians, especially the educated and influential, seem to have lost our values as we speed our way in this supersonic not-so-global village. As doctors struggle to cure droves of infected people and the death count touches hundreds of thousands across the world, we have become pawns in the hands of an invisible enemy.
Blame it on a bat in a wet market, or a lab tucked away in the underbelly of China or bio-warfare with Trump as the target and rest of the world as a scapegoat. The reality is, in all scenarios, the human species is to blame. The virus is us. It is we who have triggered a pandemic that has invaded our streets, our homes, our bodies and our minds.
This pandemic will pass in a year or two or three, then what? The body will be cured and scientists will battle it out for us and develop a vaccine. Technology will be the new faith. The virus will be wiped out but the bigger question is, will our minds be free of disease?
In the first week of the lockdown, you felt shocked; the situation was just out of a movie. By the second week, you kept your spirits high, churning out banana bread and Dalgona coffee for Instagram, sharing work out sessions on Facebook, burning those caged calories, launching online literature festivals, honing a hobby, a new hairdo, quick fix home skincare, an online course, or just watching Netflix. In the third week, you begin to get bored of your four walls and the routine; you begin to crack up, anxiety sets in and you want to break away from this lockdown and reclaim your life as it was. We want capitalism back, we want liberalisation back.
You begin to think, is this the life led by millions of domestic workers, factory hands, daily wage earners who live in 6×6 cells packed like sardines? And then you realise that you, yes you don’t have a choice this time, you are at the beck and call of something bigger and more powerful than man, that is Mother Nature.
You realise the frailty of humans against the virus that Nature has sprung on us. For centuries, we have fed off Nature’s generosity, we have sucked her off her life, be it land, forests, rivers, oceans — left her barren and dry. We have caused grief to every living organism, from an ant to an elephant, corals to birds. We have polluted the waters with plastic, toxic non-biodegradable consumer goods and chemical gases from factories and road, rail, air traffic emission, heating devices, mining fields, endless construction and so on … and the Earth has borne the burden of it all, she has remained giving, nurturing and sheltering each one of us who lives off her be it rich and poor.
Then a tiny microbe slips into the atmosphere and puts a stop to all our devious deeds. Now we long for the past. In the face of death, we aspire to another chance at life, a life well lived with people we love foremost: our family.
We then look to caring for those who care for us – our home help, our office staff and other employees whose homes run on our survival. We want to give, so we donate to the PC Care Fund or to an NGO or get our home kitchens to churn out two square meals for those on the streets with no food or shelter.
We have suddenly become empathetic! We are swirling in a mixed bag of emotions, tiny, helpless and grateful. We laugh and cry at the same time. We hear the sound of birds, we clear out our bursting closets, we eat nutrition-packed mono meals, we pick out salad leaves and herbs from our own patch of green in the balcony, we use cloth bags to get our groceries, we eat less, we save more, we wash our hands umpteen times in a day, we meditate, we do everything that the father of the nation did in his lifetime.
He reflected deeply about his religion, truth, non-violence, his choice of food, his practice of fasting, his experiments with vegetarianism, his attitudes towards fellow humans, his level of tolerance, his connect with khadi for sustainable living, naturopathy for all his aliments, his lifelong quest to overcome sex (Brahmacharya). And topping the list is his fight against racism. But in Corona times we all are untouchables.
He did not need technology to latch on to, to remain connected and close to his peers. All he had was his core values to stick by and get him through life. His firm belief was that the future of India lies in her villages, her roots. With a pandemic on our heads, the foremost desire of a man on the street to the man in a mansion is to first fill his tummy. And who toils to feed us in good and bad times? It is our farmers, our agricultural lands — where our villages are. They are the backbone on which India can survive any pandemic.
Man has an innate ability to forget the hard times when the going is good. Right now in lockdown we are reduced to zero and there is anger and frustration but there is also thankfulness that at least we are alive. I hope this feeling of altruism, empathy and kindness extends once we are out of the lockdown. We work to feed our families not to suck the life out of our resources; we must put the earth before ourselves else water is disappearing; air is already dense and lands are treeless. We as a species will be wiped out in what is being witnessed as the start of ‘kalyug’.ss
Anyone who had known strife, hunger, homelessness and violence at the time of partition and now faces death will know that there is enough for man’s need in this world and but not for man’s greed. Go look up real-life, time tested but often brushed aside as outdated and obsolete concepts of Swachta, Satyagraha, Ahmisa, Gram Swarajya…
Which is why we now remember Gandhi!
Janhavi Prasada, Author, Tales of Young Gandhi & Festival Director Himalayan Echoes Kumaon Festival of Literature & Arts