Delhi’s Donald Trumps

GURUGRAM, INDIA - OCTOBER 31: People flout social distancing norms as they throng a market for shopping ahead of the festive season at Sadar Bazar, on October 31, 2020 in Gurugram, India. (Photo by Parveen Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Some are in denial and delusional about the dangers of the pandemic. They are learning their lessons the hard way

There are many Donald Trumps in Delhi who are happy in denial. While the pandemic rages on, particularly in the NCR, there are many who feel that the worst is over, and now life can return to pre-Covid times. This is not merely their belief but a reality for them. Surely, they are living dangerously.

Take the case of Ram Prasad, that’s how he identifies himself to me after a bit of hesitation. He mans a temporary liquor stall in Noida close to a big commercial complex that houses offices of multinational companies and has a shopping complex on the ground floor. He sells no beer, only expensive hard liquor. The cheapest is a bottle of Old Monk rum. There’s a small stall next to his shop that sells munchies like hot roasted nuts, aerated drinks and water bottles. Many, mostly corporate types, after a hard day’s work, (yes, some have returned to their offices), buy a bottle and park their cars in a dark corner, zip up their jackets and have a few quick drinks in plastic glasses—this practice is popularly known as Car-o-bar.

Ram Prasad never wears a mask. When you confront him about it, he seems puzzled. “Corona is over,” he says in Hindi with a fair bit of conviction. “Who told you that?” He’s fairly bewildered by the tone of the question. “We all know it.” And he is dismayed that I don’t know this simple fact. “They (the corporate types) have started coming back to the office. Sales of liquor have gone up. People are drinking more.”

He has a simple logic. Mostly, he’s not confined at the shop, is seen chatting up with people—seems to know a lot of them—in the street. He walks back to the shop only after he’s made customers wait for a few minutes.

He looked at me across the grilled window to give me an impression that most of the liquor he has to offer is beyond my means. I do surprise him by ordering a bottle of gin and force a conversation on him. “I’m a good example that Covid (the pandemic) is over,” he said when I met him the second time. His argument is that he never wears masks and meets hundreds of people every day without practising social distancing and that he’s absolutely fine.

What about media reports of people dying in large numbers? “Don’t believe in what the media says,” he says casually. I took my bottle of gin, vanished from the scene and sanitised my hands twice at home.

Singh Sahib–a man of strong views!

Singh Sahib (named changed at the request of his son) used to be an IG rank officer in a paramilitary force. Now 74 and retired, he was forced to live with his son in a flat in Pandara Road during the lockdown and couldn’t go back to his native city Jaipur for months. Diabetic and an avid conversationist, he is fairly dejected about being prevented from leading his life in a “normal way”. He feels that there’s no pandemic of the kind to invite such an extreme reaction—like a lockdown and working from home—all over the world.

Sitting in his armchair, he’s is convinced, and takes a lot of trouble trying to convince others that it’s a Chinese conspiracy to derail the world.

Finally, he was allowed to go back home. And he adamantly pursued his “normal life.”  Within a month, last week, he tested positive. He lives with his brother in a joint household, three of the male members tested positive: he, his brother—also in 70s—and his nephew. Thankfully, all female members of the family were spared till last heard. Singh Sahib being a chronic diabetic was shifted to the hospital to meet any contingency. He’s has been fairly quiet and circumspect since he tested positive.

So education, or lack of it, has nothing to do with being in denial—it’s a fairly egalitarian phenomenon.  Aseem K is a leather exporter who lives in Noida with his wife and one of his two grown-up daughters—who’s also a budding exporter. An Anglophile, Aseem likes to party and has his own set of unique views about various aspects of life, has an assertive personality fairly and likes to think aloud. His half-baked arguments are fairly amusing to others.

On Diwali day, he declared on Facebook: “Enough of wailing over the pandemic since (for) last eight months. Enough of writing and debating over it’s (sic) effect and failure to contain it completely. Enough of reading and discussing medicines, herbs, precaution and social distancing.” After having reached saturation, he declared his resolve to rebel. “Please for God (’s) sake (,) don’t take me wrong. I do not intend to hurt anyone. Neither do I wish to ignore the plight of millions of people. I have tried to do my utmost for all. However, I can’t afford to be cruel to myself. I can’t suffocate myself anymore.”

Aseem says he does not want to suffocate himself by adhering to strict guidelines to combat Covid-19

And the way he wants to “not suffocate himself” is by, in his own words, “Swimming against the tide has been my favourite sport and therefore, I decided to celebrate Deepawali with greater jest and enthusiasm, both at home and at work. Since last 10 days, we are partying till wee hours every alternate day. (A) great friend and family gatherings…..food, laughter, cards, songs, fun moments..”

And a week later, all three were tested positive. His wife was calling friends and acquaintances who have survived the pandemic to give some tips. The “fun moments” in a week have translated into a nightmare.

Ram Prasad is the only one who has not been confronted with a reality check, or for all you know, he already had one of the asymptomatic kind. But we need not be Donald Trump. Sometimes it’s good to be cautious even if it entails cutting down on the “fun moments” than to regret later in leisure for weeks. Ignorance is not always bliss and denial can be dangerous.

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