Life & Death In the Time Of COVID: March of Time, A Ray Of Hope

Every death diminishes us as a society. What about the marginalised – whose existence is on the edge of extinction? 

Published16 May 2020, 05:32 AM IST
Life
5 min read

Death is at the gates. But then, Death is always at the gates, at every hour of the day and night (Olga 2019). With the coronavirus global pandemic, everyone is acutely conscious of the fact that Death is at the gates. But how close has it come? When will it climb the front steps and ring the bell? Or, will it be the backdoor? With the bell or without the bell?

The cities, once vibrant with people everywhere, have become ghost towns. The daily din of activities, of just the act of living everyday life, has become muffled. Streets infested with cars seem miraculously healing from the pestilence of the motors. Dogs and birds are the new claimants to the roads laid empty.

‘The World Wasn’t Created For Mankind’

The sky looks bluer than ever before. Yet the bluer sky seems to bring a gloom that is darker and greyer than the grey skies before. While all knew there were perils beneath the sky. But what and where, no one knew. No one ever thought that it will be a piece of RNA. I wish we knew. “We trustingly went to and fro beneath the sky, which had nothing good in store for us.”(Olga 2019).

But this piece of RNA did not come from beneath the blue sky. It came from the darkest corners of the night. From the bats, they say. God knows why these bats have to exist. For that matter, so many living creatures under the sky, why should they live? Why should they exist? Even this piece of RNA, why should it exist? But we forget that the “world was not created for Mankind.” (Olga 2019). Not for mankind alone, that piece of RNA is as much a part of the big picture as the earthworm or the bat or the blue bird that sits so pretty across the branch of the tree.

‘Locked In to Lock Out Death’

Fear of death transforms people. But do you really need to have the virus to experience death? What about people in the city? Everyone wants to believe that death is far away. At best, somewhere on the highway – but not at the doorstep. Or so, they wish to keep it that way. People in the city under lockdown all seem servile to a larger order, a larger order that promises to keep death at bay somewhere. The only way to save everyone. ‘Save the nation. We’ll keep death out of reach. But behave, or else death is here.’

They say ‘lockdown’ – or is it ‘lock in’? Locked in to lock out death.

But did they think of the poor? The poor migrant worker, living in the alleys and the by-lanes. In the shadows of the glittering city striving to become smarter. Someone forgot they also existed. Poverty had taught them to accept. Accept everything that comes their way. That is their fate.

They accepted the lockdown for fear of death. But hunger is worse than death. Fear of impending hunger which had no end in sight was worse – deprivation befalling people who were completely unprepared for it (Camus 1948). Much worse. Once that fear caught on, they started trickling out. Cautiously, one by one, and then in small groups, and then soon, there was a sea of people. Never ending masses – that took over the street. A sea of hunger. The power of hunger. It can drive masses. No ‘lock in’ can hold back a deluge of hunger.

‘Being in a COVID Ward: The Clock Ticking; Death Inching Closer’

Hype jacked up by the media. The only way to defeat the enemy. Annihilation of enemies, what a glorious feeling. Victory over the enemy in a war. Brought about by war heroes. But annihilation of friends and family? God forbid. But isn’t that what we are seeing on our channels every day? Friend foe, master and servant – everyone was equal. London, New York, Madrid. Great cities with greater people. The great equality of the justice of death.

Death is equal in its justice. But this messenger seems to have a weakness for the elderly. To take them all away, somewhere to the netherworld.

We avidly watch the news; scan the newspapers meticulously in the hope of some good news. But all we hear and see are all about the ever-widening circles of the contagion. We hear about people running amok. People shrieking in fright on being sent to COVID wards. The name wreaks havoc in the minds of people. You only need to be in a COVID ward or a COVID suspect ward to see the spectrum of emotions that overcome people. Fear. Mortal fear. Like being on the death row. You can’t imagine it unless you have been on death row. With the clock ticking, minute by minute. Death inching closer. Minute by minute. Anger soon takes over. Why me? Why? Oh God! But why? Why not that good for nothing fellow across the street? He is such a horrible fellow! So many like him! Of all people I end up here.

Whom do you show your anger at? Your fellows on the ‘death row’? 

Run amok at the caregivers, yes, they could hasten or delay your ticking clock. Beat them up! That makes headline news. ‘Patients beat up doctors and nurses!’ Does anyone pause to think of the mind of those running amok? But the worst is the waiting. Please, get it over and done with! What will people think of me? My family, they would be stigmatised. He had COVID. More for the news.

‘Hope Against Hope – But the Dead Are Gone’

Next day news flash: ‘A man jumped off the 7th floor to his death. Another was not so lucky, despite a jump from 3rd storey, only managed a few broken bones.’ The frantic desire for life that thrives in the heart of every great calamity (Camus 1948). Or was it the frantic desire for death?

We keep counting the statistics, keep looking at the graphs: ‘the pandemic is losing its grip’. The doubling time has doubled. A ray of hope. Hope against hope.

But the dead are gone. The pandemic has taken its toll.

That number in that graph was a loved one – ‘(s)he was mine’. Loved ones fondly remember times spent with the departed. Fond memories, until one day a child asks: ‘Grandma, who is that in the picture?’ And Grandma also does not remember.

John Donne’s classic quote:

‘…..any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind; and therefore
never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.’

While every death diminishes us as a society in this pandemic, what about all those marginalised, for whom existence is no more than on the edge of extinction? Did we care for those whose life is diminished to be worse than the dead? The dead at least neither suffer nor have pain.

So all a man could win in the conflict between the plague (pandemic) and life was knowledge and memories (Camus 1948). Some memories beyond the graphs and the photographs. (Camus, Albert. 1948. The Plague. England: Penguin.) (Olga, Tokarczuk. 2019: Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead. London: Fitzcarraldo Editions.)

(Dr Mathew Varghese is a veteran orthopaedic surgeon, known for his contribution in eradicating polio. This is a personal blog. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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