By Debasis Mallick
“One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”
Indomitable Donald Trump
Any writing on covid 19 has to invariably invoke President Donald Trump. We haven’t seen any other global leader briefing daily to the media persons on the status of this deadly virus and thereby not losing any opportunity to take head on his detractors, such as, New York Times, Washington Post and the Democrats. By doing so, Trump claims that his viewership has become comparable to the most popular TV soap opera. The graph of coronavirus and his popularity are on the rise simultaneously. In the middle of February he said, “one day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” Two months later when more than eight hundred thousand Americans are infected and death toll has risen over forty thousand, President Trump is nonchalant. In the same White House press briefing, he joked about hooking up with models during a presentation by Dr. Debora Birx, the white House coronavirus response coordinator. She was explaining various scientific models which could potentially lower the impact of the virus gradually to which President Trump quipped,
“The models show hundreds of thousands of people are going to die, I want to come way under the models. The professionals did the models. I was never involved in a model. At least this kind of a model.” Let’s not forget, first lady Melania Trump is a former fashion model, so were his other two former wives.
Back Home- Modi and his Lock Down
Back home the deadly virus has eased the life of Prime Minister Modi. Appearance of corona has ensured meltdown of opposition and NRC movement. Nirmala Sitharaman who had a torrid time during the Union Budget session this year is now a relaxed, calm and composed Finance Minister. Nobody is questioning her on NPA, GDP or fiscal deficit. Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee is recommending to print currency notes to generate purchasing power in the economy. Fiscal deficit is passe, life and livelihood are in thing for coffee house discussion.
So a relaxed Modi, appeared on our TV screen on 24th March and declared-Mere Pyare Deshvasiyo, aaj raat bara bajese, zara dhyanse suniyega, aaj thik raat bara bajese, sampurna bharatme sampurna lockdown hone ja raha hai (Dear countrymen, from 12 o’ clock tonight, complete lock down is imposed in our country). Same domino effect-but mitron is replaced by deshvasiyo.
Trains halted, buses stopped, flights suspended, all industries shut shops with a four hour notice. At the stroke of midnight of 24th March, fifty million workers lost their jobs. Modi’s pyare deshvasiyo didn’t raise an eye brow, as if sampurna lock down was inevitable. His biggest critics Mamatadidi and Kejribhaia supported him wholeheartedly. What Modi couldn’t achieve in seven years, Covid 19 gave him in just one month.
Lock Down in the Reverberated City Known as Kolkata
Kolkata is a city of contrasts, the most vibrant, yet chaotic. The constant hustle and bustle brings a life to this city. But as an outsider, I am sure, you will feel claustrophobic in the swell of humanity on the road, in the railway stations, in the metro trains and in the market places. Then, that’s what the city is, it’s the people which make this city reverberating, pulsating with energy. So how do the Calcuttans feel during lock down? Are they bored? Let’s find out.
Two days after the imposition of lock down, I rang up one of my old friends, who is a board member of a reputed public limited company.
“So how are you enjoying working from home?”
I was surprised to hear his grumpy voice- “I am not working from home, I am working for home.”
“Arrey, then what will your juniors do, if you don’t guide them?”
“I still guide them, but only on how to work for home.”
I realized, the business models are reshaping very fast. Then he goes on to explain me how busy he is in restructuring the household chores by applying various management techniques. I believe, he is doing a process reorientation in his kitchen by applying lean management principles.
My Housing Complex
Talking about our engagement and busy schedule, I would like to invite you to visit my housing complex- that could certainly become a role model during lock down.. The residents, here, have constituted a three tier management structure to fight Covid 19. They are holding daily meetings (of course, video meetings) and taking so many important decisions!
However, the most crucial decision that they are unable to take is whether to permit the maid servants from entering into the premises. Or if they are permitted, what SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) should be prescribed for their hygiene. Some of the residents are convinced that maids do not maintain proper sanitation, so each of them can be a good conductor of this virus. Strong logic. By stopping the entry of maids they are sure to keep the deadly virus at bay. Seems, the male folk are finding the household work more fascinating than office work. Modi will have a tough time to take these people back to work.
Second important issue is how to take the pet dogs for roaming inside the complex. So the decision is to take only one dog out at a time from each building. Dogs too have to maintain social distancing. By the way I am a bit confused by the term ‘social distancing’. Does it include physical distancing also? Hey, I don’t want to be in this controversy because I have serious doubt in my linguistic proficiency. Since everybody is using this term, I may use it as well. The latest, I heard from my fellow residents, is that pet owners are extremely busy in teaching the dogs how to use commode. We have many management experts in our township; they will, for sure, train them to use flush as well.
Be that as it may, I must admit that there is no dog menace in our society. These dogs are truly their masters’ voice. Alas, only a few obstinate residents are refusing to follow instructions of the Housing Committee. The third serious issue is how to disinfect the elevator. The maids, paper vendors and milkman all are using the same elevator, so chances of spreading virus through elevator is maximum. Somebody gave an excellent suggestion- why don’t we distribute match box to all people, so that in stead of using their fingers, they can use a match stick to press the floor number button? One suggested that each elevator should allow four passengers and they should stand at four corners facing the elevator wall, so that norms of social distancing are not violated.
Bongs are sorely missing the joy of visiting Shabji Bazar
Kolkata boasts of a number of retail vegetable outlets all around the city. Kolay market, Jadubabu’s bazar, Lake Market, Hatibaghan bazar, Manicktala Bazar draw huge crowd daily. Then we have the famous Shyambazar, Radhabazar, Jan Bazar etc all of which became famous places because of the existence of a bazar there. Bengalis are fond of going to the market daily to buy vegetables and fish. They will not eat basi food (Overnight). Buying vegetables is not so easy, in fact it’s an art, or that’s what I learnt from my father who would go to the market daily. He took me along with him one day, when I was in class VI. He gave me a few tips before venturing out to deal with the sabjiwalas, who I found, were shouting in different tones to attract the customers-imagine half a dozen cacophonix singing around you! “First and foremost,” my father explained, “you must make several rounds in the market and check the prices in different shops. Then, you go to the shop offering the lowest price.”
“You should check the quality of each of the vegetables before the seller start weighing. Check the freshness of ladies finger by breaking its tip. If the brinjal is light weight, double check it for insect inside.” ” Most important of all”, he said, “what vegetable you buy will help you decide the menu for your lunch and dinner. That’s how you decide to buy different types of vegetables for Shukto, Chachhari or mochar ghanta.”
I must admit, I became an efficient supply chain manager later on by following these simple tips. Lock down has truly dispirited the ever enthusiastic Bengali market goers.
I couldn’t help quoting a hilarious Whats App post that I came across recently.
I oent to bajar today, holding my tholey tight
A beauty samar morning it oas, hot and bright
The eyar is so clean, no poblem, no riks at all
Few shops open, I cud count them all
Ginni ordered in the morning-go, buy alu, posto and pheesh
My dhoti loosen in fear, I deyar not defy her ooeesh
I did the bajar to the content of her heart
Ginni ooeel be relax, ish how nicely I did my part
I was oaking back home, whistling like Rajesh Khanna
My tholey full with tarkari and pheesh, for ginni’s ranna
Suddenly I felt a pen deep in my pachha
In anger, I turned turned around, “Ke re byata, shuorer baccha?”
Oh Maa Kali. What I see,
shuorer bachha is none other than pooleesh, putting danda at me
I ran like Naxalite, like Maradona, Pele
Who ooeel eat ginni’s ranna, ami more gele.
Coffee Houser Sei Addata
aaj aar nei (The famous adda of coffee house is missing). My memory lane goes back to the days, when I used to take a long leisurely walk down the roads of Behala, I could find out plenty of people squatting on the footpath to play cards and carrom. There are those other set of people who will sit in the small chai shop and discuss about all issues ranging from cinema, politics or literature. The more intellectual types would assemble in the iconic coffee house of college street to discuss about a book of poems or a novel. Then there are many colonial era private clubs in Kolkata, such as, Calcutta club, Bengal club, Tollygunge club and Saturday club where educated, cultured and aristocratic group of people would assemble and sit for an adda. Nowhere else, people have the time and inclination to sit at leisure with friends to have a long chit chat session. Bengalis are proud of their adda culture, because this is what gives them the intellectual spark. In our residential complex we have a few designated adda zones which are all occupied by senior citizens. One of my young friends who is around 45 years of age is already a worried man. He says, “You guys have occupied all the adda zones in our premise. What will happen when we retire from our services?”
“You wrinkly senior citizens are also not going to die soon because so much medicines are coming up daily to keep you fit.”, he grumbles. Thank God, his wishes might now be fulfilled with corona’s entry.
Celebrating nababarsha and celebrating 25th Baishakh, kabiguru’s birthday with the rendition of lots of rabindra sangeet, dance drama and poem will all be missing this year. Bengali literature, I am sure, is going to take a beating in the absence of adda.
Dude, it’s Party Time
The younger lot have to stay put in their houses, because they are working from home. So Saturday and Sunday are the only days they can join a party, I mean the virtual party. So each of them in their respective groups sit at 8 in the evening with drinks and dinner, log on to their laptop from different places and join the cloud party. The sudden lock down with a four hour notice had initially put the young brigade to a lot of inconvenience. How do they enjoy their weekend parties without drinks? Mamatadidi came to their rescue. She introduced home delivery of foreign liquor, of course at a premium. But then, money is not an issue for these youngsters. While talking to one of the young guys working in IT sector, he admits that they have started enjoying the lock down days. You don’t have to drive in a metro city, no hassles of traffic jam, you relax while you work or work while you relax. Food arrives at the door step. And you enjoy the week ends. Finally, I could see some silver lining!
Missing the Yellow Cabs
Ambassador is at the receiving end for the last few years, particularly after the introduction of Ola and Uber in Calcutta roads. In our younger days, we had seen the yellow taxies (black and yellow then) driven by the sardarjis. However, on returning to this city after 35 years, I found the Sardarji drivers were missing. I came to know that most of them left for Punjab, after the Sikhs were massacred in 1984 riot. Most of the ambassadors, now a days, are driven by Bihari drivers. But much like the missing Sikh drivers, the yellow ambassadors have also disappeared in Kolkata streets once the lock down is imposed. We still find a few Uber cabs plying in the city. I do not know the reasons for the State Government’s decision to permit Uber and not the iconic Ambassador on Kolkata roads during lock down.
Coronavirus Lost the Race Finally
Don’t be ecstatic. I am talking about the great comic strip of Asterix and Obelix who defeated Coronavirus in a chariot race. I am so fond of these guys that I have started reading their adventures all over again. And I profusely thank Prime Minister Modi for giving me this wonderful opportunity to revisit them and many more during my sojourn. R. Goscinny and A Uderzo, the creators of this wonderful comic strip are no longer there. In their absence Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad are doing a marvelous job in creating new stories. One such engrossing story is “Asterix and the Chariot Race,” published in 2017. The duo Asterix and Obelix took part in a chariot race organized by who else than the Roman King Julius Caeser. The race commenced from Modicia (in Sicily) and concluded at Neapolis (Naples) near Mount Vesuvius, thus covering the whole of Italy. Rome participated in the race with a masked charioteer named Coronavirus ably assisted by Bacillus. At the fag end of the race Asterix and Obelix defeated coronavirus and were declared winner. Lo and behold: when the charioteer was unmasked it was found that coronavirus was none other than Caeser himself.
Today, coronavirus has made us wear mask. We are waiting for the day when coronavirus (or its disappearance) will unmask us!!!