Bored of the virus

Published March 21, 2020

I AM so sick and tired of corona-vorona by now that all I want is to go into hibernation and not emerge until the damn virus has disappeared.

Every newspaper and TV headline carries nothing but reports about this plague; every conversation starts and ends with it; and my WhatsApp and email inbox are full of advice and news about the virus. There is simply no escape.

I know it’s a deadly disease, especially at my age. But I would rather risk infection than spend the rest of my life following its progress. Of course, it’s a disaster that has put the world economy at risk, but there comes a point when you need to think about other things than a virus.

Conspiracy theories about its origins are mutating faster than the virus itself, as are possible cures. One day we are told masks are useless; the next day, The New York Times informs us that they are better than nothing. And we are constantly urged to wash our hands repeatedly for at least 20 seconds, but nobody informs us how billions of poor people around the world will get soap and clean water. Then there are the unattractive images of people fighting over hand sanitiser and loo paper.

Conspiracy theories about its origins are mutating faster than the virus itself.

Supermarket shelves have been emptied. My best hoarding story is about two American brothers who are sitting atop a mountain of 17,700 bottles of hand sanitiser without any buyers. Serve the greedy young buggers right.

I suppose it’s easy for me to dismiss the coronavirus and wish it would go away. Being retired has its benefits. But young people dependent on jobs that pay little and require daily attendance are at risk, as are businesses of all kinds. When people lose their jobs, they can no longer buy goods, thus reducing or ending demand across the economy. This ripple effect is now threatening us all.

Soon, I will be flying to England from Sri Lanka, and according to the media, the over-70s might have to self-isolate for four months. This seems a dream come true: there are many books that have been waiting patiently for my attention. In particular, I look forward to reading William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy, an account of the loot and plunder carried out by the East India Company. I have not started it yet because the hardback copy weighs a ton, and I can’t read it in bed.  

Then there is a fascinating biography of Saladin Ayoubi and his role in defeating the Crusaders a thousand years ago.  And most testing of all is a hefty tome by Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorba the Greek, who wrote a sequel to The Odyssey. I picked it up in Berkeley for two dollars when I was visiting my son last year, and look forward to ploughing through it.

I suppose I’ll cook quite a bit as all local pubs and restaurants will be shut, but that’s no hardship. There are so many cookbooks to consult, although fresh ingredients will have to be ordered online. And there are a couple of exercise machines to keep me in some sort of physical shape.

These are all good intentions, but I don’t know how many will actually be implemented. As we now have Netflix, it’s always tempting to click on a movie and settle down. Thus far, I have been binge watching the magical anime films produced by Studio Ghibli, and have been blown away by the brilliance of the animation and the originality of the stories. I strongly recommend Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away as starters. One TV series I enjoyed at my son’s recommendation was Ottoman. This is a well-observed retelling of the rise of the Ottoman dynasty.

The coronavirus has cancelled several social events. While obviously I am unhappy for those directly involved, I am not entirely disappointed at missing them. When I am in England, I am often forced to attend, but frankly, I would much rather stay at home. I am accused of being anti-social, and my wife is right, of course. But having to dress up and make polite conversation with strangers is a strain I can do without.

While the world struggles with the virus, we in Pakistan have a plan: the Senate chairman invoked God’s help while the Punjab chief minister said that all the mosques in his province will remain open so the faithful can pray for divine intervention in close proximity.

In Iran, when the authorities shut down some holy shrines in Mashad and Qom to prevent pilgrims from thronging there, devotees burst into the premises and insisted on carrying on with the rituals. In other Muslim countries, the authorities have acted with greater prudence, and worshippers have shown more discipline. Obviously, Pakistanis and Iranians think they are better Muslims than Jordanians and Saudis.

At a time our Maker has His hands full, you’d think we would be a little more considerate.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2020



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