The virus roller-coaster

April 05, 2020


The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

WITH Covid-19 news landing in our homes where most of us are confined 24/7 these days, it is not always easy to zoom out and look at the larger picture, but try one must as it is a very useful, even instructive, exercise.

Notwithstanding blundering ‘economy first’ leaders from Trump, Johnson and Bolsanaro to those closer to home, there are so many wonderful stories of people’s generosity towards their fellow beings that one’s faith in humanity is renewed.

Images of Jamaat-i-Islami’s charity Al Khidmat workers handing out bags filled with rations to members of Peshawar’s transgender community, who must rank among the most deprived sections of our society, were heart-warming.

I personally know of many people, young and old, who are making sure that they do their utmost to help those who are confined to their homes and usually rely on daily wages to feed their families and are struggling due to the restrictions.

Images of the Jamaat’s Al Khidmat workers handing out rations to members of Peshawar’s transgender community were heart-warming.

My Twitter friend Salman Sufi has been delivering subsidised rations to those who have no resources to pay the market prices. He has also offered and delivered burgers with quality ingredients, he assures me, to healthcare workers in Lahore.

I am sure other philanthropists are replicating these efforts as, in these hard times, it will be vital to take away at least some of the worries of the less fortunate in our grossly unequal society. I have heard amazing things about Sailani and Edhi trusts endeavours. There are many others.

It was so pleasing to read on an Urdu news site that Pakistan-origin taxi drivers in Barcelona were offering free rides to and from hospitals to healthcare workers. This has received favourable coverage in the media and mentions on social media in Spain.

The Catalans are particularly appreciating the fact that this public service initiative has come at a time when taxis have few passengers and self-employed drivers could already be concerned about how to make ends meet.

I read on social media a young woman, having lost her job in Madrid, saying she was grateful to her landlord, himself a low-income pensioner, for calling her and waiving off the month’s rent for her tiny flat. This tweet was echoed by many sharing similar experiences.

Then there was the story of a young boy selling masks home-stitched by his mother in a small Punjab town. Someone tested the boy by saying he wanted one but did not have the money. The boy handed over the mask without flinching.

This shows generosity is not a function of how much you have; it depends on how much you are prepared to share. Let us not go overboard and say it is a rosy scene wherever you look. It is not. There are grotesque, yes grotesque, sights too.

Many friends from different middle-class and upper-middle-class residential areas across the length and breadth of the country have reported that people have asked their maasis or women domestic help not to come in. This was understandable, given the social distancing needs.

What is painful is that many such staff have been told to stay at home and not been given their salaries or advances against their salaries by people who could well afford to. They can’t work and they are not beggars. One shudders to think what they are going through.

Such lack of empathy among the haves is also a tragic fact of life. I wonder if there is any point in naming and shaming such heartless people who cannot think of the misery of those on the outside of the beautiful bubble they themselves inhabit.

Reports in the Western media, as the Covid-19 fears triggered a buy-and-hoard frenzy, suggested that the most in demand item were toilet paper rolls and these disappeared from supermarket shelves. Not sure what drove that demand. But these things can rarely be rationalised.

Few to several weeks into the crisis, depending on where you happen to be, supermarket shelves are packed solid with toilet paper rolls. What is currently in high demand, after food, is alcohol. Not the disinfecting kind but the imbibing one, should one choose to, of course.

And the wire service Bloomberg has reported that birth control aids are in short supply. This news comes on the heels of speculation that many in Europe are expecting higher birth and also divorce rates as a consequence of the lockdown.

Given how many in my circle of friends have suddenly discovered gourmet chefs in themselves, I suspect they will neither add to the global population nor get divorced but will place the additional burden of several kilos each on our hard-pressed planet.

There can be no doubt how much you try and look at the larger perspective, the repercussions slap you harder when there is a personal element to them. Late last night, a dear family friend called to say his elderly mother passed away in a mere four days after being diagnosed with Covid-19.

He said even though he would have given anything to have been with her, hugged her one last time, he was relieved her suffering was not prolonged. That he was grateful for small mercies, having heard of how some other patients suffered.

The news, factually and rather heartlessly, mentions those over a certain age and with ‘underlying conditions’ are most at risk from the virus. What do you do when many among those you love are in this vulnerable category? Hope and pray that they stay safe. Take proper care but don’t live in fear. Enjoy this precious time with the family.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2020