As I lie in bed, recovering from Covid and reading your cover story The Scream (May 3), I realise sincerely for once that fear, panic and tragedy unite us all—that death is not something that happens to others alone. From the confines of my room, I can fathom my family’s concern behind the brave show they have put up; I can almost hear their frenetic ‘just in case’ talks and their brand new ‘oxygen lexicon’. Somehow the title of TS Eliot’s poem The Wasteland, which I read in college, never made more sense to me than it makes today. As the pandemic sweeps through India, the starkness of the poem’s imagery resonates as much as it would have a hundred years ago, with April indeed turning out to be the cruellest month. The epic poem written in the aftermath of the Spanish flu makes one realise how apart and yet how akin the two centuries are. Your chronicles of the current disaster almost exactly fit into Eliot’s description of an ‘unreal city’, a place where “He who was living is now dead, / We who are living are now dying.” Apocalyptic, dystopian…there is no dearth of words to describe the scale of the ongoing devastation. Clearly, we have been found napping, rather snoring, for in spite of warnings and surges all over the globe, we learnt nothing. Lost in the noise of constant politicking, our government didn’t hear the bomb ticking. And as a community, we had far too many gods to appease, far too many occasions to celebrate, than to bother for a tiny spoilsport virus. We let down caution as well as our masks, and the chaos that was unleashed is for all of us to see and suffer. But perhaps this is the wrong time to discuss why things went so horribly wrong. Was it the government’s Covid-hubris or our collective Covid-fatigue that brought us to this state—the question can probably be debated later. Only one thing is certain—in these incredibly tough times, the need of the hour is to be ‘anti-fragile’, face the crisis head on, measure up to the monstrosity of the little virus and somehow minimise the immense human tragedy. This is no time for crass cacophony, only time to be calm and spread a healing balm. For pain so big, courage has to be bigger.
Sangeeta Kampani, New Delhi
Many of us, and many of our leaders, went on merrily dividing us—and are still doing it—on the basis of caste, creed, gender and so much else of little consequence. Our pettiness was, and still is, on full display. It is a sad reflection on our collective claim to be a civilised species that we needed a vicious virus to remind us that we all are one, all across the globe—strong only when of one mind; otherwise, utterly vulnerable to suffering and death. Over the past one year, the COVID-19 pandemic has been unleashing a very unprecedented crisis across the world. No corner, no nation, no people, no section has been spared. Sadly and painfully, many of our fellow-humans were not lucky to survive the first wave. Did we learn anything from that? Now we are battling the fierce fury of the second wave. And nobody knows if and when the third one will descend, and how many more will have to die—and who among us may be swept away. We need the wisdom and will to live, although we may always be ready to embrace death as God’s will. For now, let us be responsible in our day-to-day living, with full faith in God and in science. Let us observe all the norms and accept that life may never be the same again, with face masks, social distancing and the sanitiser here to stay. They may be accessories for our safety for a long haul. Possibly a very long one.
Aires Rodrigues, Ribandar (Goa)
This refers to the views expressed by Union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan in his interview regarding the Covid pandemic (‘Covid-Suitable Behaviour Is Best Social Vaccine’, April 19). It appears that the minister spoke much before the surge in cases in the second wave and very optimistically focused on the behaviour appropriate to control the pandemic. But the situation is graver now with an enormous tidal wave of infections ravaging the country. The second surge has a ferocity and a velocity that were never seen before. Apart from establishing an improved infrastructure to make oxygen available and preparing hospitals to accommodate more beds, we need to solidify our alliances with international partners to get through the catastrophe. The collaboration could be in various direct and indirect ways, starting from negotiating supply of oxygen cylinders, medicines and airlifting of oxygen-generating plants, in order to immediately address the crisis through setting up a robust and scalable infrastructure with epidemiologic surveillance. Assistance can be sought to secure shipments of rapid home self-tests for Covid, which were readily made available in the US retail markets. The need of the hour is global support towards enhancing infrastructure to scale up vaccine production in India, which will eventually help the whole world in managing the pandemic. We cannot be fatalistic, surrender to destiny and let people die. The fundamental principle of public health and medicine is to save human lives—this should be top priority for the whole nation and all have to work together regardless of political ideology or socio-economic status. It is only then that life would return to normal.
G.S. Rao, Bangalore
This refers to your cover story 50 Dalits Remaking India (April 26). It was very refreshing to read about the ‘movers and shakers’ of the Dalit community. It isn’t just our caste-ridden, orthodox society that has made us treat Dalits as pariahs, but almost every work of art projecting them as the downtrodden and marginalised has further reinforced this feeling. Hence, the issue celebrating their achievements gave us an entirely different perspective about the community. Having said this, right from reservations to the present play of Dalit politics, every act has kept the community miles away from the mainstream. In 21st-century India, there is a gradual transformation going on with the society becoming more accommodative of Dalits, but the culture of vote-bank politics will not allow this to happen so easily.
Vijai Pant, On E-Mail
No praise can be too high for coming up with a feature on Dalit icons. Over the past four decades, I have taught a large number of students belonging to the depressed classes and also worked with quite a few. I found that, given proper opportunities and a conducive atmosphere, they are second to none, notwithstanding the social stigma. Dalits have succeeded and excelled in various fields not because of the system, but in spite of it. However, I feel there are two areas where their representation ought to be increased—sports and the armed forces.
Anil K. Joshi, Ranikhet
Politicians remembering Dalits with pathos and abjectness on the occasion of the birth anniversary of B. R. Ambedkar has become an annual ritual, serving no purpose except fooling them for votes. As Ruben Banerjee (Our Dalit, Every Inch a Hero, April 26) has correctly observed, “Deep-rooted fault lines that perpetuated prejudices against many continue to fester and flourish. For that matter, these may have worsened.” The emancipation of Dalits depends only on their own objectively focused struggle against the hypocrisy and odds all around. Their big and small success stories are inspirational to those climbing the ladder. The Dalit Diary of Maya Pramod, about her experience of the callous behavior of her seventh-grade schoolteacher, makes us wonder as to what makes us worthy of considering ourselves to be human beings.
M.N. Bhartiya, Alto-Porvorim (Goa)