Endless funerals, people pleading for oxygen; India must etch horrors of COVID-19 in its memory, writes TM Krishna

We are facing our worst moment in modern history, struggling to stay afloat. If we do not show courage and honesty to speak for justice now, we may never be able to recover compassion.

TM Krishna April 30, 2021 15:39:48 IST
Endless funerals, people pleading for oxygen; India must etch horrors of COVID-19 in its memory, writes TM Krishna

Relatives and municipal workers in protective suits bury the body of a person who died due to COVID-19 in Gauhati, India. Photo via The Associated Press/Anupam Nath

A lot is being written about the grotesqueness that is engulfing India. People begging for their lives, pleading breathlessly for oxygen, asking for help to merely survive, hoping for at least a dignified cremation. This is India on 29 April 2021. I am marking this date because I am worried that we will forget. We need to etch that which is happening around permanently in our memory. We should ignore all synthetic demands for positivity and create macabre dances, songs, plays, poems and films of what we are witnessing and participating in.

Each one of us is party to what is happening. We have become a land of the heartless. It matters more to us that we collectively partake in inane acts such as banging on plates while everyone beginning from the Prime Minister remains unaccountable, watching over deaths that are mounting by the minute. Modi was, of course, busy posing with peacocks, growing a beard, proclaiming victory over the virus to the entire world, allowing stadiums to be renamed after him and in awe of the crowds that came to his rallies.

I am deeply wounded and unable to fathom the depth of the abyss within which we have fallen. Not sure if we will get out and when that may even happen. We are in a dark place where we are unable to feel or be touched. Our stomachs do not churn in horror, we are not crying out in helplessness... we are just not shaken enough. We are in a vacuum; an emptiness has filled the room. In-humaneness and whataboutery permeate this territory.

Funeral pyres do not make us weep. Instead, our mind instinctively swirls in search of excuses for the deaths. The death itself immaterial; after all more people die of natural causes every day. What difference does a small percentage increase make?

But we try and ensure that the Supreme Leader’s name is not tarnished, his clothes not stained. I will not limit this piece to Modi, though the fact remains that the buck stops with him. A man who is willing to grab every opportunity to take credit, even when it belonged to others, needs to have broad enough shoulders to accept responsibility when it is abundantly clear that his government and he caused the present disaster because of their unscientific, uncaring nature.

But what has the Modi-psyche done to us as individuals, families, communities, especially in this precarious moment? We have lost all ability to observe and reflect upon what we see. Even the death of people is a media conspiracy to defame this great country. Don’t show us the truth; it is more important that the sanctity of the last rite is maintained. The purity of ‘truth’ can be discarded. Reality must be hidden, we imply. And we are supposedly decent human beings.

What has happened to us?

India was never a perfect country; we are as messy as any other part of this beautiful world. We are a country born from resistance and turmoil; one that has as its soul a Constitution that hoped to nurture good people. Are we even close to goodness? Something has changed in us. Hate is our staple diet; an aphrodisiac that we are addicted to. Every word we write, speak and exchange is degrading. Morality has been thrown to the winds, considered an archaic notion. We just want to win. But what are we winning? That we do not know. We have been tutored to detest our recent past. The glory was somewhere in a timeless era we are told. Everything that came in between was an aberration. Erase all these in-betweens and we can rediscover that forgotten image. An ungraspable, unreal image has been conceived by the parochial. We seek to become ‘that’ without knowing what ‘that’ means. We have bought into this delusion lock stock and barrel. People within that image are categorised as outsiders, insiders, nationalists, anti-nationals and treated accordingly. Ideas too are separated, reduced to slogans or trashed as alien. To win we have to demolish and destroy any story that comes in the way. I am not speaking of the people in government; you and I think this way. Whether or not they have instructed us, we are robots programmed for propaganda and smudging conversation. Who is this we and who are the enemies? We are a collective that has overdosed on the nationalism drug. A nationalism that does not care about democratic values. The enemies are the people who point at this gaping lacuna.

In order to be nationalistic victors or be seen as victors, we are ready to kill. I say kill not because everyone is wielding a gun or a knife, but because every time we shut down a voice, abuse the vulnerable and deny rights to people, we are aiding and abetting the process of death. Those who are utterly silent are as culpable. We are a party to every anonymous death in the corridors of hospitals and unceremonious cremation on the pavements.

I am a critic of this environment; I am unable to sleep in peace knowing that someone is gasping somewhere. But does that relieve me of any responsibility? Am I better than everyone else? I too have lost the ability to listen to myself and others.

Certain voices and words trigger rage in me. I am unable to pause and go beyond that momentary lapse and, in the process, I do not know how to converse and speak for dignity for all. I end up shouting, making abusive remarks, and even wish the worst for someone. This is not me! We are serving implanted agendas and responding to the fear of loss. I am not going to pass judgement on what each one holds dear, but are we willing to surrender our mind to anger? Anger can be of different sorts; the one that instils the power to stand up and ask questions is distinct from the kind that is a blinder. Today, we are all blinded by anger.

Can we come out of this vicious state? We have to believe that there is a way forward; that transformation is possible. “This too shall pass” is a convenient utterance for those whose life is not harrowing. We cannot just wait this out or let it pass unattended. We need to live in the present, take in all that is happening, feel the sorrow, internalise the wailing, pay attention to the tone-deafness that surrounds us and recognise our own savagery. We are facing our worst moment in modern history, struggling to stay afloat. If we do not show courage and honesty to speak for justice now, we may never be able to recover compassion. No individual or ideology can matter more than humanity.

The author is a Karnatik vocalist and recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award. Views are personal.

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