In the 1990s, the three Cs — credit card, condo, car — defined “status” among the bourgeoisie. Now, another C has overtaken all the three Cs, the Big C — Corona. A tiny virus has brought mankind to its knees with all kinds of stories, rumours and the threat of depleted numbers and economies. As with anything big, many narratives weave around the virus which we cannot even see with our bare eyes. One of the things that is going around the media is that COVID 19 is a rich man’s disease — is it?

I do not know if the first man to contract COVID in China on 17 th November 2019 in Hubei province was rich or poor. But I do understand that it got carried to different countries by travelers — are all travelers rich? In some countries they could be considered rich because the majority are too poor to afford travel. Perhaps, people who are thinking this way can answer why there are such huge gaps between the incomes of the “rich” and “poor”? And is it justified to continue having them? And how would they narrow this gap?

These would have to be real time solutions that can perhaps be worked out by social science researchers and economists and then implemented by the governments with the supports of citizens willing to generate jobs, invest and work hard. Perhaps, broadly speaking more employment and higher wages would help. More jobs might also mean more wealth for the country. But that is in the future!

Right now, we are all discomfited by different degrees of isolation, boredom and irritation in not being allowed to step out. But one thing that is very clear is that this virus has become a great leveler of mankind. And that is not because it chooses indiscriminately without glancing into people’s pockets. It has actually brought our earlier life style based on an exploitative system to a halt. We no longer think in terms of greed but in terms of survival and how to avoid falling victim to a tiny creature that unifies all mankind in its line of attack. All of us now live one day at a time and thank our stars for being Corona free. Like in Camus’s The Plague (1947), we hope the virus will suddenly disappear.

Despite all our medical advances, we have not yet found a way to tackle the corona virus, named after the outer rim of the life-giving sun. In 2015, when there was an Ebola outbreak, Bill Gates in a TEd talk said that now we needed to fear not so much of other wars that might involve nuclear weapons as combat against various natural and unnatural viruses. He suggested ways to battle this. But we had no time to get away from our lives and explore battling epidemics which, at that instance,  actually was contained in a small part of the world. Perhaps, that is why the corona has appeared to give us a warning that we need to invest more in healthcare, more in value-based learning which will help us respect all kinds of life on this planet — not just human or not just capitalistic or communist.  Pope Francis has said the Corona virus was ‘nature’s response’ to our exploitative needs. “I believe we have to slow down our rate of production and consumption and to learn to understand and contemplate the natural world,” he elaborated. “We need to reconnect with our real surroundings. This is the opportunity for conversion.”

One other thing that Corona exposed is that many people do not have homes where they work. They do not have money. Despite seventy-three years of independence, India has not been able to find housing for its migrant labour population. They live inside vacant drainpipes or on corners of streets on dirty rags, subsisting on very minimal food with no access to medical facilities, potable water, education or decent homes. They have no safety gear, like I see people wear in other countries when they do construction work. Till the advent of isolation during Corona, the middle class and wealthy found it convenient to ignore the existence of this part of the population. However, as corona levels mankind, it ignited the conscience of the inert when the recent mass exodus of the deprived, devoid of homes, food, potable water, medicines and any safety measures raised many brows at an international level. May one hope that in future, these sympathetic citizens will still find it in their hearts to look for a more balanced society — a society where people will pay taxes and generate more jobs that pay regular sustenance level salaries? That they will ensure money is used for the benefit of humankind and not squandered? That the money given to the unschooled migrants has the dignity of work and self-reliance — not be given to the deprived on an ad hoc charity basis or as a dole?

We do not need a society like in Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) where the pigs who take over mankind’s reign state, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Though written as a book critiquing the communist regime, this statement can also be used to critique the selected way of thinking exhibited by the highly educated — I cannot say communist or capitalist because I am bad at classifying things. I always feel my intellect matches that of the unthinking, unintellectual population because finding classification based on class or etymology terrorizes me.

In UK, while the sausage loving prime minister Boris Johnson, battled COVID in the ICU, many articles were written on the plight of the migrant labour in India. It was highlighted in the US media too. Though one notices both these countries themselves house the highest number of Corona patients. I hope circulating these articles in social media have made a difference to the future approach towards the migrant labour issue in India.

This new virus, so full of mysteries and threats, has turned life as we knew it upside down and yet, we are getting to see cleaner blue skies and oil free oceans. Peacocks are dancing in Delhi. Deer are gamboling in Dehradun. Whales and Dolphins are playing in the cleaner waters of Mumbai. In both China and India, the air has grown cleaner and more breathable.

Perhaps the Pope is right! We need to redefine our lives.

Mitali Chakravarty is a writer and the founding editor of Borderless Journal.


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