“They have decided to extend the lockdown by another three weeks!” said Chicken Number One, who was always the first with the news.
The information set off a wave of outrage among the five thousand plus birds at the Corona Chicken Farm, the cacophony almost blowing the tin shed above their heads.
“Our food supplies are dwindling, we can’t go anywhere to forage and they want us to maintain social distance in this small, bloody space” cried Fowl Play, known to be the farm’s main rabble-rouser.
It was already several months since the new bug had arrived and all the chicken were tired of the chronic lockdowns imposed on the country. By sheer coincidence, the damn thing had a name that was the same as that of their farm. This resulted in an abrupt drop in business and consequent neglect of the entire flock – even for basic things like food, water and medicine.
“The health authorities are pretending there are no other medical problems in the world, except for this fancy new viral infection. Meanwhile, those in power are grabbing even more power, using the pandemic as a pretext. If you ask me, it is all a big conspiracy by the Illuminati and tech companies to take over the world”, said Chicken Do Pyaza, the chief of all the birds at the Corona farm.
“No, this is an entirely human-made disaster, caused by their treating nature and all other animal species as dispensable commodities. If they don’t want our viruses, they shouldn’t exploit us either. The chickens are coming home to roost!” said Bertie Rooster, who was a historian of sorts and quite obviously not in love with the human species.“ I personally like the idea of all these humans scared and cowering in their homes under permanent lockdown.”
This was the fourth time the deadline for lifting the lockdown, the most drastic anywhere worldwide, had been shifted. It was clearly a very confused regime at the helm of affairs.
When the pandemic started, those in power had first denied, then dithered and finally panicked (just like chicken often do) by imposing a hasty, unplanned lockdown. And now they did not have a clue how to get out of a messy situation – not only was the disease spreading rapidly, the economy had also tanked. It was a bit like someone with an excruciating toothache, who had also shot himself in the foot.
“It would have been infinitely smarter to track down all those who came from overseas, as they are the ones who brought the infection to the country in the first place”, said Fowl Play. “There was no need to harass an entire nation for the fault of a minuscule number of people”.
“Our Supreme National Leader is trying his best, imposing a more stringent lockdown than China, Italy, Spain and even the USA. All you guys can do is criticize. You think you have a better idea?’, shouted an annoyed Chicken Number One, the journalist, striking his best TV anchor pose.
He was a fan of the incumbent, extreme right-wing regime, simply because he was from a family of high pedigree chicken. He believed he was born to rule over common, hybrid fellow-beings and strutted around, beak turned up, like one of the Supreme Leader’s pet advisors.
“The problem with the lockdown is it can delay but not stop the pandemic, without a lot of other smart interventions” explained Chicken Do Pyaza. “You need to increase testing, quarantine the infected, manage and treat the severely affected. And all this needs to be done while ensuring those with other medical conditions don’t die of neglect. In the end it does not matter whether you died of the new virus or the old ones”.
“The lockdown is meant to protect the rich in their secure homes at the cost of the poor, who are just like us, domesticated animals. If it was about saving everyone’s lives, they would have built a much better public health system in all these decades. The rulers don’t care and nothing less than a revolution is needed to sort things out!” thundered Bertie. (He considered himself a Leninist of sorts, but being a chicken, had the heart of a Gandhian).
The worst aspect of the entire response to the pandemic was how quickly it had gone from considering saner solutions to finding scapegoats – those imaginary animals that are often used to attack real, living ones. People who looked different, immigrants, daily wagers, religious minorities, the poor, dissidents – the wrath of those in power had fallen on the same folk they had never ever liked, even before the pandemic came along.
“I predict, it is just a matter of time before human societies become just like chicken farms, where every bird is micro-managed by farm owners all its life, with no rights freedom or dignity. All humans will soon need health certificates to move around, work and earn, with their most intimate body and social data privy to the authorities”, said Chicken Do Pyaza. “They are getting a taste of what chicken and other animals have had to endure, at their hands, for so long”.
No sooner had the chief uttered those words, a great commotion arose as the entire flock became alert to the sound of locks of the shed being opened. It was that time of the week, when birds would be selected to be taken away to the slaughterhouse. This time the owner himself had come, as regular workers were not available due to the lockdown.
Some chicken pretended to look as sick as they could to avoid being picked up, while others tried to push their way to a corner, where they could hide.
But Bertie and Fowl Play had other plans that afternoon. They were not in a mood to die without a fight. As the farm owner, a big built man with bushy eyebrows neared, they set in motion their plan, hatched over many intense discussions among their small band of conspirators.
All of a sudden, a few chickens flew up, covering the farm owner’s face with their fluttering wings, while Foul Play stole the keys to the shed from his pockets. Before the man could recover, the doors were open and as Bertie egged them on, the entire flock fled the coop. To add insult to injury, they even managed to lock him in the shed before dispersing in the vast fields outside.
It was freedom that was bound to be short-lived, but the possibility of capture and certain death did not scare them anymore. Finally, they were roaming free and breathing free air. Every second of this liberation was far more valuable than all those days in that prison called the Corona Chicken Farm.
As Bertie Rooster announced to everyone, with a flourish, in his farewell speech, “Life expectancy is not about living very long. It’s about getting what you expect out of life”.
Satya Sagar is a journalist and public health worker who can be reached at [email protected]