Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Covid, cries and Calcutta

 It took me some sixty years to respect  the voice of the lifeless. For incorrigibles like me learning is slow and inconsistent. Amnesia catches up fast. It’s a fearful  state of mind indeed.  Hardly a week back when I lay on grass  beside the Ballygunge Lakes, my ear nudging the turf, I heard someone cry in silence. It was’nt a dissonance arising from honking cars and discordant men but a cry arising from within Calcutta. As I doze off,  roads and streets take shape of arteries and veins;  the Esplanade encircling the fort, the shape of heart. Now I could feel the pain and anguish in the clogged and torn vessels, hungry for fresh air. The air around me smelled foul with detritus. People dressed up to the nines with filthy mouths  now embellish ‘respectable societies’. ‘Slang’ today is a common occurrence for which people no more feel ashamed of. As my thoughts travelled like wild fire I could imagine a lackadaisical human race rummaging the earth in search of happiness. What they have not searched is their own minds, where lay the key to their kingdom of contentment. Where are those gentlemen and milords gone ? I wondered, shamefully aroused from my unhappy subconcious thoughts.

The laid-back event on grass was slowly coming to an end and my spurious face conveying a multitude of emotions, on the whole a powerfully evocative ‘dependable face’ was anxious of arrival of a ‘Wise Mirror’. Still not fully aware and ready to brace the uncomfortable, I could see through the corner of eye, someone standing dressed in transparent white, very different, much like a shadow of death. I haven’t seen death before, so unaware of his name I asked, ‘My little friend who are you ?’. Prompt came the rejoinder. ‘I am Covid. Don’t you know me. Haven’t you heard of me? You foolish man, stay foolish as you are.’  And he vanished.
Deserted Calcutta street at 8 P.M on 22.3.2020.Aftermath of Covid 19 pandemic (Courtesy pix: Santanu Lahiri)

After I had come back to my senses I sat up, only to hear someone from the crowd around me say that I just had a bout of fits. Everything encircling me seemed normal, the multiplex was playing the new rubbish, the jostling crowd, people craving for food and those hungry mouths on the pavement.

Covid was not gone. A little behind me I saw it stand beside another resting man, may be uttering the same word.  As I walked past the pavement it struck me that there at the corner of the street once stood a little bookshop and a humble tea-stall. The two  go so well together, only a book-worm would know. That clean Gariahata crossing and the Shyambazar five point crossroad filled with gentle men and caring shopkeepers, all were gone by now, I envisaged. And then I looked back, the Covid following me politely said, ‘I am in you now. How do you feel’.  Coughing a little I shrugged. He laughed on my face. A laugh so different and piercing that no one heard.

I heard Calcutta cry once more. ‘Don’t leave me behind’, it said. I thought to myself,  even if I am a hardcore selfish, let me stop shrugging or else the wall on which the bookshop hung too will be gone.