IT WAS ONLY a matter of time before Covid-19 hit nearer home. All along you had felt secure in your presumed invulnerability to the killer virus, having rigorously cocooned yourself in your little world sans all socialising, cutting friends and professional colleagues completely out of your life—hopefully only temporarily. The cook also behaved responsibly, rarely stepping out of the house. As for the jhadoo-pochha woman, she was recalled after having been furloughed with full pay for over two months. But it was the old reliable driver who seems to revel in his extended leave of absence. With nowhere to go, his services were not needed anyway. The humdrum daily drill often grated on your mind, but weighing the pros and cons of being virus-free or virus-infected, a concern for life helped you keep your sanity.
Having borne bravely the travails of a highly abnormal life since March 24th, when the first lockdown was imposed, it came as a real shock that a close member of the family who was perhaps far more meticulous in observing the do’s and don’ts of Covid-19 than anyone of us, had contracted the virus. Unbeknown to her and anyone else around her, suddenly she felt disoriented, finding it hard to breathe, with her oxygen levels dropping to the mid-80s. Rushed to the hospital, they immediately administered what by now is the standard Covid-19 treatment. A week later, we can report, she is making a slow recovery. Allowed to communicate on phone, minus the voice calls, after the first couple of days, it helps somewhat relieve the misery of lying on your back with all manner of wires and tubes jutting out of your body.
However, the uppermost question in her mind was how, of all the people, she had fallen prey to the virus. It answered itself when the housemaid vamoosed overnight from her quarter. Apparently, finding it hard to stay indoors months on end, the maid had on the sly begun to move around rather freely. After she fell victim to the virus, she left for her village, but not without passing on the infection to her memsahib. Meanwhile, everyone in the victim’s extended family has had to undertake mandatory tests, observe a strict 10-day home-quarantine and answer the health inspectors from the New Delhi Municipal Corporation, who come visiting regularly to enquire about your state of health. You realise how the authorities are doing a commendable job, contact tracing, enforcing quarantines and generally ensuring that the spread of the virus is kept to the minimum.
Staying on the pandemic, yours truly was virtually forced into shelling out a big packet of money for an oxygen concentrator—just in case. The electrically powered contraption, the size of a mid-sized suitcase, lies in one corner, never used since it was bought a couple of weeks ago. And, hopefully, would not be required at all, though it occurs to me that the oxygen bars at one time were all the rage in the US. They too had a something similar contraption to give the patrons a pleasurable high of breathing pure oxygen—of course, on payment of a small sum of money. The oxygen bars seem to have outlived their appeal, not seen around any longer.
Meanwhile, since the coronavirus eruption, medical equipment merchants are having a bonanza, acting pricey and dictating terms on the make, model and cost of oxygen concentrators, pulse oximeters, full face-visors/shields, etcetera, which the middle-class families feel obliged to invest in for their peace of mind, given the all-enveloping fear of the unfathomable and untreatable virus. Such is the price-gouging in the time of the pandemic that the oximeter that I had bought at the beginning of the pandemic for under Rs 2,000, is now sold at twice the price on the same e-market platform. And to make a quick buck, overnight a number of new manufacturers of hand disinfectants, oximeters, face masks and shields, etcetera, have sprung up.
Greed for money is ingrained in the human mind. The neighbourhood chemist sold plain blue-striped face masks for Rs 50 each in the first few days of the pandemic—now you can freely buy them at Rs 5 apiece. It brings to mind the great Bengal famine when a ‘Seth’ made so much money from the misery of the dying millions that to salve his guilty conscience in his last days, he founded a college in the capital in his own name. Now, every time the name of the college comes up, it recalls the inhuman profiteering by its founder from the death of the starving millions.