198,412 infected, 7,984 dead. In India too, 143 cases and 3 fatalities already.
As I write this. By the time you read it, the numbers will increase. That’s the nature of a pandemic. Till the crisis passes, there is no resting place, no safe haven, no standing still. The numbers keep rising, the body count keeps increasing.
Alarming? Yes. But for an improbable few, beneficial too.
What this means is that we are in the midst not just of biological or financial panic, but moral panic too.
Twenty years ago, in Moral Panics: The Social Construction of Deviance, Erich Goode and Nachman Ben-Yehuda defined the characteristics: concern, hostility, consensus, volatility.
Don’t we see all these signs about us?
Speaking of the last, what can illustrate volatility more tellingly than stock markets across the world? In New York, London, Frankfurt, Mumbai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Sydney, it’s mayhem. Trillions of dollars of wealth erosion overnight.
But not everyone is unhappy with this meltdown.
Those shorting the market are making millions. In just a few seconds.
Let’s face it. Not just financial panic but moral contagion consumes us.
We have nightmares, breaking out into cold sweats: terrible fears of the unknown. It’s almost like Armageddon or apocalypse.
We wake up to eerie images of empty town squares and deserted cities.
Even the Vatican or Kaaba totally desolate. Whole cities shut down. Empty flights to countries which have banned both incoming and outgoing passengers. Abandoned restaurants, bare tables. Malls without shoppers. Supermarket shelves stripped of all contents. Unoccupied sports stadiums, museums, classrooms.
A Mumbai local trundling from Andheri to Churchgate bereft of passengers. Unprecedented even in times of terrorist strikes or bomb blasts. Normally filled to capacity, with commuters hanging out of open doors. Now like a ghost train without a single living soul.
At last we know. Our worst fears have come true.
But the barbarian at our door is not an ideology. It is not the threat of terrorism from across our borders. It is not the economic imperialism of the rich, nor scaremongering by those who can flood our markets with cheaper goods.
It is not even crooks and scamsters who rob honest and decent citizens of their life savings by giving or taking bad loans amounting to thousands of crores. Nor is it the menace of ongoing social and political fragmentation characterised by communalised protests against current regimes.
The bloodthirsty ogre, the beast at our door, the biggest threat to our way of life or the facilities and freedoms that we take so much for granted is not some huge and terrifying monster.
On the contrary, it is a very tiny nano creature.
Neither alive nor dead. Lethal, yet not even fully living. Lying inert for days on polished surfaces, lurking on tabletops or towels, lingering on shirt collars or nightgowns. Or, worse, going undetected for days inside silent carriers like us who pass it on unwittingly to dozens of others.
A virus so tiny that it is smaller than a wave of light. Not even large enough to have any recognisable colour. Appearing like a grainy, fuzzy arrangement of grey dots when magnified a millionfold. We now recognise it much more easily in colourful graphic representations with protein protrusions that jut out like spikes from a bilayer lipid ring.
The virus derives its name from the barbs that poke out of its surface like on a crown. ‘Corona’ means crown. Hence coronavirus.
What, one might ask, is the fatal attraction that allows a healthy human cell to open itself to its deadly embrace? Why, especially, do our respiratory cells seem to allow it to latch on? Our cells have receptors which the virus attaches itself to.
Indophobes are having a field day overmatching and ridiculing cow-urine and turmeric cures, all the while directing their high-pitched ‘3D’ narrative of disease, dirt and disgust against us
Share this on
As in the British electronic duo Disclosure’s 2012 hit ‘Latch’ with Sam Smith’s high-pitched, almost oracular vocals: ‘You, you enchant me, even when you’re not around/ If there are boundaries, I will try to knock them down/ I’m latching on babe/ Now I know what I have found/… Now I got you in my space/ I won’t let go of you/ Got you shackled in my embrace/ I’m latching on to you/… I’m so encaptured, got me wrapped up in your touch/ Feel so enamoured, hold me tight within your clutch/ How do you do it, you got me losing every breath/ What did you give me to make my heart beat out my chest?/… I’m latching on to you/ I’m latching on to you (I’m latching on to you)/ I won’t let go of you (I won’t let go)/ I’m latching on to you (I don’t wanna let go).’
The coronavirus, as it were, is saying to us, ‘I won’t let go of you (I won’t let go, I won’t let go)’… and we, enthralled in its shackles are gasping, ‘You got me losing every breath.’
What’s the good news, then?
The virus is quite a fragile glob of greasy and protein particles, a bubble almost, which bursts on coming in contact with the humblest of household cleansers. Soap.
The science of soap is fascinating. Soap is made up of hybrid, pin-like molecules, with heads and tails. The tail is hydrophobic—that is, it dislikes water, while the head is hydrophilic—that is, it loves water.
The tail punctures the fatty ring of the coronavirus rendering it useless genetic slop or slosh.
If you like numbers, the other piece of good news is that 82,762 infected people have recovered so far. In other words, the virus is more contagious than deadly. As more and more recover, its virulence will likely reduce.
Wait, there’s more.
Kids, overburdened with overfull satchels and impending exams are ecstatic to be free from the prison house of school. No more drab uniforms or rickety school buses or waking up early. Some are doubly happy to find their moms and dads quarantined with them too. After all, given their working parents’ senseless schedules, the kids hardly ever see them except on weekends.
Those who dislike the crazy pace of urban life can now enjoy a spot of forced respite. They can decompress at home, contemplating the deeper meaning of involuntary solitude and enforced meditation. Some suddenly find time for long abandoned hobbies or chores like gardening, birdwatching, cooking or even ironing.
China, where the virus originated, is now happy that the world is praising it for how ruthlessly its authoritarian regime contained and controlled it. While possibly paid media puts out stories on how bad it would have been if the virus had erupted in India instead.
Indian anti-nationals and international Indophobes are having a field day overpitching and ridiculing cow-urine and turmeric cures, all the while directing their high-pitched ‘3D’ narrative of disease, dirt and disgust against us.
For instance, consider this tweet on Monday March 16th: ‘China generating global headlines for its quarantine (and initial cover up), while India generating coverage like this: ‘A Hindu group hosted a cow urine drinking party on Saturday as they believe it wards off the coronavirus’ (bit.ly/2UftzzQ).
As Vamsi Juluri puts it, ‘Got a Pandemic? No Problem, Blame a Hindu’ (‘Today in Hinduphobia March 14, 2020: Disease, Disgust and Dehumanization from Katherine Mayo to ‘Cow-Piss’ Tweets and Coronavirus’ in his Medium.com blog, March 15th).
Never mind how dangerous, not to speak of disgusting or dirty, ‘animals covered by faeces, pus and vomit from other caged animals stacked above them’ (ibid) in China’s wet markets may be.
Never mind that the original coronavirus (better known as SARS) outbreak of 2002 also came out of southern China, spreading to 21 countries and killing 773 people.
It’s much easier to demonise India even if the original culprit is China.
Meanwhile, the contagion spreads.
And with it, it’s unlikely and not always unwilling beneficiaries.