The Greatest Show On Earth
The Greatest Show On Earth
I am extremely obliged to the unknown benefactor for allowing me to crawl but stay alive to enjoy the Greatest Show on Earth from a ringside seat.
No, no, I am not referring to the mega Hollywood movie of yesteryears with the same title. I am writing on the most recent event normally known as the Corona Pandemic.
However, one must realize that the identical title-ship is not casual; it refers to the similarity of theme and structure. Both are built around Circus, have ringmaster, trained animals, skilled gymnasts, in short, a team that provides the thrill component. But the salt of a show, fun, and entertainment is provided by jokers. Take the jokers out; the circus becomes an athletic event.
Before the present event, Global in origin, Local in manifestation, made its glorious air route entry in India, my life was just plain routine. My age and the refusal of my knees to carry the load of my body forced me mainly to stay indoors. My sole source of entertainment was the television. I must confess that this rectangular piece of the screen has been a source of 24X7 uninterrupted hilarious programs. I used to keep my choice among three alternatives, all comical: Soap Opera, News, and Thematic discussions. Each had some touch of Laurel & Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Baby Tuntun, Johnny Walker, and similar popular comedians.
Take the case of soap operas; for some reason, they use only one camera. This makes the dialog digital: 5 seconds on, 5 seconds off. The 5-second dialog break is needed to capture the facial expressions of all the actors/actresses on the stage, one by one, and reveal them to the remote viewers. The facial expressions actually tell the story. A friend has a smiling face, the bad man has squinted eyes, the cunning has a sly smile and the duffer shows a perpetual idiotic grin. I used to garner huge entertainment out of the clipped show, on and off, off and on with multiple expressions of all 9 emotions. The show is a cousin of classical dance forms like Bharat Natyam, Kathakali, etc. where somebody sings to provide the background noise and the face of the dancer speaks. To me, the soap operas are prose version of Nabarasas dance recitals, with the footwork and hand movements of dancer replaced by an army like movement by players.
News time was the best entertainment. There will be touches of news if one is really attentive, having practiced mind concentration exercises over long periods. The main item is analysis, a hilarious analysis that tries to combine Einstein, Shakespeare, Gladstone, and all 10 Mahavidyas compounded within the newsreader. Here is an example: It is monsoon time and India’s food security is substantially dependent on monsoon precipitation. But TV will project flooded huts in villages and under-passes of capital cities, ministers and administrators talking about doles and their misuse, statistical data of rainfall pattern, the impact of stellar positions on the monsoon and of course with ad breaks for hair-remover, baby food, racing cars. I stopped becoming frustrated after realizing the basic comedy hidden within News time. Since then News-time is a Fun-time break for me.
A close second in the ranking of entertainment power is group discussion. Each discussion has an anchor, the human version of a device used to tie a boat from floating away on its own will. In TV debates, one can find anchors who do not like boats at all and hence themselves act as boats. He or she does not allow so-called speakers and experts to say anything; for 80 to 90% of the program time, one hears the wise, all-knowing voice of the anchor. Another type of anchor believes in typhoon hitting the boats. Six to seven speakers are allowed to speak together creating the environment of a fish market. Nobody listens, all shout at the top of their voices. During this chaos, my source of entertainment is the face of the anchor. Sometimes, it is the amusement of a mother seeing her children fighting for a piece of marble. Sometimes it the face of Buddha or Christ, silently saying, ‘forgives them, for they do not know what they are saying’. Sometimes it is the face of my old school teacher with a cane in hand.
Since there are countless channels, I could always find one for entertainment depending on my mood: never for a good show, a good discussion, or for any reliable information. And now COVID 19 has broadened my screen for entertainment. I have become an active member of my own entertainment world.
Earlier, I could take a short walk along the road in front. But now, I stay on the first floor only and I have become a male Juliet. I stand on the balcony, a Romeo vendor is on the ground, looking up endearingly, pleading for my acceptance of his heart-ware transformed into hardware. Sometimes I surrender; my love letter, a 50 or a 100 rupee note floats down from the first-floor balcony to the eager bosom pocket of the Romeo. The joy on his face that he has made a huge profit inspires me to laugh unrestrainedly. But the small scene from Romeo and Juliet is insignificant to the panoramic stage show I see around.
As the audience in a circus, the whole nation waited for the show to begin. The drums, the bugles, Corona reaches India by air from several of 24 countries suffering from the onslaught. Then starts our show; the Ringmaster makes his entrance after many days of anxious waiting.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” boomed the voice, “Adopt Janata curfew, voluntary isolation to avoid the invading army. You will win in 2 days. Then celebrate your victory”.
I celebrated wholeheartedly with three other elderly ladies. I was beating an iron railing with a wooden mallet, two were blowing conch shells and the chair-bound eldest was merrily beating a metal plate with a serving spoon. We were engrossed with our orchestration and forgot the time. A few neighbors had their fill and beseeched us to stop.
COVID maintained its onward march.
I did not understand anything about the why of the proclamation, but as a law-abiding old man, had faith in the ringmaster who, in my opinion, has a divine connection. Then the second item of the show was presented. It was amazing and left me speechless. Long time back I got chickenpox and the first thing I did was to transfer my near and dear ones to my relatives to isolate them from me. But now we had a few thousand of our kin ordered to stay on in enclosures which are located within the most infected area. It was not just an order, it was simply imprisonment; no transport was available, food was provided into the cells. I recalled Cellular Jail of the Andamans. I knew that it represented divine order and waited eagerly for the next item.
I was not wrong. The item was a voodoo show. The whole nation chanted, ‘Hee-haw hee-haw nine nine nine nine”, and set a trap for the dark Queen of COVID; All but one light were switched off enticing the evil spirit to burn like a moth. I must confess that I was too scared of the dark, blood-sucking evil spirit and kept all lights on.
The death march of COVID remained unaffected.
The next item was, Stay Silent.
There was no respite from the constant reminder that one must wash hands with soap repeatedly to stay alive. Radio, TV, telephone, loudspeaker, and every such system were tuned to this message. Posters and Videos showed how to wash hands under a running tap. But I had a small question: How will families with no running water and those who fetch even drinking water from a long distance manage the hand wash rituals. I wrote to medical bosses, print and electronic media, political and cricket Dadas, and even suggested that every family may be given one liter of sanitizer along with one kg of daal/chana through ration card. Nobody responded. I started thinking that social distancing, hand wash is not important; we are doing because we want to copy more developed human beings.
My thinking was based on two pieces of evidence:
COVID-19 has high spreading power, but low killing power. It is like HYV of cucumber: high productivity, but poor in taste and food value; The people in Europe and the USA are living in sanitized areas comparable to an operation theater, and thereby miss the opportunity to face infections. They have no in-built self-defense mechanism against an unknown virus-like Corona. On the other hand, we in India are exposed to all types of known and unknown infections from the moment we are born. This slow poisoning must have developed a skill and mechanism within us to produce protective particles as soon as new virus attacks. Also, the dozens of viruses within our body keep them substantially engaged in war amongst themselves, as in the Mahabharata war. There was no taker for my brilliant deductive logic. That is of course a common habit of us Indians to ignore any new thought generated from within, till a sahib says it. My policy was to make everything easy; many will get infected but the majority will cure themselves. A few will die, but their number will definitely be a small part of death due to TB, road accident, wife burning, lynching, etc.
Some pundits in Kolkata did some investigation and announced the out of 64,000 affected persons,250 died of Corona, a mere 0.04% only; they also said that the virus strengthened other diseases to kill another 1200 patients, adding 1.9% to the total. Pundits in the capital did not like the analysis, but when the west supported the result, announced that 30% of death is due to corona and not 15% as declared by the Bengali pundits. But both agreed that the overall killing power of the new infection is around 2% only.
The next item in the pandemic circus is ‘Jugglery( Medicines)’. Suddenly hundreds of groups started producing Sanitizers, COVID repellent, COVID Sure-Cure. Since a lot of people with born divinity joined the show, normal rules for introducing medicines were dispensed with. In case there is some public reaction, the item is withdrawn from the market to be re-marketed with a different label, The overwhelming enthusiasm pushed our scientists to introduce even a vaccine on Independence Day, by-passing international protocol. This item is providing great amusement to the whole world. There is some rumor that the product will be released a bit later.
In most circus shows, there is an item called Parade, sometimes at the start of the show, sometimes at the end. Pandemic Circus also had a similar menu. Lakhs of people participated. They walked several hundred kilometers. It was a spectacular show: children pulling an ox-cart with grandmother, husband pulling a cycle rickshaw with wife, family parading with an invalid on the shoulder or on a wheelchair, young people acting as railway trains to walk along tracks. Media made great efforts to show the parade to people far and wide, politicians gave heart-rendering speeches but none provided any transport, lest it disturbs the show. Some accidents took place as expected for such a gigantic spectacular show. But there was no weakening of enthusiasm. Some participants in the parade traveling along railway tracks were run over by goods train; the railway authorities charged them posthumously for trespass on railway property and polluting the tracks with their mashed bodies and entails.
I knew that the climax was still to come. It has come recently. Schools are now conducting virtual classes. More than 60% of children in India who have no access to smartphones, computers, and the internet have been told to wait on the sidelines allowing a minor group to go ahead. In 1947, we got rid of Sahibs and created a place for the natives. The cycle is complete. India has created its own Masters and Slaves.
Corona pandemic is having the last laugh. It could not kill the people. It has successfully destroyed the Democratic Republic of India.