Katsaridaphobia & COVID 19

I have to admit I suffer from acute katsaridaphobia —

My Kastaridaphobia is stronger than my fear of COVID19 or cows.

While COVID is being kept at bay with isolation, masks, lockdowns and quarantines and cows can be kept at bay by gates in India and can only be seen in restricted areas in Singapore, creatures that cause Katsaridaphobia cannot be kept at bay anywhere in the world. They have been around for 320 million years — much, much longer than our species — and are known to spread diseases like cholera, typhoid, asthma, polio, leprosy and plague.

A poet friend eulogised the panic caused in the hearts of people by these creatures, the culprits who cause kastaridaphobia. In fact, I learnt this intimidating word from him! While the verses were evocative, they sent empathetic shivers down my spine by their very description.

Have you as yet guessed what these creatures are? They swarm drains, eat faeces and carry filth — and yet we have learnt to live with them for the whole span of our species existence. These creatures are our creepy, crawly cockroaches!

I am more terrified of cockroaches than anything in the world, closely followed by cows and now, it’s corona virus. So, the three Cs that frighten me most would be — Cockroaches, Cows and Covid-19 — and I hope for a time when I will be able to laugh my fears off the face of this Earth!

You can of course call it wishful thinking!

Apposed to these are the three Cs that capitalism had ingrained into us as the life dream of all humans — credit card-condo-car — the very things that big C threatens with its fiery radial. While, we have learnt to deal with cockroaches and all the terrible diseases it can bring into our lives, while we managed to tame cows and keep them in pens, COVID still roams wild and free. The most hit are of course those who belong to the lowest income stratas. A Times report showed how in New York the poorest make up the largest percentage of COVID patients, eventhough they are not all tested because the tests are expensive. In India, one does not dare think how many deprived will be affected. The homeless migrant labour have been much in news in India and heart-breaking stories have found their way to the media. One of the reports I saw on this issue with some statistics was in Straits Times of Singapore. The report said: “The International Labor Organization warned last week that about 400 million workers engaged by the informal economy, which accounts for a staggering 90 per cent of the country’s (India’s) total workforce, risk falling deeper into poverty during the crisis. A report released by the World Bank on Sunday stated that the pandemic will reinforce inequality in South Asia, urging governments to ramp up action to protect their people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, including through temporary work programs.”

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Stay Safe; Stay Home

Stay Safe.
Stay Home.

 

The birds flew home.
They had nests.

 

Stay Safe.
Stay Home.

 

But, men?
Did all men have a place to stay?
A place they could rest?
A place that housed their beds?

 

“1.6 billion worldwide lack adequate housing”.

 

Stay Safe.
Stay Home.

 

A place that shelters them from Death by Exposure?
A place where they have water to drink?
A kitchen with hygiene?
A separate toilet that is clean?

 

Stay Safe.
Stay Home.

 

Corona is on the prowl.
Don’t gather in crowds

 

by the Yamuna waters
where the homeless gather to bathe,

 

Where Krishna with his consort played?

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Love, Love Again…

Published in Daily Star, Bangladesh on April 11, 2020

Perhaps, the time has come to Love,

Love again

the Earth,

the water, the sand,

the little creatures

beyond the land.

Love the trees

Amaltaz heavy with bloom,

Gulmohar brightening the noon,

Angsanas spreading out to the skies.

The parakeets that noisily

fly in broods; the golden orioles,

the butterflies that flit,

the honeybirds that sing

The river that quietly flows

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The Big C

In the 1990s, the three Cs — credit card, condo, car — defined “status” among the bourgeoisie. Now, another C has overtaken all the three Cs, the Big C — Corona. A tiny virus has brought mankind to its knees with all kinds of stories, rumours and the threat of depleted numbers and economies. As with anything big, many narratives weave around the virus which we cannot even see with our bare eyes. One of the things that is going around the media is that COVID 19 is a rich man’s disease — is it?

I do not know if the first man to contract COVID in China on 17 th November 2019 in Hubei province was rich or poor. But I do understand that it got carried to different countries by travelers — are all travelers rich? In some countries they could be considered rich because the majority are too poor to afford travel. Perhaps, people who are thinking this way can answer why there are such huge gaps between the incomes of the “rich” and “poor”? And is it justified to continue having them? And how would they narrow this gap?

These would have to be real time solutions that can perhaps be worked out by social science researchers and economists and then implemented by the governments with the supports of citizens willing to generate jobs, invest and work hard. Perhaps, broadly speaking more employment and higher wages would help. More jobs might also mean more wealth for the country. But that is in the future!

Right now, we are all discomfited by different degrees of isolation, boredom and irritation in not being allowed to step out. But one thing that is very clear is that this virus has become a great leveler of mankind. And that is not because it chooses indiscriminately without glancing into people’s pockets. It has actually brought our earlier life style based on an exploitative system to a halt. We no longer think in terms of greed but in terms of survival and how to avoid falling victim to a tiny creature that unifies all mankind in its line of attack. All of us now live one day at a time and thank our stars for being Corona free. Like in Camus’s The Plague (1947), we hope the virus will suddenly disappear.

Despite all our medical advances, we have not yet found a way to tackle the corona virus, named after the outer rim of the life-giving sun. In 2015, when there was an Ebola outbreak, Bill Gates in a TEd talk said that now we needed to fear not so much of other wars that might involve nuclear weapons as combat against various natural and unnatural viruses. He suggested ways to battle this. But we had no time to get away from our lives and explore battling epidemics which, at that instance,  actually was contained in a small part of the world. Perhaps, that is why the corona has appeared to give us a warning that we need to invest more in healthcare, more in value-based learning which will help us respect all kinds of life on this planet — not just human or not just capitalistic or communist.  Pope Francis has said the Corona virus was ‘nature’s response’ to our exploitative needs. “I believe we have to slow down our rate of production and consumption and to learn to understand and contemplate the natural world,” he elaborated. “We need to reconnect with our real surroundings. This is the opportunity for conversion.”

One other thing that Corona exposed is that many people do not have homes where they work. They do not have money. Despite seventy-three years of independence, India has not been able to find housing for its migrant labour population. They live inside vacant drainpipes or on corners of streets on dirty rags, subsisting on very minimal food with no access to medical facilities, potable water, education or decent homes. They have no safety gear, like I see people wear in other countries when they do construction work. Till the advent of isolation during Corona, the middle class and wealthy found it convenient to ignore the existence of this part of the population. However, as corona levels mankind, it ignited the conscience of the inert when the recent mass exodus of the deprived, devoid of homes, food, potable water, medicines and any safety measures raised many brows at an international level. May one hope that in future, these sympathetic citizens will still find it in their hearts to look for a more balanced society — a society where people will pay taxes and generate more jobs that pay regular sustenance level salaries? That they will ensure money is used for the benefit of humankind and not squandered? That the money given to the unschooled migrants has the dignity of work and self-reliance — not be given to the deprived on an ad hoc charity basis or as a dole?

We do not need a society like in Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) where the pigs who take over mankind’s reign state, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Though written as a book critiquing the communist regime, this statement can also be used to critique the selected way of thinking exhibited by the highly educated — I cannot say communist or capitalist because I am bad at classifying things. I always feel my intellect matches that of the unthinking, unintellectual population because finding classification based on class or etymology terrorizes me.

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Quantum or Love in Poetry & more (translated to German and English)

(Published Words and Worlds, April 2020)

QUANTUM OR LOVE IN POETRY

 

The moment of stillness

that deepens the night

 

The brightening of daylight

The nuomenon of time

 

in the palm of your hand —

Sparkling like a drop of Stardust

 

Have you ever held Stardust in your hand?

Silvery, Translucent, Wispy

 

You cannot see

but like Love

 

it stays. It holds

The formation of a single word

like drops that drip drip drip

 

to crystallise

Each forming

a unique pattern

a unique line

 

Drip drip drip

to crystallise

 

a unique pattern

a unique line

 

till it dissolves

in the aurora

across a brilliant sky

 

An abstraction that stretches out against time

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QUANTUM ODER LIEBE IN DER POESIE

 

Der Moment der Stille,

Der die Nacht vertieft

 

Die Aufhellung des Tageslichts

Das Nuomenon der Zeit

 

in deinen Händen-

Sie funkeln wie ein Tropfen Sternenstaub

 

Hieltest du jemals Sternenstaub in deinen Händen?

Silberglänzend, durchscheinend, dünn

 

Du kannst ihn nicht sehen

aber wie die Liebe

 

bleibt es. Es hält dich fest.

Die Bildung eines einzigen Wortes

wie Tröpfchen, die tropfen und tropfen

 

um zu kristallisieren

in jede Form

zu kristallisieren

ein einzigartiges Muster

eine einzigartige Zeile

 

Tropfen, tropfen, tropfen

um zu kristallisieren

 

ein einzigartiges Muster

eine einzigartige Zeile

 

Bis es sich auflöst

in der Morgenröte

In einen strahlenden Himmel

 

Eine Abstraktion, die sich gegen die Zeit erstreckt

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An Open Letter to my Deceased Father

Dear Dad,

I am glad you did not live to see these.

 

You died.

 

Died before you saw

them collapse by the roadside.

 

Gandhi called them his friend.

And so did you.

 

Why did God not have mercy on them?

 

Why is it they have no food?

No water, no shoes?

Why is it they have no home

in the place they work to call their own?

 

Why did they not have a home and food?

Why were there no labour laws to fulfill their basic needs —

Food, Potable Water, Home and School?

Safety rules?

 

Why is it that Only Now, shame and guilt bows our heads?

 

And yet, yet no one asked,

asked before the Exodus,

why they have no homes – no questions asked for more than half a century —

till the death layer of the sun threatened to silence all Mankind?

 

Are they not Human? Not a part of Mankind?

 

Why is it we point fingers but cannot take a stand?

Why is it we never asked while they laboured on our land,

 

Who will give them shelter? A future for their children —

 

Now swallowed by the virulence of the virus,

Or, is it Starvation’s hungry mouth?

Or was it Exhaustion? Lack of Water? Dehydration?

 

Dad,

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