By Shobhaa De
I read an interesting article in an American magazine, which talked about a Covid-19 condition known as “Mental Mist” — it sounds dreamy and poetic but in reality it’s a lot harsher. Almost everyone in my immediate circle has been infected by the virus now. All of us know at least five others who are coping the best that they can, and perhaps only “mental mist” will see through this terrible second surge. Scientists and researchers aren’t making things any better by warning us there are likely to be many more waves: the third one is already upon us! Here in Mumbai, we are dealing with CM Uddhav Thackeray’s version of the latest lockdown, euphemistically called a “janata curfew” (borrowed from the PM’s description last year). It’s the same old lockdown with a more “user friendly” tag. We need all the “mental mist” we can get to help us cope once again with what is already a monumental tragedy. He has shrugged off all responsibility for the alarming numbers, declaring: “Now preventing the infection is very difficult, therefore strict enforcement is very important.” No kidding, Sirji… You can happily police citizens but not admit and take responsibility for administrative failures earlier! Where were you for three critical weeks?
The second surge across Mumbai and Maharashtra is a different beast. We still don’t know how different. Is it a mutant? If so, which strain? Will those of us who have taken the jab be protected against this new strain? I think not! I know two people who contracted the virus nearly a month after their first jab — so much for “protection”. Seventeen lakh Mumbaikars got the vaccine over a six-week period, if one accepts these numbers. There’s now a severe shortage of just about everything, vaccines included. Senior citizens trudged miles to get their jabs only to come home disappointed. Two of my girlfriends are recovering in a South Mumbai hospital. A third is critical in a suburban hospital. We don’t have enough oxygen and patients are dying, literally gasping for breath. The numbers trotted out by the authorities are grossly understated, and the reason is trite: “We don’t want mass panic.” But the dead are piling up, and how long can the awful truth be buried or burnt?
While the second wave was creeping up on Mumbai, our netas were busy with just one thing: dealing with a corrupt cop! All energy invested in “fixing” Sachin Waze and Anil Deshmukh (NCP home minister, who quit). Devendra Fadnavis’ relentless pressure on Uddhav Thackeray’s rickety alliance to come clean (ha!) on the “Antilia” bomb scare ensured very little other work got done at the BMC and Mantralaya. Even those efficient bureaucrats who had done such a hands-on job to contain Covid last year sat tight for the past month, unable to act, since the CM was only worried about hanging on to his job. Without authorisation, with nobody to sign files, even the municipal commissioner (I.S. Chahal) had no choice but to wait it out, till we hit the emergency button! Our hearts go out to dedicated BMC staffers soldiering on regardless: thank you for your selfless service!
The migrant exodus has started, with no “rules” in place. Hardly anyone has the all-important Covid-negative certificate, while bus operators are offering a package deal that comes with a fake cert (300 bucks). Frankly, irate citizens are asking: “Why the hell should we abide by lockdown rules when even the PM isn’t bothering? Look at those mammoth-sized political rallies!” And look at the sadhus taking a holy dip at the Kumbh: 40 lakhs jumping into the river in the first snan. Read the asinine remarks of Uttarakhand’s CM (Tirath Singh Rawat), who defended the complete flouting of Covid protocols at Haridwar: “The devotees have Ma Ganga’s blessings.” The videos of deliriously high Naga sadhus in their birthday suits dancing and singing their way to the ghats went viral, perhaps for the wrong reasons, even as news of Yogi Adityanath testing positive made the news. Rawat Saab nonchalantly claimed: “All Central government guidelines are followed at Kumbh, be it social distancing or other norms, everything is in place.” The numbers of those who tested positive shot up from 1,863 to 10,770 at last count; one shudders to think what will follow when the sadhus and pilgrims go back where they came from. I am sending an SOS to Ma Ganga: Extra blessings desperately needed!
When citizens see the rule of law being selectively implemented, they lose all respect for authority. That’s what’s happening now in Mumbai, where a group of cops celebrate a colleague’s birthday in style, lockdown be damned. A police van was used to transport khaana peena to the thana, where the happy bunch let their hair down and some took their shirts off! Alcohol was retrieved from the celebration site, but so far no action has been taken against those naughty chaps: theek hai “pawri ho rahi hai”, boss!
People who track government mess-ups blame the bureaucrats, specially the three musketeers who advise the PM. While he was busy investing all his time and energy in the West Bengal elections, our bright chaps goofed up with the entire vaccine rollout plan: the complicated international contracts and the crucial numbers involved. By trying to drive a hard bargain, we actually lost out! Apparently, when things started to slide in the second surge, the bureaucrats panicked and did what babus always do: opted for the CYA approach. Right now, chaos reigns and nobody knows where the buck stops. How on earth are we going to contain the second wave, when we do not have enough vaccines for our people? So much money and prestige lost — why? Because those “babu bullies” got the maths wrong, leading to a cancellation of major contracts and embarrassment in the international media. Several scathing articles have appeared since the debacle, mocking our earlier boasts of “Bending it like Beckham” (in the context of the economy). Too bad the Sensex tanked, based on the disastrous Covid forecasts.
No, we are not prepared to fight this war, regardless of what the government is claiming. Lies and more lies are being thrown at us daily. Like that fake video showing a deserted Haridwar and asking: What crowds? Where crowds? This clumsy attempt at shielding the government’s monumental failure at tackling a national crisis is being seen as a crime against humanity. Such negligence! Such heartlessness!
Dealing with Covid is a lot easier than dealing with our callous netas.