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How Stupider Can We Get?

This is not a political piece, although it can be misconstrued as one.

I am essentially apolitical and ideologically neutral, which could be an unimpressive detail on one’s intellectual profile. Apolitical people are generally considered spineless and inept and enjoy no respect in the eyes of thinkers.

Yet, I insist that I am not political. I am writing this piece as a commoner, pained beyond words to see people dying like flies back in her home country, India. It is the persistent ache in the heart that is inciting me to vent these words. It’s my deep empathy for those suffering that is speaking.

This is my catharsis on behalf of people that I know and I don’t know.

People who miraculously made it. (God bless them with good health and long life.)

People who succumbed, like a dear friend’s husband last year. Like an acquaintance’s father today.

What made us take the virulence of the virus lightly, I still can’t fathom, but it came back in fierce forms, mutating with a vengeance like the demon Raktabeej in Indian mythology. And all I can do is watch from far, like I do every single time calamity strikes my countrymen. But this time around, I am more than just distraught, for somewhere in the deepest recesses of my heart I still believe it could all have been a tad less severe. If not totally averted, we could have ducked the deadly trend, if only…

If only, good sense had prevailed — among the common folks and the powers that be. If only, man had prioritized being alive over everything else. If only we hadn’t taken the villain as just a bogeyman playing a prank on us. If only we hadn’t tricked ourselves into thinking it happened only to others, not us.

How simple it was for us to learn the lesson that if nature so desires, it can make the lives of the mighty and the meek merge at the straight line in the monitor all at once!

But we failed to learn because we had other concerns. Of politics, of religion, of personal agendas, of winning slanging matches. There was no one to tell us that none of those would matter in our absence, and that in the omniscient eyes of the rapidly mutating virus, we were an utterly foolish and easy prey.

Today, as a citizen who knows nothing except that the noose is tightening around people’s necks, choking a billion and odd lives in India, I am seeking political and social accountability.

I feel betrayed by my country’s government, as I confront a question that is repeatedly rising in my mind — didn’t the government have the option to postpone the elections? Couldn’t they haggle about power and political control a little after the Covid peak had passed? Couldn’t the political lot have contained its greed for a while in the interest of the same populace they claim to serve with their power? Yes, they could have.

That they had a choice was revealed to me today by someone in the know after I fired the question that was rankling inside me for several days. Do we have a constitutional option to postpone elections if the situation merits it?

Yes, we do, I was told.

Why then wasn’t it stalled? Why then did we, as a nation, collectively sign up for a Harakiri?

I was appalled to see visuals of tightly packed temple grounds in my native state Kerala; to see people revel in the drumbeats of death booming in the air, all in the name of piety.

As a citizen, I want to know who can be held responsible for this.

Why were a million benighted people allowed to be super-spreaders in a congregation that was given the symbolic status after the danger exploded? Why were religious festivals allowed in various parts of the nation, with complete disregard to the situation?

The answer is a no brainer. Because nothing taps into the psyche of the people as religion does, and no one risks jeopardizing its influence on power equations.

History has been a recurring witness to the monstrosity of power-crazy men, time after time. To those who thrive on political power, people are pawns. And like pawns they used us, at this critical juncture too. They used us against us, by draining our common sense, by robbing our discretion, by never once cautioning us that we were on the brink. What a mighty ride they took us on!

Now, every measure that is taken on war footing seems like a sham, because if people’s well-being was primary, these measures would have been in place long before the emergency sirens went off.

Covid, our country thought, had left, once and for all.

Covid, our countrymen thought, was a hyped disease.

Covid, we thought, was getting more attention than it deserved, so we decided to ignore it. We took Isaac Asimov’s words, ‘the easiest way to solve a problem is to ignore it’ too seriously.

It doesn’t matter to me who is in power — X, Y, or Z, and this holds true for any nation in the world. As long as people are not their priority, as long as public good is not on the agenda, their ideologies ring equally hollow in our ears. No doubt, in this instance, they led us astray and left us at sea, their selfishness got the better of them, and they all liberally ground their axes sharp.

However, on the other hand, I am also wondering if we ourselves didn’t let us down by stupidly following the pied pipers? When we could shield ourselves from acid rain, we chose to do a rain dance, because we thought we were non-corrosive and won’t be scorched.

A good friend recently advised me not to let the reality get to me and break my sobriety, for as per him, people have resigned themselves to their fate of living between a rock and a hard place, viz. self-serving politicians and fanatic followers of religion.

Although the advice was well-meaning, given to assuage me, it made me think how complacent and ignorant we had all become as a species, even in the face of adversity.

We are falling like ninepins unable to gather ourselves, and many are still going about things as if nothing can make a scratch. How stupider can we get, and how grossly indifferent?

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