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Reflections in Isolation: A Lock-down Log

Patricia Pereira-Sethi 

As I sit in my sanctuary overlooking the sea, locked-down and locked-in, herewith some thoughts to share with my readers.

  The pandemic has levelled the playing field. It has made us all equal no matter our caste, creed, occupation, or financial situation. If an apocalyptic phenomenon, which has the world trembling in its lethal grip, can treat us as equals, perhaps we can respond to each other as equals too. Instead of frowning with disdain on those people whom we consider to be children of lesser gods.

  For the disease has reminded us that we are all inter-connected: whatever affects one will impinge upon another. Hence the boundaries that we have erected have little or no value. Whenever we feel tormented by limitations and lock-downs, we should recall those unfortunate souls whose entire life has been consumed by oppression and tragedy. Through war, famine, displacement or poverty.

  Indeed, the virus doesn’t give a hoot if we are famous or not. It attacks everyone with the same zeal and vengeance. Princes, prime ministers, Oscar winners and million-dollar-deal ballplayers have capitulated before it. So those starlets and socialites, who have spent most of their lives riding  on a gracious and gentle papa’s coat-tails or those of their trophy boyfriends, should stop pompously lecturing our dedicated ministers and Health Secretary about how to keep us safe, interspersed with coos and aw-shucks sounds,  about  how much they love Goa and care about us Goans. Instead of lashing out with utter crassness, perhaps they could offer one of their myriad dwellings as a quarantine centre to the state. As a pooja perhaps!!  No one needs more than one residence anyway. Where on earth will they find the cheap help they have gotten away with for so long to clean their crammed, kitsch-filled rooms? Most of our domestics have cordoned themselves off in their villages, and who knows when they will be back. “Less is more” will become the post-Corona mantra.

  It is also time to accept that most Goans view the Bollywood crowd as “out

siders” because they have done zilch for our state. Except to use a convenient paradisiacal location to live in secure and sealed enclosures, associate only with their ilk, dine primarily at establishments run by their jet-set pals, raise their eyebrows dubiously if we happen to drift into the vicinity. They never mingle with the “natives” unless necessary. They rush at marathon-speed through Dabolim airport, eyes obscured by trendy shades, hats pulled over their heads, faces fixated on their feet, as if they don’t want our presence to penetrate their walled-in exteriors and fake facades. They barricade our roads and public spaces when they indulge in their film shoots, and shoo us off angrily if we accidentally infiltrate into their demarcated Lakshman Rekha zones. Have they ever forked out a small portion of their considerable earnings to uplift the poorer sections of this state? Have they donated anything of significance to the welfare of the

Goan citizenry?

  We have come to appreciate that life is too short to fret and fuss over designer clothes and bags, expensive jewellery and mobiles, fancy cars to prove one-upmanship over the neighbour. Life will acquire more depth when we realise that family and close friends are far more significant. When we care for those who have so little, paying them their full salaries on time, tending to those who are old and sick. When we respond to those crying strays and restless animals on the road, the thirsty birds on our balconies, the hungry squirrels who stalk us for morsels.

  The virus also underscores how precious our health and immune systems are and how we have damaged them through fast foods, manufactured and boxed products, drinking water that is contaminated with chemicals dumped defiantly into our lakes and rivers. It reminds us that we have destroyed our planet and eco-system through greed, materialistic goals, and pure unadulterated selfishness.  Maybe we will change for our grandchildren’s sake.

  We are immensely grateful to strangers and people we never knew existed for their kind and unstinting assistance when we needed it. We are indebted to compassionate professionals who responded instantly to our medical needs: the ENT specialist Dipak Murty, physician Oscar Rebello and surgeon Mahesh Naik. We are motivated by those religious guardians who returned messages for counselling during a daunting phase, thus helping us trace a route back to serenity.

  We are offended by those foreign passport holders who do nothing but criticise everything in this nation, even as they hunker down within the Goan safety net. We have the strong urge to tell them that if they have so much to complain about, they should go back from whence they came: to countries crippled by the trauma of countless deaths. But we hold our tongues out of a sense of decency in these, the worst of times. And wish they would shush up. For it is the moment to keep egos and tempers in check.

  We must unequivocally support our leaders who are spending sleepless nights trying to tackle a never-ending upheaval: confronted as they are with a full-scale battleground scenario. Constant carping does not help. In turn, officials should appreciate that a hasty hike in the basic costs of living: water, electricity, petrol and school fees, will overburden an already encumbered citizenry. It will cause even further hardship and mental anguish, especially for those who have recently lost their jobs, or not received their salaries in months.

  We seek solace in the spiritual and connect intensely to the Divine. It is time to introspect, to retreat into oneself. As Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once wrote: “Be still. Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity.”

  The virus will inevitably pass like some horrific nightmare and we will blaze into a post-Covid era:  the post-pandemic Holy Grail, a new Nirvana, which will yank us off the path we were on to one far more constructive and enduring. Hopefully it will herald a new beginning, reminding us of several important lessons that we have long dismissed as archaic and pointless. It is up to each one of us to contemplate whether we can emerge as transformed men and women—or not!

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