There was a time when the very word used to send a chill down the spine. But the world has progressed and words are not what they used to be. In the journey of our progress, we have given to this word many other meanings. We have experimented with the word in many ways to make it best serve our interests. We have named it as war, accident, murder, and what not.
In one such experiment, we have named it pandemic. It has had such an impact that it is turning the world upside down. From Wuhan to New York, Qom to Lombardy, Moscow to Madrid, people are turning to God overnight. People are looking for escape routes from their own homes and countries. Some are looking towards the skies while others are looking towards the labs.
Countries all over the world are coming up with mitigation plans. Some are locking down cities, some are locking down people. But still, people are concerned. We have witnessed more brutal forms of death and lockdown for decades in places like Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Kashmir, Myanmar and many others. I wonder how come the so-called civilised inhabitants of this planet ignored the besieging of innocents in Syria, with children crying for a bit of bread and thousands freezing to death, and gave hardly an ear to their wailings and cries. Those Syrian children of a lesser God disappeared down the funnel through which economic and political gains flow.
Today we are locked in our own home with all modern luxuries, but there are children who don’t know what a home looks like. You may name them as Rohingyas or any other tribe, but it is of hardly any concern to the 21st-century human being. Today, people are complaining about economic losses due to the lockdown, but there are those who have been bombed for reasons unknown to them, for decades. In Afghanistan, homes have been flattened in macabre ways by drones and machines. Between the snow-clad Himalayas, trails of red blood have flown from almost every home in Kashmir.
Now governments are announcing economic packages in terms of cash and food subsidies. No such package was ever announced for African kids starving to death, or for the 700,000 Syrians, 500,000 Afghans, 500,000 Iraqis, 120,000 Kashmiris who are already dead from violence and conflict. We have seen so much of death that it has made us callous. I now look at deaths as a number, which creates no ripples of grief or mourning in my heart.
Death is a mere statistic which primetime television fight over for their TRPs. There is a plethora of blame that can be attached to individuals, countries, institutions, but the bitter truth is that we are failing as a civilisation. This is a collective failure, not an individual one.
The dark clouds of the coronavirus will vanish soon. Carbon emissions will once again rise, businesses will run as they used to, flights will resume, children will be back to schools. I fear that we will still not learn the lesson that nature wants us to learn from the various calamities that befall on us. It is high time we introspect and try to restore the dignity of human life, by restoring the indignity, the fear, the grief of the word ‘death’.
—The writer is a teacher from Budgam. [email protected]