Long time ago, when we were still children, I remember my mother rebuking me for any reckless act of mine with an idiom – ‘aa bail mujhe maar’ – literally meaning come bull hit me. On my responding with what I thought was an irrefutable logic that the other person was also doing it, I most likely got a whack on my shoulder with a retort ‘agar who kuen me kudega to kya tum bhi kud jaoge?’ – again literally meaning that if the other person wants to jump in the well, will you also jump after him?
We started growing up and so did our vocabulary. We also learnt proverbs or idioms from across the world. We learnt that we were not the only race with a penchant for being reckless. The English loved to show a red rag to a bull or to fish in troubled waters. It was even glorified in business by appreciating several successful businessmen who earned billions by being reckless in decisions – or so we were made to believe through the media.
And so continued the glamour behind the aura of being reckless. Being reckless was considered a sign of being macho. I started smoking at the tender age of 15, considering it to be a sign of virility, and continued smoking till the age of 35, when I realised that it was macho to actually give up smoking because I cared about my family. I also realised that one did not earn money in business by being reckless – the media was only glorifying this aspect. All astute businessmen took decisions after a careful consideration of all pros and cons. The only difference was that some of these gentlemen or ladies were faster in taking such decisions and thus were the early entrants. The days of risking your lives for prospecting in the gold or other mines in the 19th century was long past or so I thought having survived the 20th century and now in the 21st century.
And the end of second decade of 21st century brought another bull…err… virus – the novel corona virus. For many of us living in our sheltered homes, it was something too far in China. Many of us thought that we were safe. Alarm bells started ringing when slowly it started inching towards distant shores – Italy, Japan, USA, Canada and then even our shores down south – Kerala. But for many even Kerala was too far, as the virus was making a slow progress across our lands, not unlike that other race a few centuries ago – those people from England.
We rediscovered our old idioms to prove our machoism, only that now it was changed to ‘aa corona mujhe maar’. An educated lady in Bangalore, in the IT profession, whose husband was detected positive after an official foreign tour, and who had been advised a precautionary home quarantine called up her father in Agra. The media says that this young woman was advised by her father that doctors can say anything and better that she came to her parents’ home. The lady took a flight to Delhi and then a train to Agra.
And closer home in my own family, all of us educated – so I hope, there were still debates about our going out to the vegetable shop to buy vegetables and to the market for so many other small things. We had suddenly realised what such a small being as this virus can do in a country which is able to survive despite eating food in roadside eateries or having gol gappas right next to flow of sewage drains.
Our affinity for being reckless continues. I guess it comes out of generations of a mental training from our ancestors so much so that it is now deeply ingrained in our DNA. Yesterday we saw an elderly gentleman of our society shouting and screaming at a lowly paid serving staff of the grocery store within our premises and actually coming very close to him by holding him by his collar. It seems that the gentleman had already bought four litres of milk a few hours earlier and had come back to buy additional four litres, to which the staff had objected. The gentleman – though I even shudder to call him by that salutation – had apparently also slapped this young boy inside the shop for the objections being raised. I thought that if nothing else, the fear of catching the virus should be enough to keep the old man from keeping at an arm’s length what to talk of touching with the gesture of a slap. On a lighter note I am reminded of the younger days when roadside romeos would prefer the girl of their attention to slap them – at least that would give them a feel of her soft hands – or so our movies of those times showed.
I was speaking to a friend today morning. He is a very senior police official. While I was speaking to him, I was distracted by a loud voice booming out of a police van moving on the road in front of the society. The gist of their communication was that people should stay inside. I was recalled back to my phone conversation with my police friend. He was telling me that they had to resort to lathi charge at some place where people had gathered in front of a fruit vendor. Someone said that it was democracy and police cannot do a lathi charge just like that. His response was a sensible quip that sometimes this is necessary to implement democracy. The vendor was also selling okra at Rs 150 a kg, in turn fuelling a panic speculation of vegetables and fruits going out of stock.
I have few memories from the 1965 Indo-Pak war when I was a small child and from the 1971 war when I was not so small but still a child. Almost the entire communities and the country were involved in contributing whatever they could in those times. I remember people had blackened the upper half of their vehicles so that their lights could not be detected by an enemy plane when flying over. I also remember that all of us were given newspapers to paste on windows so that no light filtered out during blackouts in nights. I also remember the fear that the siren would instil in our little hearts as it signalled that enemy planes were flying overhead, and we would rush out to switch off all lights till the all-clear siren was sounded again. All of us were expected to stay indoors during the night and streets were completely deserted – probably the thieves were equally scared to come out on the streets or probably the scenario evoked a sense of patriotism in their hearts.
This is also war – of a slightly different nature – against an unseen enemy who we do not even recognise as enemy. There is also one other difference this time – we do not have the ammunition to fight this enemy except for us to isolate ourselves to kill this enemy on its own. We need to understand that the new macho is not strutting about but actually to fear the enemy and stay inside our homes. I have no doubt that in time our medical sciences will give us the ammunition to fight this enemy, but the enemy is here to stay – in another mutated form. I also have no doubt that in time other such enemies will rear their heads about which we will be completely ignorant till the time technology catches up with them.
This event will also change the way that we work – if it does not then we are in for more trouble in the future when other viruses attack. Many industries or departments need to work on the frontline and onsite. But people in many industries and departments can actually work from home. I can think of the productivity that it can bring into the system. I have always found women to be highly productive at workplace except when they are forced to take a break to either give birth to children or to take care of their education in their adolescence. Can you think of a scenario when these women take only a few days off to give birth and then are able to resume their work since they are able to manage the child while working from home? There are many professional works which can be performed from home and do not actually require to be physically present in an office even for men. The men can then also contribute to household chores – which I am ashamed to say is a habit which I did not develop because of the highly patriarchal society that I grew up in. Even today my mother feels uncomfortable if she sees me warming food or bringing crockery from the kitchen to the dining table.
Another advantage of this wfh, which I for a long-time thought was a misspelling of wifi till the time my young daughters corrected me, can be that offices would require lesser prime office space. Before the real estate people throttle me, let me give them also an unsolicited advice – this freed up space can be used to house the remaining people who are not working from home. Can you imagine a scenario where the person just takes a lift from an upper floor to reach his office on a lower floor in the same building? He has time to go up to his home during lunch break and spend some more quality time with his family. And to top it if he feels like going down to the office for some work which he can only do from office – well he is just a lift away.
My imagination is now in full flow. But wait, I can hear my wife calling me to dust the drawing room furniture since I am working from home. I am in no mood for ‘aa bail mujhe maar’ kind of scenario – this is the new macho me. Bye and cheers till my next musing.