The primary focus of the day was the anticipation, following the Prime Minister’s call from two days ago, of the exercise to light candles and lamps for nine minutes at 9 pm. People remained unclear why they were doing this but they did it anyway. The misinformation trolls took the public for a ride with various astrological nonsense about the significance of the exercise, and thus rose all the way to elected representatives claiming that lighting lamps would kill the SARS-Cov-2 virus.

In any case a lot of people did light lamps and did turn off their lights. Some even burst crackers in the middle of this pandemic while others set their homes on fire (for example in Patna, Mumbai and Solapur).

In the meanwhile, reminiscent of the wartime Christmas speeches she gave (at least that is the image it evokes in me thanks to The Crown on Netflix) Queen Elizabeth II telecast a message, speaking like a true leader on ‘self-discipline and quiet good-humoured resolve’ saying ‘I want to reassure you that if we remain united and resolute then we will overcome it.‘ Her speech although for Britons was really for the world. She did in about five minutes what most politicians have not been able to do for the past three months: she gave people ‘of all faiths and those of none’ a generous serving of hope and great boast in morale, both much needed in these somber, surreal times. (Her full speech.)

4 April 2020

Saturday

There is no news today.

Manu S. (@s_manu6314) writes today’s diary entry—

News of COVID-19 started gaining popularity in January this year; it got more attention and birthed fear in February 2020; seriousness about the virus increased in India in March 2020 and that too after the nationwide lockdown began.

After eight days of lockdown, fear about the virus is gradually decreasing. People are coming out of their homes now and then to buy, play, talk to neighbours etc. Also, the tight security of the police is disappearing. At my home too, the more the virus is in the news, involved in our daily lives, fear is gradually decreasing.

People’s desire for freedom is demanding that they view this practically rather than just look at the deaths of people around the world and sit back in fear. Even though the cases are increasing, people are calming down and starting to follow the WHO guidelines for taking precautions. They are not falling for fake news as much. Ultimately, our desire for freedom is leading us towards taking proper precautions and adjusting to this pandemic at all costs.


The Prime Minister called on the people of India to turn on their flashlights or light lamps and turn off all lights at home for nine minutes at 9 pm this Sunday (two days hence). His supporters are rushing to understand why he would demand this of the people of India at this point, while his detractors seem to have given up hope of India coming out of this crisis in one piece. It is hard to be a spectator to plays of stupidity.

2 April 2020

Thursday

Today the government released an app, Aarogya sethu, for ‘contact tracing’ COVID-19 victims. As an incredibly privacy conscious person I cannot bury the feeling I have deep inside that this app is simply going to be the first of many tracking and mining pathways that the government will set up under the cover of the ongoing crisis that it will liberally use, possibly with ill intentions, in the coming days long after this crisis has passed us.

The app requires permissions for bluetooth access (a popular method of indirect location tracking), full-time location tracking and the user’s phone number (also usable for location tracking besides individual profiling). The app claims all data is stored on your device and that only aggregate data is shared with the government. This is as yet unverified and in all likelihood will remain that way since the app has not been open sourced and public security auditing is out of the question.

1 April 2020

Wednesday

Nothing much going on today except that the people who were at the Tablighi Jamaat are being tracked, most are continuing to test positive, and our numbers are going up.

That said, an interesting video is making the rounds on YouTube today about that side of China which the Chinese government does not want the rest of the world to see. Sure, the title sounds like clickbait, but the video has a lot of substance and is worth watching.

There has long been a joke on India’s streets that the Chinese eat absolutely everything they can lay their hands on. Is it closer to the truth than any of us suspected, though?

I have never been against a religion out of bias. Indeed it is something I am quite proud of. But I also do not shy away from calling out a religion, when it is fair to do so, simply out of fear of being branded an extremist. This time round, a group of Islamic missionaries are squarely to blame for worsening the COVID-19 pandemic in India.

The Tablighi Jamaat is an group of muslims driven to encourage the practise of Islam exactly as it was practised during the time of the Prophet Mohammad. Despite the state issuing warnings and outright lockdown and quarantine laws—and despite everything that has been going on around the world all these days—this group (of about 200 men from across India and a bunch of other countries) met around mid-March at Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz and gave each other some SARS-Cov-2.

Now tens of people in several Indian states have tested positive for COVID-19 and the burden on the healthcare system and the ground workers rushing to detect contact and travel histories of these men has increased tenfold. This was a foolish move in the name of religion that could have been avoided—nay, should have been avoided. The news suggests these men are likely to be held legally accountable for their actions.

Let us talk about the police. During the ongoing quarantine, this profession is playing a key role that it never should have had to play. Ideally, people should have stayed home without any incentives but the guarantee of a continuance of normal life in all forms save outings big and small. But they have had to play a key role primarily to force people to stay home.

The famous Stanford prison experiment, conducted almost half-a-century ago, showed that the most innocent of minds when given a taste of power can take it overboard. While the Indian police force was not exactly brutal to the public violently and physically, they seem to have been given a taste for it and there is barely any indication that they will be willing to relinquish their newfound thirst for violent public disciplinary action once all this blows over.

However, it is only fair to point out that no all cops are alike. While some are disgracefully beating up doctors—despite sufficient evidence and identification—and should face disciplinary actions in courts themselves, others have come up with innovative methods to persuade people to stay home. Not all of these are equally effective, but their attempts deserve recognition nonetheless. From singing to flat dwellers and commuters on the street, to wearing silly-looking coronavirus-inspired helmets, to wielding microphones and reasoning with quarantine violators threatening to stop working altogether, the cops have been trying their best to persuade people to stay home.

While I appreciate the difficulty of a cop’s job, I do not think it justifies violence. And while I appreciate the desire to go out for basic supplies, I do not think there is enough reason in the world right now to justify why some people are violating quarantine just because they can. Everyone has lessons to learn.

Manu S. (@s_manu6314) writes today’s diary entry—

After three days I went out today to buy some vegetables. It is legal to go out for this purpose right now. I chose the evening because evenings are safer because of the police.

On the road there were countable people and bikes. First I headed to the fuel station and waited in line behind three others. The fuel station attendant asked me to wear a mask. I didn’t have one. He insisted that I wear one next time. He kept his distance from me, about three feet. Everyone looked at everyone else suspiciously while talking, even while stand next to one another and especially if they touched someone even by mistake.

I was wondering why the guy was making such a big deal about the mask because we were told to wear it only if we thought we had caught the virus. But maybe he didn’t know whether I caught it or not, and for his safety he was insistent.

Next I headed to the vegetable shop. There were some two people there too and there were boxes drawn three feet apart, so I stood inside one of the boxes. There too I was faced with suspicion. Then I realised society won’t be same ever again after this pandemic.

Even with the lockdown, infected cases will increase everyday until they find a vaccine. A lockdown alone is not going to work; people have to come out at least to buy supplies. The virus is spreading, attacking us one after another, secretively, every minute. Also, the serious decision of the government to lock down all non-essentials, and people, their education, travels, jobs etc., shows us nothing is more important than life itself.

Also, we cannot act much against nature’s decisions. We have to follow it whether we like it or not. Its decisions are unknown. This pandemic has showed us that nobody in the world can say what will happen next.

Let us talk about corporations. A lot of good and bad news has come to light since this breakdown started; and because we live in a globalised world I refer to corporations across the world, not just in India. For one, the airline industry is about to go bankrupt. They have spent tonnes of money on share buy backs but they are also crying for bailouts. A lot of people find this preposterous—not to mention unfair—because no poor, homeless individual anywhere is being bailed out. So far, this is only in the US.

Smaller companies like Blinkist have been generous, my wife tells me, offering premium services free till about mid-April. On the other end of the spectrum huge corporations like Nike have been just as generous, offering their premium services for free indefinitely, until the Coronavirus crisis is behind us. I believe in the work of only one of these companies (whose shoes I wear), but I appreciate them both.

Still others are helping in different ways: Mahindra in India has offered all their resorts as temporary facilities for patient care, and their manufactories for making ventilators. It is unclear if the government has taken up their offer. Skanray has also offered to start manufacturing ventilators on a large scale but the word is that the government has definitely not taken them up on their offer.

Speaking of the government, their response in Goa has been pathetic bordering on inhuman: all necessary services too have been shut down and people have nowhere to go for food or medicine. Across the country, as migrant workers are being tossed aside and forced to return home in large groups, the world is beginning to criticise the central government’s callous response.

From Vaishnavi M. Kulkarni.—

My Rhythms are off. Sometimes I am thinking random things like how can silence and chaos be together. Other times I am YouTubing three ingredients recipes and watching videos about dogs and unicorns. I hate uncertainty this is the test of my patience. My guitar is out so are my books. But I stayed glued to The Good Place on Netflix. I realise that I need to strike balance with how much I am consuming and creating in this time of apprehension. I don’t even know when I will get a call from hospital to attend to my duties as a psychologist.

Today I enrolled for a course on WHO site about Operational Planning Guidelines to support country preparedness and response. It is actually for UNCTs and other similar stakeholders. I enrolled anyway, since it’s free and I can get some information about how my country needs to be prepared to combat COVID-19 and everything it has brought on us.

A friend of mine Roshan Sawhil (@RoshanSawhil) remarked that, besides his work, ‘The precautions taken, and the prayers for those affected by the disease … sums up my view of the situation.’


This could be a hyperlocal issue but I find it interesting how none of our neighbours (us included) have discussed this quarantine with one another. It’s a sudden, forced change in lifestyle, a change that’s a necessary inconvenience but an inconvenience nonetheless, yet nobody has addressed it and everyone is going along with it as if it’s perfectly normal. Either everyone is scared to even talk because they fear the risk of contracting the disease, or they are secure enough within their own compounds that they couldn’t care less about the people living next to them.

25 March 2020

Wednesday
National lockdown begins

Manu S. (@s_manu6314) writes today’s diary entry—

Today is a Hindu festival. It is the new year for us. The markets are closed and the roads are empty. There is no happy moment in the festival at my home—nor outside. It looks dull everywhere. The roads are empty and there is pin-drop silence. I can only hear birds chirping and sandy winds blowing.

My family is either before the television all day long or busy preparing new dishes in the kitchen. I can go to the grocer’s, which is right in front of my house, but no further. Towards the main road there are policemen charging at people not observing quarantine. I do not want to face the police even though I am interested to see how the rest of the city looks right now. It feels like a scene out of Hollywood when aliens are attacking one of our cities.

Personally, it has become a nightmare for me. When I feel like rubbing my eyes or itching my nose I start to doubt if I might have caught the virus. I am even afraid of touching newspapers and milk packets. Sometimes when I cough or sneeze I have even more doubts about my health, especially because it takes 14 days for symptoms to show. Most of my day I keep wondering then if I have perhaps caught this disease or not.


Today was a pretty silent day. It was the first day of quarantine and I managed to read a lot (Milan Kundera’s The unbearable lightness of being), started an Instagram story series recording my daily quarantine activities, and … well, stayed at home the entire 24 hours.

People elsewhere went about in their usual way: flooding the markets with no sense of the threat they face in the form of the novel coronavirus. Some states are to blame, Andhra Pradesh for example, as they have allowed grocers to be open for just three hours (6–9 am). It is no wonder then that people flock in search of supplies. In several places, thankfully, people had cues to help them observe social distancing: chalk likes and circles indicated where individuals should stand. A cop was present as a little motivation for people to do the right thing. I am positive, at this moment anyway, that we will get it right even if it takes the rest of this week.

That said, the other problem seems to be the cops themselves. Perhaps owning to insufficient clarity in their internal memos, police officers across the country have been sadistically beating grocery and food delivery agents disrupting the promise the Centre made about essential services remaining undisrupted. It apparently led to online grocers and delivery companies having to throw away a sorrowful 15,000 litres of milk and 10,000 kilograms of vegetables.

As the day winds to an end two things are clear: individuals and states will realise a lot about themselves and each other. This virus promises to be mankind’s pause, and life will never be the same after this. Even if it will only eventually be changed by nothing more than a tiny bit, it is clear life will be changed.

People seem to be callous and uninformed about the ongoing outbreak. The police have resorted to mildly violent means to send people back home. Tomorrow is the Hindu New Year which is prompting everyone to throng markets; fears of unavailability of goods have not helped ease the situation. It is important to mention, however, that the state government has allayed such fears and has generally done a good job of dealing with this outbreak (however, the same cannot be said of the central government). The local media too has done a great job to the point where their anchors are getting annoyed and desperate in trying to convince their viewers to stay home.

The 2020 Olympics in Tokyo have been postponed for a year. India hit its tenth death today and some official estimates have put the expected number of affected cases to reach one-hundred thousand. Some people expect as many deaths and nearly five million cases.

Around 8:30 pm the Prime Minister declared a country-wide lockdown. For another 21 days starting midnight, people may move out only to procure essential goods and services. Hopefully this will calm things down and flatten the curve.

23 March 2020

Monday
State lockdown begins

Things seem to have reached a level that calls for some police action. The lockdown means all non-essential services are being shut and the cops are encouraging businesses that are not complying with the informal notice from the state government which has also promised two months’ worth of free rations—an indication that the government expects the situation to last at least that long.

On the positive side the state government is procuring thousands of ventilators, testing kits and what not so there is some peace of mind among people. Actual life—the suburban region where we live—looks and feels no different from any other day in the past. I see no reason why any other place should be any different.

As we end the day the state is going to be locked down. The news reports it as though everything will return to normal by 31 March—about a week from now—but I doubt it.

22 March 2020

Sunday—and some history
Informal national curfew

The seriousness of the COVID-19 outbreak currently spreading across the country is visible in terms of people’s awareness of the disease. The coronavirus seems to be all everyone talks about lately. But the problem with the oubreak also lies in people’s awareness or rather the lack of it: nobody cares for social distancing and nobody cares for hygiene in public.

The Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, gave a rather dramatic call for a janta curfew, a self-imposed curfew lasting all through the day. He also encouraged people to come out on their balconies at 5 pm and clap in appreciation of essential service workers helping society to make it through this outbreak. While some were responsible, most people promptly gathered in masses maintaining barely a couple of feet between one another and clapped and made conversation for at least half-an-hour.

I suspect this janata curfew is a precursor to a legal curfew. In some ways it is a clever move, in others it seems like a characteristically diabolical method to make people do the government’s bidding by making them feel like it was their own idea all along. But from a purely scientific standpoint I support its positive effects.

At 9 pm, when the self-imposed curfew ended, about 90 districts were locked down—including the one I live in—for the remainder of the month. These were the only districts where COVID-19 cases have been reported although I, like many others, suspect the true number of cases in India far exceeds the reported number which comes only from tests doctors across the country have chosen to perform.