It was on the Saturday the 24th of October, 2020, with the three days’ holiday in its infancy, that I dozed off with a mild ache pulsing through my meagre frame, right after the morning bout of toast and ginger-chai. The beautiful holiday lay sprawled at my feet like a tranquil lagoon, as sparkling and deep as can come the way of a middling bank employee. Its colour was turquoise, but the hue kept changing to purple, pale green and even pink. Secure with the knowledge of nothing hounding me for the next three sunrises or sunsets, I fell in love with every colour that graced my eyes.
The pain though returned in the evening. And it stayed put. The next day wasn’t any better. The evening of the Sunday found me at the doorsteps of the family physician whose oximeter found me in default of the precious element called oxygen, my body having only 95 percent saturation. I was promptly flagged off to the nearby government hospital for a Coronavirus test but the window conducting the procedure was closed for the day.
It was a tough, sleepless night. The fever that had made home in my tendons and joints was now coursing through the veins of my body like the bullet train promised by our prime minister. The sun rose fitfully in the east as I clawed my way out of the night. I was at the counters for the test five minutes shy of 08 AM, the time it was supposed to begin operating. After a while, someone entered my details in a register, and a lady next door prescribed a list of drugs including a cough syrup, and I was instructed to wait. The wait grew longer.
Meanwhile, something kept simmering inside me, and it must have been stamped all over my face, for my usually placid wife, who had accompanied me to the hospital, lost her cool. I’d be the last man on the earth to blame her, considering the ceaseless grumbling of an elderly matronising support staff about people having nothing better to do than showing up bang at eight in the morning, not allowing the girls to have a proper breakfast even on a day like that, which happened to be a prominent festival too. It was Dussehra Alright!
The promised girls came. They kept discussing the ‘extra items’ in breakfast.
For years, I have been curbing my tendencies to whip out a multi-barrel rocket launcher where a whiplash would do. It has not been good to my body or the brain, and my homemaker and friend has been an active moderator and coach unto me in the journey. But, as she herself had lost her composure, I went berserk and unleashed the warship killer intercontinental ballistic missile, the Dong Feng 31, and began dialling in what I believed was the coordinates of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. It worked like magic, for within the next minute I was given an Antigen test. I was advised that rRT-PCR tests had been halted for ‘some reason’ on that day. But haven’t the coronavirus Antigen test kits established for themselves a reputation of being shamelessly dicey? So, the two of us, man and wife, crestfallen and all, went to an expensive private medical facility to get the ‘real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction’ test done on me. It turned out that unless an inhouse doctor had recommended, I could not take the test. Fortunately, the inhouse doctor we consulted turned out to be a very encouraging and supportive gentleman who prescribed a cocktail of antibiotics, anti-allergic and probiotic medicines for me, apart from approving the test and a week’s rest.
The following day, content that my day job could in no way claim me back for a while, I was lost in another siesta at the banks of the now magnificently enlarged lagoon, when my slumberous ennui was shattered by a phone call that rang simultaneously on my phone as well as the iPad.
“This is the Corona Control Centre calling!”
“Your sample was found positive for Corona. Where are you?”
“I am, of course, at my home.” I managed, digesting the impact.
“Please don’t move.”
“I am not moving at all!”
“How many of you are in there? In the family?”
I pictured a family of four, activists of a sleeper cell, holed out in a shady lane of Kashmir, taking instructions from the extremists of a rogue state further west. I did not like it one bit.
“Call me legion, for we are many.”
I explained that. I also explained that the others are highly ‘negative’ people who should be trusted. Except, perhaps one more, which I didn’t acknowledge, of course. Never thought negative could be so beautiful a word.
“Don’t move then, any of you. A doctor will visit you soon to quarantine you.”
That was pretty unsettling. But as I kept replaying in my mind the dialogue I just had, the phone and iPad burst upon me once more. I reminded myself to delink the iPad from the calls as soon as I am through the call.
“This is Corona Command Centre!”
“What? I just received a call from some control centre.”
“Right. We are the Command Centre! You Mr Oomash-Shanker?”
“Sort of.” I wondered how difficult it was for the active generations of my own country to pronounce my name.”
“You are Corona Positive!”
It was followed by a lengthy interview about my propensities to travel and socialise, and a strict warning not to move. I said I was already immobilised by the previous call. Before I could delink my iPad from the calls, it jumped on me once more.
“Hello! This is the police control room!”
“Police control room?”
“Yes. Your name figures in today’s corona positive list. We need to register your name, address etc.”
“But you can’t arrest me just because I am corona positive!”
“Are you Arnab Goswami?”
“Of course not!”
“Then why will we arrest you? But if you plan to move out of the house, we will be watching!”
“Who says I plan to move around?”
“Good. You need to answer a few questions then.”
“Shoot.” I tried to project a false bravado, as if I were Dirty Harry or someone.
“Tell us how many corona positive people you know about?”
“That’s not possible for me to tell! Not guilty. I mean, if only I knew about people being positive by merely looking at them, I’d never have contracted the virus.”
“No. Sometimes you know. Always remember, we are the best police in the world after Scotland Yard!”
“But that is what is being claimed about the police of a state whose name begins with ‘M’, is it not?”
“Well, our state shares the same first character, does it not?”
I realised the gravity of a state whose name shares the opening character with another law-loving state. I thought of people walking in and out of crime scenes like abundant stray dogs and dead bodies being rolled out turned on their sides with incriminating stuff lying alongside under the sheet. And I thought of a girl undressing to the last thread before jumping off to her death from a tall building and her files being ‘accidentally’ deleted by the cops within a month from death. Some say the post mortem was carried out after the corpse was cremated already.
It was highly unnerving, but it imparted an important lesson to me. Next time I plan to get infected by an uncontrollable disease, or perhaps commit a crime for that matter, I need to cover my tracks. Never disperse your coordinates like confetti, I told myself under the breath, because it will all return to hound you like fissile material found in ramshackle nuclear warheads. Old wisdom, but it took a certain experience to kick in, like a child’s first brush with fire.
That was not all. I received a call that made me visit the loo in the aftermath. It was a call from the Office of the Collector of the City.
The erstwhile masters of this conglomerate of states, the East India Company, and the British Monarchy in succession, instituted the powerful post of the Collector to rule over the uncivilised populace. The British have left, but the Collectors still rule the cities, purportedly to carry on the unfinished business.
“That the Collector shall also keep an Abstract Register, in English, of the proceedings of this Court, in which shall be entered only the Names of the Prisoners, the Crimes or Offences they stand charged, and the Sentence or Acquittal, which shall be transmitted in like Manner, twice every Month, to the Sudder Adawlut.”
That was enough to instil the fear of the Administration in me, and suddenly, the Wuhan Virus was reduced to a lump of cow dung on a pockmarked road in which I had dabbled my erring foot. Immediately after relieving myself of the nature induced liquids, I vanished in the seams of my bedsheet, not setting a foot on the floor till an entire revolution of the planet. Eventually, the powers that be assigned a physician to me who paid a personal visit to put me under house-arrest for a period exceeding a fortnight.
Now that I am past the tunnel where I had a series of nerve-wrecking duels with the invisible beast on a nightly basis, much of which was as much psychological as it was physical, I feel constrained to scribble these notes for the uninitiated. I have received an enlightenment which I daresay compares well with the God of a certain sect who had to pray under a tree for ages for a similar awakening. I can see now at a scale that is cosmic and microscopic at the same time, how perfectly the pandemic is being managed by the controllers of this nation. My only regret that remains, however, is that given the astounding success in smothering the bug, why our law enforcement agencies have to remain the next best after certain investigating department abroad? As I write this, I am not sure if Mr Biden or Mr Trump will return to the White House in the United State of America, and how badly the incumbent will take the slippage of the legendary FBI from the pedestal. I also wonder how the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation or the People’s Armed Police of China will feel about being absolutely surpassed by us.