Hello Hypochondria, My Good Friend
Obsessing with a feeling of unease, slight feverishness and a bit of body ache? Is it ‘season change’ or the C-word?
Bengalis have a very specific untranslatable condition called “ga myaj myaj”. It’s a feeling of unease, slight feverishness, a bit of body ache and more-than-usual ennui. It’s a staple during this time of the year which Bengalis call “season change”. This year, of course, the usual hypochondria that afflicts the Bengali body and soul has a new name—Corona panic.
The other day, a neighbour made polite noises about how unusually pleasant the Kolkata weather was for a March evening. Then he said ruefully, “Of course, now everyone is anxiously awaiting the full heat of summer, hoping it will fry the Corona virus as well.” We are never happy.
Yesterday Once More
Bengal, which has bandh culture in its bone marrow, can easily comprehend what is fashionably being called social distancing these days—schools shut, movie theaters closed, stores shuttered. It feels like yesterday once more.
Actually, the malls are not yet shuttered since Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee thinks that could lead to food shortage. Instead, there are people at the entrance squirting hand sanitizer. Of course, the new divide between the haves and the have-nots is between those who have the luxury to self-isolate and those who don’t because their jobs require them to man the gates of malls, work in hospitals, and keep the buses running.
A Connected Community
I get a barrage of emails from everyone, from food delivery apps to airlines to retail chains, all titled “An important message for our community” instead of offering discounts.
The irony is we have all discovered how connected we are as a community thanks to a virus that requires us to self-isolate. Of course, we all have our own ideas of what self-isolation and community mean. I am sure some of us piously going into self-quarantine think we are all alone at home by which we mean we are all “alone” with two maids, the cook and the driver. My mother is anxiously monitoring her daily soaps, nervous that as shooting stops, she will be doomed to watch reruns. Her club has cancelled its Corona talk because of Corona fears.
A New World Is Breathing
In India, the virus footprint is still officially low. Whether that is because of good luck, preemptive measures or just reflects a lack of mass-testing is up for debate. But it means that we can sit in Kolkata and shake our heads over headlines about Northern California, which includes Silicon Valley, putting some 7 million people in stay-at-home lockdown.
We still have not come to terms with the economic impact this will have on businesses, especially those which require customers to come through their doors. We still have what sounds like the “ga-myaj-myaj version” of a global pandemic that is striking terror in European capitals and Americans cities. The world order seems to be standing on its head as African countries are imposing a ban on European visitors. America, once nervous about who it let into its borders, now finds itself considered as the undesirable immigrant, subject to cancelled visas and thermal scans.
But for the moment, we are taking baby steps in learning to live in a different way. As Arundhati Roy once wrote in another context, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” As we self-isolate and simultaneously discover that we are all in this together, we might be able to hear that new world breathing. It’s just sad that it took a rogue virus to drive home that message.