The remainder of this year has changed for many of us. In the months that children and parents would get ready for summer vacations we are sitting inside pondering our days ahead and worrying about our individual worries – school, college, job, relationships and whatever else. On all counts, it will be a year of austerity. Indian Railways has resumed trains from today, on select routes. Besides trains connecting major cities with Delhi, there are special trains to help stranded migrant workers return home, to their respective states. In India, the railways is the nation’s pulse.
Later in the day, I sat listening to a presentation on the findings of a livelihood survey done by the Center for Employment Studies at APU. The survey, based on about 3000 workers, confirms the serious negative effects on household income and spending. The vulnerability among low income groups has risen sharply. This was expected, as India shut down on 24th March. Academic and civil society groups are doing a good job of recording these experiences in numbers and narratives. This repository of life and country in the pandemic is valuable.
The Prime Minister addressed the country today. There is a subtle convention in the way lockdown and its communication by the government of India works. In the last week of an ongoing lockdown period, the Prime Minister picks up a day to address the nation. It tends to be at 8 PM. He takes thirty minutes to communicate the only major one sentence decision that needs to be known. Then, in the remaining days of the week, other departments of his government fill in the information that the PM left unanswered during his address. A keyword from last night’s address is ‘self reliance’ for which he used a Hindi world – atma nirbharta.How relevant is this talk of self reliance in surviving the pandemic is an open question. Our newspaper’s columnists and Op Ed-ers will write their metaanalysis of it and the messy, noisy republic will muddle along into exiting from the lockdown. The next important address should be from the finance minister. Perhaps, it means that India should be self reliant in finding our way out of this pandemic – healthcare-wise and financially. I would agree if it is that.
Last evening’s address left a sense of surety about the government’s move to reopen and live with the virus from next week. Meanwhile, health experts have been warning against this hurry to completely reopen and resume working. They argue that infection risk has not reduced and it may hit back again with crowded public transport and public spaces. India perhaps is relying on its seven weeks of data on the virus’ progression through the population. Low death rate is certainly a confidence of its own kind, in these times. I hear the Swedes didn’t shut down their country like others did. But, it may be premature optimism.
Personally, a lot is changing in the months ahead. I see myself spending more time at the farm and in my hometown than in the city, for the remainder of the year. That might also help in rehabilitation of leg injury and in training for the year ahead. Moreover, social distancing is so much easier in the countryside. We might have ducked through the life threatening effect of the virus, but the economic and personal impact will need more preparation. With travel almost eliminated from this year’s plan, I find myself benefiting from not being so footloose. The headspace that this gives is of a different quality than the surge of productivity and creativity that being constantly on the move brings.
Next week will most likely change these lockdown days. The change may be that the silence and inaction of lockdown days will be gone. If these days are over indeed, then this weekend will be the time to conclude the lockdown diary.