Sparks of Goodness and Charity, but Little Hope
Speaking for myself, I felt the first lockdown in March/April 2020 was a bit of a lark. It was a new experience even to us oldies who had gone through the 1971 insurgency; had civil war memories of suicide bombers and marauding Tigresses and the second JVP insurgency in the late 1980s. Some of us even remember the shutdowns and deprivations during World War II when, as a colony of the British Empire, we were embroiled in it and some of our men enlisted. Colombo and Kandy, especially, was overrun by army persons: British, Canadian, Australian and the dark skinned from African countries. Khaki was all over and we islanders had to suffer blackouts, paucity of food, rice not being allowed to be transported without a Kachcheri permit and frightening air raid practices.
As I said, the first lockdown though long was taken in stride. We have done the same this time too, but with little hope and much anger. The first lockdown brought in results since it was timely. Thus infection of COVID-19 was reduced, patients decreased in number and deaths could be counted on the fingers of two hands.
Not so this time. The lockdown should have been declared in early April, at least before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. So many lives could have been saved and hospitals not overburdened nor medical staff overworked. And it could have been for just 14 days. We don’t know whether we are in for another week confined or whether the lockdown will be terminated on the 21st. The pandemic has far from abated.
We were totally unprepared for this new situation. Curfews we knew and had lived under but total shut-ins were a new experience. As I said earlier it was novel and we somewhat enjoyed, or at least, were intrigued. There was a paucity of sales people moving around Colombo residential roads, while places like Nugegoda were very well served. A friend told him how the veggie seller would arrive in his van, then the fruit seller in his three wheeler. The sales cry for eggs was heard in the three languages and a fish van dripping melted ice would be next on line. Chicken too was brought around. It seems to be the same even at present though the fish vendor may be absent.
A friend living on Flower Road on a lane close by, gave me the news of this vendor or that arriving at their doorstep; directed my way. I was so relieved when the first veggie seller came around. It was a case of telephone calls asking whether fruits were needed etc. Not so much this time. Even unskilled-in-new-technology me orders on-line now. We who are able to order thus and have the wherewithal, limited though compared to the rich, cut down to a minimum consumption with the idea nagging us that some don’t have even one proper meal a day. We eat to live and get by with little or no luxuries at all.
The good that has resulted
We people of the so called middle class have imbibed a few lessons and habits that have been nurtured during the lockdowns.
We are much more in telephone and electronic contact with friends and relatives. We phone to ask how they are; exchange tidbits of gossip to laugh or titillate curiosity. We think a bit more about ex-domestics or day workers and three wheeler drivers and when the few known return to work, they are assisted, since many may have got indebted to a neighbour or the kade mudalali.
We are more mindful, yes conscious of what we say, what we do and what we eat. No easy access to doctors so better take every care of health, we tell ourselves. Pharmacies give yeoman service being open, receiving orders through the telephone and sending the drugs needed promptly.
Many, especially the older person, is more committed to religion whether it be to study the Bible, follow church services on TV or pay more pooja to the Hindus gods. We Buddhists have that great solace of sitting down quietly to reflection or if able and guided earlier by teachers, to meditation. The word of the Buddha, whether read, heard, recollected or chanted is so very significant and helpful to us in these uncertain times.
I included ‘little hope’ in my title. Yes, hope was greatly doused by the delay in giving us vaccination. We who got the first A-Z jab in February and March have no hope that we will get the second at least this month. Even vaccination with the Sino vaccines is so slow and far between. The Sputnik vaccine could have been bought and made available to the hinterland so much earlier. The Fat Cats and their kith and kin got A-Z vaccine while others look on with fading hopes.
The pandemic too which was allowed to go off control has not been tamed as yet. Sri Lanka has had so many disasters descending on her in quick succession. What hope can we have?