By Aamir Qayoom
While watching vacuous memes of a person trying to kill the dullness of corona by his otiose attempts to scale the grass of his garden with comb and scissors, I see a drunken man walking the deserted road spitting invective against corona. With whimsical googling I also see a shopkeeper trying to fit a customer in a fuzzy circle for maintaining the necessary physical distancing as part of a campaign to kill the chain of this fiendishly diabolical virus. A large section of people is fighting back by quarantining themselves to play hide and seek with this pandemic, which has engulfed the globe exponentially and claimed a frightening number of lives.
Historicity bears testimony and substantiation that isolation has paved the way for innovations in different fields of knowledge. While this dichotomy between isolation and creativity remains appreciated, we at the same time cannot forget the antithetical ambiance where a charming teen Emily Owen killed herself as she was unable to handle life in the times of corona. A man who was suspected of having coronavirus committed suicide by jumping from the seventh floor of Safdarjung Hospital. Nor can we forget the image of Bala Krishna who feared that he had been infected with the virus and started pelting stones on everyone who came near him before killing himself. These melancholic images speak volumes about the other side of isolation that pushes us towards the neo-imaginations of articulating life in quarantine, where the idea of isolation translates to something different that doesn’t meet creativity at all. It is the dullness of days and hopeless nights that wake up people with anxiety in these trying times.
In such a context, handling these exasperating days becomes a collective responsibility. Where humour has a great role to calm the anxious mental geographies of people who are trying to survive these desperate times, tyrants have always feared jesting. Since with corona the idea of the tyrant has shifted from the visible to the invisible, the anxiety of facing this ‘bio tyrant’ can be minimized and pruned by humour. While blending various techniques of metanarratives, semiotics and biblical analysis, Umberto Eco (in The Name of the Rose) articulates the powerful and subversive function of laughter to lift the imagination of people with temporalities that have the power to de-stress people. Here the functionality of humour is not to surrender to the actuality of a tyrant but to laugh at it. Along similar lines, Mikhail Bakhtin in his Rabelais and his World also highlighted the importance of humour and its subversive functionality of degrading tyrants and despots. Such knowledge holds special meaning in the times of corona anxiety where corona memes and videos serve as digital weapons to fight this bio-tyrant for poisoning the contentment of people in quarantine.
While trying to articulate the politics of quarantine, we enunciate the idea of quarantine as a safe space that itself is a privilege. The quarantined life in luxury condominiums of the rich and wealthy have enough opportunities to heal and detox their bodies. Though it might also mean a reduction in conspicuous consumption and less vicarious pleasure in luxury living. But juxtaposing the latter with the quarantined life a family packed in a room with conditions of squalor needs sensibilities to understand the paroxysms of pain for the want of money. While extending these inequalities we have also witnessed comparisons of corona quarantine with the inured political quarantine of Kashmir that largely gets manifested through frangible peace and indelible conflict in the valley. Given the strong differences between these two actualities, it is only a constipated imagination that draws such bogus analogies.
If one were to draw connections between the lethal Covid-19 and the crisis it has nurtured around the world, we may conclude that this invisible enemy has snatched the idea of freedom from the people and has pushed nations to rethink their policies and priorities in investments. What horrifies many nations is its permeable and stealthy character that allows it to cross national borders that have boasted about their sophisticated weaponry. We see images of helplessness of doctors seeing deaths in large numbers, of the desperation and anguish in people wanting ventilators, of people unable to see the dead bodies of their loved ones. The restless souls of people who died laugh at the futility of huge investments in arms and weapons which could have been channelized for spaces of care. As BBC reports, Dr. Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s Order of Doctors, says that “deaths were preventable if medics had proper masks and supplies. Wars must be organised during peace time not battle.”
As nations combat this global health crisis, some questions remain unanswered. Will the post-experience shift the popular opinion from expenditure on arms to scientific research? Will this crisis shake phantasmagoria with a new thinking and imagination for our politics on healthcare? Will it impart lessons for developing countries to divert resources to better health care for all, rather than getting trapped in arms race and accumulation of heavy weaponry? Will celebrities and sports superstars continue to get paid millions of dollars for soothing public imagination with their fugacious maggie pleasures, while a researcher is paid meagrely for her discerning abilities as compared to crass entertainment? Will nations collectively take a moral message from this current crisis, as a Syrian boy’s valediction “I am gonna tell God everything” may have been silently heard by God?
Aamir Qayoom is a Research scholar at the University of Delhi. He worked previously as a research assistant for the University of Western Australia (UAW). He mostly writes on intersectionality of politics and literature and can be reached at email@example.com
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Poetics and politics of the ‘everyday’: Engaging with India’s northeast”, edited by Bhumika R, IIT Jammu and Suranjana Choudhury, NEHU, India.