Gitasree Goswami

The red jaba phool (Red hibiscus) and the white togor (crepe jasmine) in the front courtyard adjacent to the tattered bamboo fence made an interesting contrast of colors. In the back drop of the Jorhat railway station, this small wretched encroached dwelling was of Pulok Das. Looking at the flowers today, he could not fathom which color he liked better. Where the red color of the Jaba Phool signifies life and vitality, the white color of the togor signifies purity, cleanliness, virginity and also mourning.

Today, looking at these flowers, his eyes suddenly became moist with sadness. The thought that they may soon find a place in the funeral of his loved ones than grace a vase in his house, haunted him like hell. He was forced to leave Majuli in the month of June a couple of years ago due to recurring floods which had left him orphaned, poor and destitute. This immigrant now pulls a rickshaw for a living in the heart of Jorhat to feed his small family of three.

Marriage forced him to make a lot of adjustments. The festivals soon became just namesakes as he hardly had any money left after deducting the monthly expenses.  Pulok now had to go out at midnights to get Guwahati-Jorhat bus passengers after working all day long. Sundays were no longer rest days and Pulok made sure that his rickshaw kept running even if his body many a times gave way to flu and fever. With the birth of their baby girl, Ruhi, last autumn, the proud parents Pulok and Monika made all efforts to raise Ruhi by not letting poverty touch her. Both of them knew that this was going to be tough, but for Ruhi they both decided to make her wish fulfilled at any cost.

That day after dropping a passenger at Baruah Chariali, he saw a crowd listening to something that was blaring on a district administration’s loud speaker. Curiosity drove him near the crowd where someone told him that there will be a curfew – a Janata Curfew on Sunday next. Pulok felt sad and why should not he be? One day’s earning just got blown away. He murmured “he had to make up for the loss”. He did not bother to find why was the curfew at sudden.Because that was not anyhow related to his business. While returning home, he stopped by the medicine shop to buy a few medicines for the baby. There he heard something called Coronavirus from the salesman. The salesman said that “this virus is responsible for deaths of thousands of people in distant places”- the names of which pulok had never heard to exist. A frown just drew a line on the forehead and Pulok pensively rode his rickshaw home.

The Next morning, he saw a complete lockdown in Jorhat as well as the whole country. Pulok became very worried. That night he hardly had any sleep. Pulok was getting more and more nervous. Each time he crossed that medicine shop, he would park his rickshaw by the side of the road and go upto the salesman to know more about the Virus. Like a sincere student he took his first lessons on the Virus, which went by the name “ COVID-19”.

Today, COVID 19 is like the horse of the “Ashwamedha Yagya” which is let loose by the king to assert his supremacy over lands the horse runs unstopped – the salesman said. Where ever this virus has gone,it has left behind a colossal death trail. This pandemic is similar with Avian flu (2009), Hiv/Aids pandemic (2005-2012), The Hong Kong Flu (1968), Asian Flu (1956-1958), Spanish flu (1918-1920), Sixth Cholera Pandemic (1910-1911), Russian Flu (1889-1890), Third Cholera Pandemic (1852–1860), Plague of Justinian (541-542), Antonine Plague (165 AD). One of the most devastating pandemics was the Black Death, which killed an estimated 75–200 million people in the 14th century. Common symptoms of this disease are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Complications may show pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome. Recommended preventive measures include covering one’s mouth when coughing, maintaining distance from other people, self – isolation for people who suspect they are infected and hand washing- as the virus is killed by soap, which bursts its protective bubble. Pulok bought three face masks and a piece of soap like every one else in the shop. These were the only weapons to fight the virus they said. The words of the salesman kept ringing in his ears all day long.

Every time he crossed Baruah Chariali, Pulok now made it a point to listen to what was blaring out from the load speakers. From what he heard, he could make out that all was not well and that any time there might be complete lock down. Pulok could not take it any longer and he hurried home to discuss the matter with his wife and chalk out a plan together. At home they agreed to buy the food essentials and medicines in the event of a lockdown.  All they had was a meager savings of rupees 2500, which would be sufficient for a week’s lockdown. If they cut down on the quantity per meal, or say if they have only tengesi and dhekia xak for breakfast, which would be available in plenty by the railway tracks, maybe then they could stretch the ration for maximum 10 days.

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This self consolation did not stay long as the Prime Minister of India ordered for a complete 21 days lockdown of the country. This announcement was like a death jolt to Pulok Das. How will he manage his family, where will he go for help, will the administration give any aid, What if he has no money to buy essentials????? All this questions just shocked Pulok. With tears in his eyes he slept that night. With each day of lockdown, Pulok was getting more and more restless. Rations, medicines and other daily essentials were all getting used up faster than he had expected. Foods were almost finished. With no work it meant no earning. Pulok needed to urgently look out for help. Should he seek help from neighbours? What if they refuse? Looking into the helpless eyes of his wife and daughter was now becoming increasingly difficult for Pulok.

The next 12 hours were the toughest period for Pulok. He had his tryst with fleeting thoughts of committing suicide or of robbing the local shops. The thought that was killing him inside was that he was not alone in this world and these problems they were facing today also affecting millions of people like him. Every one today is suffering from this lockdown. Human tendency make us magnify our own pain and downgrade others. But every family is fighting their own battle. Its just that sometimes we are so preoccupied with our own problems that we fail to see what others are going through. Being considerate to others, helping others in kind is a virtue we need to pick up fast during this pandemic.

The next day, some associations and philanthropists from Jorhat district have reached out to Pulok and other slum dwellers and distributed food and medicines. Many such daily wage earners are now getting benefits from the kind contributions of many philanthropists and organizations.

God has not made us all equal may be perhaps he loves variety. He has painted the whole world with a rainbow of colors like a painter’s canvas and made creatures of all shape and sizes. In this ocean of heterogeneity if there is any homogeneity, it has to be the insurmountable human spirit to reach out and help fellow people in times of danger. There are innumerable instances of sacrifices made by people to make his world a better place for future generations. The guiding light for their strong human sprit was HOPE . The Hope said that -when the world is sick, health workers are at the front line of any outbreak response and as such are exposed to hazards that put them at risk of infection with an outbreak pathogen (in this case COVID-19). Also the ministers, public officers and emergency government officials, the fourth pillar of democracy are performing work efficiently and unconditionally. But, in this crucial time of the country, as a young citizen of India, we have to learn to help strangers in their need.  In this fight against this virus we have to be stand together specially with those who are the worst affected.

Stay safe and strong (physically, mentally and emotionally). Spread positivity to the world and have faith on God. Also pray to relief our world from this pandemic. It’s only few days to win the fight against COVID-19 virus. Protect yourself and others. Support front line workers by keeping yourself healthy. Please create awareness about COVID-19 virus inside your family and community. We need to stand strong against it and the time is NOW.

#Stand with humanity
#Together we fight and India will win

By- Gitasree Goswami, PhD research scholar
Department of extension and communication management, college of community science, Assam agricultural university, Jorhat-785013

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