COVID-19: London life and lockdown
Pinaki Ganguly

The current crisis born out of a microscopic virus has the potential to take us to a future where we may have to use telescope just to see our neighbours. This statement is an exaggeration, but it gives us a perspective on the magnitude of the crisis. It is an inflection point to see how the world around us has fossilised in the last few months.

It’s April now and spring has arrived in the city of London with its full bouquet of flowers, unaware of the lockdown. Parks are abandoned except for some people walking their dogs. Roads are deserted, with occasional red double-decker buses plying almost always empty. However, the peace is often disrupted by the shrill cry of a speeding ambulance.

Today the death toll in the country has crossed 18,000 and there are 1,33,000 confirmed cases. UK has the fourth highest death rate at 13.5 per cent. However, what is most alarming is that, and if the trend continues, the total number of infected patients may reach up to 1.6 million as per a prediction in a piece published in The Telegraph.

Still in UK the lockdown order is more like a public health instruction and its violation is not seen as a grave offense. One can be fined £60 for a lockdown violation, while for a car parking violation the fine is £90. This sure tells us something about the government’s approach.

I have lived outside India for over a decade now. My work has taken me to many places from Singapore to San Francisco, Texas to Tokyo, the Netherlands to Norway, and Malaysia to Minneapolis. Currently, I am living in London. Being a passionate Bengali and nostalgic about Kolkata, the natural transition was to be part of Bengali communities wherever I lived. I have seen how Bengalis outside of Bengal stay close through thick and thin. During this crisis we have close friends unfortunately diagnosed with COVID-19 and admitted in hospitals, and it is heartening to see how the whole community is rallying behind them. We have many Bengali doctors at the frontline and we are all immensely proud of them.

My observation is that our festival craving, royally lazy, foodie and cultured Bengali spirit has not been dampened at all. It is in times of crisis that the Bengali revolutionary nature is at its best. On my part, one who has always kept physical exercise at a mental level, I am now going out for long walks at least a few times a week – yes, it is allowed here, without the fear of police batons. The idea that Corona virus is a real crisis occurred to the Brits only when the news of toilet paper not being available in the stores made headlines. On my part, it struck me when the stores started rationing essential food items, especially Maggi.

It is incredible to see so many talented Bengalis coming out of their shells and posting songs, videos and even movies sitting in their homes for which they did not find time earlier. No going out, hence you can be comfortable in ordinary clothes, without makeup, and most importantly without having to worry about how people will see you and what they will think. We do not need to worry about our kids since they are at home and we can spend quality time with them. At present we are going through a self-healing process and creating new bonds with our own self and family.

During the last three months, humanity has been pushed to the edge. Fear, isolation, disease and death are the only discussion points in our minds and on media. Earth has gone through many such cycles of destruction and reconstruction, but it is not in our living memory, and hence this is an unprecedented crisis. The present state of affairs has given a big shock to things that we took for granted and has shown the impermanence of life. So, the writing on the wall is ‘share to survive’ and believe in the fact that “humanity is one family”.

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