The other side of the Coronavirus
Posted on April 4th, 2020

H. L. D. Mahindapala

Each disaster that had hit us made us believe that we had hit rock bottom and nothing worse can happen again. Wasn’t a 33-year-old war which began with the Vadukoddai Resolution passed on May 14th 1976 and ended on May 19th 2009 enough to end all disasters? But new disasters came rolling out of nowhere to shatter the smug complacency. And then we start all over again with another peace-shattering disaster. For instance, whoever thought that millionaire Muslim terrorists, riding in Pajeros, would blast the serene joy of a Sunday morning within a decade of ending the Vadukoddai War? Whoever thought that a movement of the earth somewhere near-distant Indonesia would come sweeping across the Indian Ocean and hit our coastal belt with massive destruction, even halting Prabhakaran’s preparations for his final assault? Whoever thought that an invisible, inscrutable (like the Chinese), and irreverent microbe that escaped from its birth-place in Wuhan can dislocate the best-laid plans of presidents, prime ministers, princes and other powerful panjandrums?

Doesn’t this latest pandemic confirm the fragility and the vulnerability of our existence on this lonely blue planet? What are all our theories and punditry worth when pitted against this virus? Donald Trump has the mightiest arsenal in the world but he can’t keep this micro-bug out of his streets. New York City looks a scene from Sci-Fi film after it has been invaded by aliens. It has humbled man and made him kneel before a force mightier than all enemies since World War II. If it takes off and gallops away man will have to rewrite history questioning all the man-made values on which we have sailed so far.  Does this forecast that we will end not with an Einsteinian nuclear bang but an Eliotesque whimper?

But then history records that we have come through similar death-dealing waves before. The Black Death (1347 – 1350) is estimated to have decimated half the population of Europe. Bocaccio (Decameron) records that in Florence over 100,000 died between March and July of 1348. Partifying was quite common even then among corpses piling up in the medieval streets. People abandoned cities and withdrew into the villages. Social distancing came automatically with parents abandoning children and vice versa, neighbours abandoning neighbours without any government enforcing it.

All is not bleak though. Hope that springs eternal in the human heart say that this is not the end of the world. To use another cliché, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Take the case of Sri Lanka. There is a positive side to the curfew at least. House-bound husbands are seeing their wives stepping gingerly into the kitchen for the first time in their married life. High society ladies who had never seen the inside of a kitchen before, it is reported, have witnessed for the first time the stunning miracles of raw cabbage and a carrot turning into first and second courses at the dinner table. Some have even been amazed by the originality of the kitchen hands who had produced crab curry by using crabs. All these days they thought that only Sangakkara and Mahela could do the trick.

Then take the case of the UNPers. They are most delighted with social distancing. They are thanking President Gotabaya for giving them a legitimate excuse to distance Ranil Wickremesinghe from their lives, hopefully for good. Sajith Premadasa, it is said, believe that the Coronavirus can do what he can’t do. It is said that he is nursing privately the thought of enshrining this provision in the Constitution permanently to keep Ranil out of his hair. Another thought that he is supposed to entertain right now is to drop the telephone as his symbol and go for the image of the Corona microbe. The image is not attractive, true. but it is frightening enough to keep his opponents (found only in Ranil’s camp) at arm’s length.

Then there is every likelihood of the ex-judge C. V. Wigneswaran joining hands with R. Sampanthan and complaining to WHO that the Sinhala government is back to discrimination against the Tamils because the racist state is not distributing the virus equally among the Tamils. Along with the Tamil diaspora, they are ready to complain even to the UNHRC that the Sinhala state has given the bulk of Coronavirus to the Sinhala south without giving an equal share to the Tamils of the North. They argue that their dignity will be restored only if enough of the virus is given to them. They are planning to join hands with the Muslims to legalise this in the next sitting of the Parliament.

Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu and Jehan Perera have jumped in with their both their feet to boost this Tamil claim of discrimination. They have cited statistics to show that it is increasing mainly among the Sinhala-Buddhists and not among the Tamils and Muslims. In their submissions to the UN organisations and their fellow NGO-mafia, they have argued that the Sinhala-Buddhists has consistently taken the lion (no pun intended) share of everything including the Coronavirus and the American Ambassadress must issue unlimited visas to the Tamil to go to New York – the new epicentre of the virus – to remedy the imbalance.

Dayan Jayatilleke too has chipped in saying that it is wrong to blame Gramsci, the outdated Italian theorist, for the spread of the virus among the Sri Lankans in Italy. He theorises that the Italian government should have locked up all the Sri Lankans like the way Mussolini locked up Gramsci and that would have stopped the spread of the virus in Sri Lanka. According to Dayan, Gramsci’s existential experience”—apart from his theories of making a Modern Prince — would have been the ideal global solution to the virus.

Ranil Wickremesinghe has a different approach. He thinks that the Government should bring back Arjuna Mahendran and let him run his Corona-campaign from the auction room of the Central Bank with his trusted in-laws. His solution includes appointing Ravi Karunanayake to head another committee located in a penthouse. Ranil also claims credit for introducing social distancing. He says it has been his only successful life-long policy that has kept people away from the UNP and the polls.

Mangala Samaraweera has come out recommending that the best cure to the virus is to swing a kurunudu polla” – cinnamon stick with which he beat the hell out of the anti-Ranil protesters marching from Matara to Colombo.  His biggest regret is that he can’t take the Coronavirus to Geneva and pass a resolution against it, accusing it of war crimes. His alternative is to kiss the cheeks of the visiting American diplomats and hold up the hem of their skirts to prevent the virus from creeping up their legs.

Last but not the least are the Western diplomats. For once their voices are silenced. They cannot recommend cures because they are in the same boat as Sri Lanka. The American Ambassador is paralysed. She cannot impose a visa ban on the Coronavirus because it is thumbing its nose at her from New York. The holier-than-thou Western diplomats are at a loss not knowing how to pose as the superior knowledgeable ones who know how to teach the natives how to conduct their lives.

The hard reality is that we are all drifting hoping that the cure will pop up sooner or later – perhaps more sooner than later. This virus has been a great leveller. We will come out of it, no doubt. But it is the cost that is frightening.  Besides, we will never be the same again. It will take time to recover. But when we recover and open our eyes we may not be in the same world that we’ve known in the days gone by.

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