Through the looking glass
Gautam Adani reported an increase of USD 33 billion in net worth since May 2020. While people were losing jobs during the almost four-month long lockdown in 2020, his company sent exorbitant bills (with some customers reporting a five-fold increase in tariff) under the excuse of making up for lack of electricity meter readings in the first three months of the lockdown, during which estimated bills were sent based on previous usage. Mumbai-based Shahnawaz Sheikh sold his prized INR 2.2 million Ford SUV to raise money to provide oxygen cylinders for Covid relief during the deadly Indian second wave in 2021. He also set up a volunteer-led helpline to support patients. Both realities exist.
The government of India gave a go-ahead to the super-spreader event Kumbh Mela, a Hindu pilgrimage festival observed in 12-year cycles, as the second wave was rising, apparently because of rare astrological configurations in 2021, while the event was originally scheduled for 2022. Gurdwaras (Sikh temples) in and around New Delhi arranged ‘oxygen langar’ to provide free oxygen to patients who needed it. Both realities exist.
The central government increasingly harassed, arrested, and prosecuted rights defenders, activists, journalists, students, academics, and others critical of the government or its policies. Citizens across the country kept organizing and collaborating to set up essential health services that the state could not provide for, all on a voluntary, often self-funded or crowdfunded basis. Both realities exist.
The mainstream media narrative continues to be about a war against Covid-19. The on-ground narrative is about a fight for a world that works for all. Yes, we are going through a terrible second wave, and the third wave is beginning already in some places, with Maharashtra reporting 8000 children having tested positive in one district alone in May 2021. But a cure for Covid will not heal the system that it inhabits. The virus has acted and continues to act as a mirror: it only illuminates what exists.
The wide spectrum of what exists in us is out in the open, in the choices each person has made over the last year. The ugliness, the beauty, the apathy, the compassion, the spiritual poverty, the generosity is all visible. The rot is as visible as the flourishing. The choice is now ours: what do we choose to energise with our attention and action? The existing system would like for us to pay attention to its crumbling and energise it with our opinions and complaints. That is its way of sustenance. The other end of the spectrum is to take a quantum leap of faith towards what we want to create anew and work towards a just, equitable, inclusive space with new systems. And there is the entire spectrum between these two extremes that one can choose from.
While I am referring to India as a context, this collective journey unfolds around the world, only the forms look different. Each of us needs to choose where in the spectrum we move next, based on what we have seen in the mirror. No one is immune to the choice, we are far too connected for that, as the virus has clearly shown. There is no one right choice; there are repercussions — physical, emotional, mental, spiritual — of every decision. What choice of engaging with the world will allow you to look yourself in the mirror and not avoid your own eyes?