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As we find ourselves in the midst of another lockdown, the tale of Maharashtra’s fight against the virus gets “curiouser and curiouser". As beaches, gardens and public grounds stay open, people can spend a carefree day out, at leisure with children and extended family. For private offices are shut, and so are markets and schools, while private vehicles are allowed to ply roads and drivers and maids can be counted upon to attend to the family’s needs.

Even as news filters in of the ‘great entertainers’ Akshay Kumar and Govinda becoming the latest high-profile victims of the virus, the virus’s own ‘entertainment quotient’ remains high. The show must go on. And so, film, serial and advertisement shootings are permitted. For this is Mumbai, meri jaan, and “we’re all mad here".

A lockdown, for the majority of people in Mumbai, is a grim reminder of the fragility of this strange rabbit hole which beckons one with promises of riches, fame and power, though not necessarily in that order. After an entire year spent scraping and surviving so that they could hang on to their livelihoods (and self-esteem) in the city, its residents may just acknowledge that “there is no use going back to yesterday, because we were different people then".

With gyms, beauty parlours, salons, spas and retail stores selling ‘non-essentials’ shut, small vendors and corner shopkeepers trying to make an honest living had better beware. “Off with their heads", suggests the law-and-order machinery, as it wields a big stick and forces them to pull down shutters.

Weddings, on the other hand, are occasions to be celebrated, especially by ruling party politicians. After all, a daughter’s wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime event, the virus be damned. One could be the responsible husband and a doting father seeking to ensure the dream of a Big Fat Indian Wedding, or another member of the ruling party trying to control the virus in Dreamland, but here too, the show must go on.

No one has a sense of where we are, which way we should go, and how all this will end. Why should schools be allowed to remain open, asks one politician on national television. After all, these are “non-essentials" and one needs to protect lives. Another politician tweets on how wearing masks may ruin the livelihoods of those employed by beauty parlours. So, are we protecting lives or livelihoods? Difficult to say, for the only thing one can discern is an action bias. Nobody wants to be accused of doing nothing.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to."

“I don’t much care where—"

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go."

“—so long as I get somewhere."

What of the need to wear masks and practise social distancing? And when it comes to the vaccine, it’s all very well to say “take it", but the wise little Indian is not about to do this in a hurry. “No Sir, No, I’ll look first," [she says], “and see whether it’s marked ‘poison’ or not." And, after all, it is my karma at play, and doesn’t one need to atone for one’s past sins and not carry them forward to one’s next birth?

And even as the clock goes Tiktok and reports of fresh fatalities pour in from different parts of the country, is it any surprise that the most potent tool to combat covid finds itself powerless against this beast called ‘fake news’, fanned by social media? Even as the virus surges, vaccine hesitancy witnesses a greater surge under a tsunami of (mis)information. “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

The divide between India and Bharat may only be in one’s mind. For, as naysayers and vaccine sceptics of ‘India’ wonder if a billionaire philanthropist has bugged their vaccines with fluid microchips, those in ‘Bharat’ fear that the jab is part of a grand conspiracy to prevent them from contributing to a great demographic dividend. The extremely viral nature of such rumours has had many of our doctors and vaccine makers turning their attention away from countering the pandemic to making and posting videos online to counter the ‘infodemic’. “For, you see, so many out-of-the-way things [have] happened lately, that [one has] begun to think that very few things indeed [are] really impossible."

But why make a mountain of a molehill. The lockdown is only ‘partial’ after all. Had the lockdown been complete, like last year’s, it would have been a different story altogether. “For, it would have made a dreadfully ugly child; but… [as it stands now] it makes rather a handsome pig." So just continue to do what you are ordained to. Work from home, or your farm house, or a hotel. “After all, if everybody minded their own business, the world would go round a deal faster than it does."

And what of the government? One year and a lockdown hence, what can it take away? “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place". And what of the lockdown itself? “Really, now you ask me, I don’t think".

“Then you shouldn’t talk, [sorry, lock]."

These are the author’s personal views.

Tulsi Jayakumar is professor of economics at Bhavan’s S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research.

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