Irresponsibility in the Times of Corona

By Soham Mukherjee

Let’s talk about irresponsibility – and its much more bhodrolok brother, responsibility. Last evening my WhatsApp exploded with memes, posts and messages about this kid who became the first person to test positive for Covid-19 in West Bengal. My first instinct was “Oh Shit! We’re all going to die!”

But once I got over my apocalyptic response, I noticed that the various messages and posts were getting increasingly violent towards this kid. On closer inspection, I realised that this kid had come back from London, having partied with his girlfriend (somehow the girlfriend bit seemed to enrage people more) who tested positive for the virus post-party. This forced the kid to come back home.

Now, the irresponsible bit of the story: the kid refused to go into quarantine despite medical advice and, according to some Homo WhatsApp-iens, “ran amok” in the city. This almost evokes an image of a plague-infected man going around Kolkata vomiting on people at random. That’s clearly not what happened. The kid did what any privileged, entitled 18-year-old would do – go to malls and clubs. Finally, the keywords – privileged, entitled. Things Bengalis all over the world would give an arm and leg for, not their own, but definitely an arm and a leg.

It turns out that the kid is the son of two top state bureaucrats, and apparently, his parents used their clout to keep him out of quarantine. Kudos to them; they stuck to the very Bengali reaction of: Oh kicchu hoyni. (Oh, nothing’s wrong). This is the typical hunky dory attitude with which Bengalis almost inevitably react to any sickness they may or may not have. There’s nothing that two paracetamols and a gallon of water can’t cure.

However, the self-declared responsible citizens of West Bengal are outraged. They cannot believe that a person who has influence has used it. How dare they! How dare they use their social and economic power and put less privileged people at risk! How dare they ignore the advice of qualified doctors! They complained to their domestic house help who has that morning travelled for at least 45 minutes in a crowded local train to reach her workplace. It would be madness to ask them not to come. Who would do the dishes! Don’t be absurd. Now, where’s my medical mask that WHO told me not to wear.

At around the same time that my WhatsApp was exploding, I received the heartbreaking news of a man kept in quarantine in Delhi committing suicide. Many other patients have tried to run away from isolation wards across the country. Most of us nowadays cannot even imagine a life without going out, without access to the internet or without even the opportunity to communicate regularly with our loved ones. The simple suggestion of home quarantine is driving people mad. Now, ask yourselves this, if you were the parents of this kid, whom you love and whom, let’s face it, you’ve spoilt a little bit, would you not do everything in your power to keep him from such a fate?

I would, and yes, it would be extremely irresponsible of me. But I would probably not get him checked out unless he started showing symptoms, which is what his parents did. To be perfectly honest, it is also what most of us are doing; and most of us are privileged.

This is not a defence of the astronomically stupid decision taken by these people, but an attempt to show that we can only see privilege in everyone but ourselves. Also, before we start criticising a spoilt kid for doing what any spoilt kid would do, maybe we should take a look at ourselves and see how spoilt we are and how much of our actions actually have consequences. Posting pictures and addresses of persons infected by a potentially fatal virus and vilifying them beyond limits is perhaps not the best response at times like this.

In the meantime, relax, enjoy the warm early summer days off. Things are likely to get much worse. But I’m sure you’ll be fine. Mum! Where are the paracetamols I asked for!

Soham Mukherjee is an amateur writer who loves football more than most things. His first book, a collection of short stories, was published last year. 

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