Pandemic not the first nor the last

by March 30, 2020 0 comments

The present experience forms a part of the collage of this planet’s history. How we respond will determine how the future shall emerge

Clearly the planet is passing through challenging times. However, this is not the first time in the history of mankind that, what is now being termed as a “pandemic”, has struck. From plagues, to floods to various viral threats, the Earth has periodically witnessed humongous disasters. It is all chronicled for anyone with a curious mind who wants to update his/her knowledge about the Blue Planet. This is also not the first time, nor will it be the last, when a disease has struck to which there is no known, tested and established antidote available. However, such experiences in the digital era acquire a completely unique aura and dimension. News travels at a speed which has not even been mapped.

A comparative perspective emerges as never before in history. When the nationwide lockdown was announced, one of the questions that was uppermost on everyone’s minds was: Has a complete shutdown ever been attempted at such a scale, to include all 1.3 billion people, all together? Add to it the unique dimension of the period over which it will be spread: Three weeks.

To the singularity of the situation add the diversity of the ethnological clusters, which make up the composition of this country. Compound this lay of the land with the reality of the distances people travel to make a living.

Remember, the announcement of the lockdown was based on the expectation that people would stay put wherever they were. The trek that some people have undertaken, in certain cases over several hundred kilometres, to get back to their places of origin can only be an act of desperation brought on my heartless, unscrupulous employers/businessmen. This aspect of the ground condition was not factored in for sure and is not amenable to debates and arguments.

Times such as these, unleash a barrage of perceptions. Kathleen O’Meara’s poem And people stayed home written in 1869 has been evoked: “And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.”

Some philosophising has been met with some re-envisioning. The wise are shaking their heads and saying that things will never be the same again. The nature of resources will have to be recalibrated, the nature of work shall change, nature of skill-formation and education will have evolved paradigms.

 With the aviation sector down to less than half of its normal operational strength and seafarers almost left to stare at the empty blue wilderness, based on no movement on their part, self-isolation has acquired many more overtones than what the dictionary had so far granted.

Clearly we are passing through seminal times. There can be no discussion of this without some reference to climate change or speculation over nature having its “revenge.” The full imprint of the experiences of the last few weeks on the present and future of the Earth will take time to become evident. Yet, it does not take a genius to realise that the contribution of the human species to the present plight of the planet has not been insignificant.

Typically, a research by Alexander Kotch and his colleagues is reported to indicate certain theories. Of them, one is that climate change did not begin with industrialisation. They propose an alternate theory to an understanding of climate change. This was projected for publication in 2019. The study holds that changes in the environment, of the territorial focus of the study, (the Americas), began with the disease and war which the European migrants brought there. By their reported estimates, 90 per cent of the indigenous populations were wiped out by pestilence, warfare and the after-effects of this movement. With Christopher Columbus pioneering the route to the Indies in 1492, began the process which altered the character of the population there, in a hundred years, by simple decimation. Colonisation, virulent or otherwise, altered the character of the ecosystems they ventured into. Most colonisers were essentially “soldiers of fortune.” They may not even have been aware of what they could be triggering but the “innocence” of the culprit does not change the fallout of the nature of the act.

The reported media findings hold that this ushered in new vegetation which “preserved” heat. It trapped carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Other researches have thrown up differing theories. There is one attributing the phenomena, this time, of severe cold, to weak solar activity and heightened volcanic activity.

Irrespective, the consensus seems to be that study of the history of mankind must begin with the recognised date of presence of mankind on this planet and not have a beginning, marked with a bias towards “records” of history.

The present experience forms a part of the collage of this planet’s history. How we respond will determine how the future shall emerge.

(Writer: Vinayshil Gautam; Courtesy: The Pioneer)

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