A night out in the pandemic!

Dr A S Bhatia

It has now been more than ten months, living under the constant fear of corona pandemic. Life has been redesigned; the concept of living has been totally changed. 2020 has taught us many lessons making us to rethink again that the most important thing in this universe is to respect nature and live according to certain laws. Many persons like me got an opportunity to revisit the life. The winter has stepped in during the month of November. I still remember the days of my youth when Kashmir used to be my favourite tourist destination, only to enjoy the experience of walking on the dry leaves of Chinaar in the Mughal gardens and to have a night out in the Dal lake in the beautiful Shikarra. The chilling waves of icy cold winds in the back drop of Shankraacharya hill and the dark bluish sky with twinkling stars over your head with bluish green water of Dal touching your fingers, is what can be described as heavenly feeling. There was a burning desire of mine to walk on the dried leaves of chinar and to listen the crackling sound produced by the pressure of bare foots on theses dried leaves in this winter, but this also has been disrupted by the constant fear of infamous corona pandemic.
The frequent lockdowns of 2020 pandemic and subsequently myself also testing positive, leading to my home quarantine gave me sufficient opportunity to revisit the life. As I was used to work about sixteen to eighteen hours a day, now with these extended lockdowns, without much physical and mental work, pushed me into a state of insomnia. Being a dog lover I developed friendly relation with the stray dogs of my area and Shasha , was the first to get familiar with me during my quarantine and lockdown period. As the days passed on while doing little household works, difficulty during the lockdown period was the night hours. I used to come out of my home in the mid of night and sit on the stairs of my home in Bakshi Nagar Jammu but then during one night I escaped my home in the middle of night to stroll on the deserted streets. What I discovered, is another life which starts after midnight. There were youngsters, four to five in groups sitting in BMW and other luxurious cars , with the sound of their stereos at its peak mostly playing Jasmine Sandlas song, “Badal hi aagaye Jammeen pe…” rushing the cars through the empty streets breaking the dead silence of mid night. I was literally taken aback! Whether the parents are aware what these youngsters were doing? And I am sure all must have been in the in inebriated condition! I was amazed, Is this safe India we are giving to our elderly population? Yes the elderly population, because these youngsters of today will be the custodians of old and feeble of tomorrow! The most shocking experience for me was, there was none on the roads to stop these misguided youths! Intellectually dead, drunk and driving, to me these are the most dangerous force to the safety of our women on the streets. The adolescence is a time when both Positive and Negative developmental trajectories are taking place. Covid -19 pandemic may have worsen the already existing mental health problems among adolescents. Another thing is, the road rage which these people will resort to in case of any road traffic accident! I am also confident that if the vehicles of these misguided youths are searched thoroughly you will definitely find the hidden kirch, knife or desi Katta. The experience with human beings in the middle of night during the silent night of the pandemic was not so good!
As I moved further along the road, I saw a group of stray dogs about six to eight in number ranging from brown to dirty white and black in colours. What I noticed was entirely different thing! The dogs were enjoying the cold icy blowing breeze and deserted streets with the gushing sound of winds through the leaves of big peepal tree grown on the side of the main road. I whistled, first all the stray dogs were scared. Within next few minutes they became friendly with me. Now it was a routine, in the mid of every night , I used to walk in the centre of the street and all stray dogs following me with some jumping on me and trying to kiss me on my face. I personally feel that these stray dogs had been an important source of emotional support to me in the Covid -19 lockdown to take care of my mental health and loneliness.
During my walk in the mid of silent night of lockdown with two to three stray dogs still following me , I reached a lower middle class residential area , the houses were small with little boundary wall. I am witness to another type of human behavior, I encountered in one house, the husband under the full influence of alcohol, dragging, beating and abusing the women of his household. The women were crying at the peak of their voice but none from the surrounding houses came out in their help. I was ashamed! Could not resisting myself, I tried to intervene but had to revert back seeing the iron rod in the hands of a man in full inebriated condition. Looked around for help from neighbours, but none dare to come out! This sudden spurt in the Domestic violence seems to be a Pandemic within the Pandemic. Stays at home orders with people confined to their homes and worsened by the financial loss have led to intimate partner violence. The Covid-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on domestic violence.
It was about 2 am in the morning, I took a turn back towards my house as I had came far away while walking in the midnight. On my way back , I saw a female dog, who was trying hard to get her newly born puppies out of a drain, She was licking and pulling her newly born puppies out of the drain, I was having biscuits in my hand, as I approached her, she growled, but after few minutes developed confidence in me and I helped her in taking her puppies out of the drain! She was highly obliged as her eyes were speaking!
After reaching home, I saw my wife Harleen sleeping in her room, Instead of going to my room I preferred to go upstairs. The moon was shining amidst the starry sky; I noticed two big Bats sitting in front of water tank on my roof, stared at me and without having any conflict with me took a flight away from me, unlike those human youngsters with kirch, hidden in their cars, ever ready to stab the fellow human beings. I pondered, to whom should I call animal and with animal instinct!
It was difficult moment for me to a analyze the difference in the behavior of animals and human beings in this hour of stress. The human’s emotional outcome of the prevailing stress was disturbed response but the animal let it be stray dogs, bats or other responded in a natural way. I tried to analyze, whether there are different ways, a living thing responds to condition of prevailing stress, the stress of Covid -19 was there. The human youngsters responded by way of taking to intoxication and late night drives with speeding luxurious cars and loud music! On the other hand, the stray dogs that did not get their food during the lockdown because of sudden closure of all eateries, but did not lose their patience and otherwise became friendly with me. Another group of people I encountered during my late night walk was a handful of intoxicated husbands, the so called head of lower middle class families abusing, kicking and beating the women of their households under inebriated conditions. And to my utter surprise there was a female dog trying to pull her newly born puppies from a drain where they had fallen, the dog also must have suffered from starvation during the lockdown as almost all Dhaaba and eat points were closed but this did not affect her emotions for her puppies unlike those husbands, now at the end of lockdown period I realized that the animals have behaved better than the humans during the first wave of Covid -19 in Jammu, what we have learned during the first wave of pandemic was the importance of social distancing, wearing of masks, frequent hand washing among knowledge of various modes of effectively diagnosing and treating the Covid patients. But the thing which missed our attention was the need of urgent psychological counseling of the people during pandemic. The stress of losing a job, lack of business, and the worst sufferers were the lower middle class with daily bread earners. The financial crisis packed with emotional stress and the fear of corona pandemic has caused much damage to the social system. I hope the experiences gained during this first wave will help us to a great extent in tackling the second and subsequent waves and the things ignored unintentionally, during first wave will make us wiser in handling the subsequent waves of the pandemic, whenever it strikes us again!
Or otherwise as Mirza Ghalib said,
Umar Bhar Ghalib Wahi Galti
Karta Raha
Dhool Chere Pe Thi
Aur Ainaa Saaf Karta Raha.

(The Author is Vice president Indian Academy of Biomedical Sciences, India and professor
and head department of Biochemistry, Government medical College Jammu)