By Joseph M. Pinto
As I finished reading the last of the fourteen prose-poems in this 85-page reflection by Vinita Deshmukh, entitled Lady Corona, on the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic, I began to re-read the first poem. And my personal beliefs got reinforced:
‘The virus is not my enemy. Who says this is a war against a virus? The virus is as much a part of Nature, as us, humans. This is not a war against Nature. Let us learn to live in harmony with Nature.’ Across the peace protests & resistance of the 1960s, she echoes my feelings.
Vinita Deshmukh is one of India’s most sincere & honest journalists. She belongs to the tradition of activist-journalists, who have pioneered the use of RTI while doing investigations. While struggling with the grief on the loss of her husband, she found her poetic voice in Grieving to Healing (2017).
We cannot write well, unless we think well. And so, when we read a few rare pieces, we feel we can hear the writer … think.
In Lady Corona, we listen to Vinita Deshmukh speaking with herself. But it is not a straight-forward dry monologue or wandering think-aloud. Vinita is immersed in a passionate dialogue with her husband the late Vishwas, who went away suddenly, in front of her eyes, on 19 January 2017.
Vinita’s love & longing invite Vishwas to “come down for a while” to the bench on Parvati Tekdi, Pune, India, where they were sitting, when he left her behind.
And so, with vishwas by her side, Vinita reflects on the virus which has throttled our Earth.
The headings of her chapters paraphrase “the social causes, the philosophical aspects and the lessons that human-beings ought to learn from this Covid-19 pandemic.”
Money makes man mad …
Home is where the Hate is … The Pain of having Plenty … and of the Pill … Too much of anything is good for nothing …
The new celebrities: doctors, nurses, hospital staff; police; ordinary people providing essential services at personal risk.
The nobodies: stranded migrants, fleeing the lock-down imposed in the cities; walking home to their villages in lakhs …
Venom over religion and race: black lives matter; the Delhi riots … Let’s break free from the lockdown ... Will the world change?
This V & V journey is illuminated by the black & white drawings of Rupinder Kaur. Of themselves and without the aid of the poems, her twenty pencil-sketches are a tribute to “the resilience of human-beings and hold out young hope for the bright future, over-coming the dark days that lie ahead.”
Vinita may claim that Lady Corona, in the form of Covid-19, has “over-powered us all”. But Vishwas, “a misfit in this world of commercialism & selfishness”, takes Vinita by her hand and shoulder-to-shoulder, they together over-come and learn to live in harmony with this tiny monster, who is not going away anytime soon.
Vinita’s poetic prose also comes as a surprise gift to those readers, who are already immersed in the human imagination.
During this trying pause, the clear language of public health and science has been replaced and subverted by the mumbo-jumbo of mythology, and the vulgar language of war.
With fake-items about the pandemic going ‘viral’ on the www (world-wide web), what happens to the virus itself. We come down to earth – the virus ‘spreads’.
A small aside to Dr. V. Shantha, Chairperson of The Cancer Institute, Chennai, who died recently. Writing “On cancer & terror” in a letter to the editor of The Hindu, dated 14 May 2010, Dr V. Shantha says:
“It has become common practice to refer to anything that is difficult to control or manage, for whatever reason, as cancer. This reference is made irrespective of whether they are aware of what cancer is, its nature, the advances that have revolutionised understanding of the disease, concepts in management or its treatment …
“Actively involved in cancer care and control over the last five-and-a-half decades, I am disturbed by such references. It would seem that the reference is made without appreciating the tremendous negative impact it has on cancer control activities. Years of effort to educate the public that early cancer is not only curable but also preventable, that modern advances have brought many cancers considered fatal and incurable within the ambit of curability, can be completely erased by just one reference to cancer like the one made by President Obama (reported on page 1 of The Hindu of May 14, 2010).
“Cancer is a biologic phenomenon. Terror is man-made. Where is the need for such a reference? In the long-term interest of cancer control, especially in developing countries, the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, which is renowned for its work in the area, should appeal to the U.S. President to withdraw the reference to cancer.”
As the pandemic moves into a post-vaccine phase, has the time come for an eminent virologist to write another letter to an editor on “The virus and terror”?
Vinita’s poems encompass all these issues: Across nations, the pandemic is perceived as a law-and-order problem and a lock-down is imposed as a solution for what is a public health issue. Little public education is conducted about the changes required in personal & social behaviour. On the contrary, the people are abandoned to the mercy of willful misinformation.
Throughout the poems, V & V embody the words: “When men carry the same ideals in their hearts, nothing can isolate them – neither prison walls nor the sod of cemeteries. For a single memory, a single spirit, a single idea, a single conscience, a single dignity will sustain them all.” ~ Fidel Castro.
V & V share the same ideals that both lived by: care, compassion (karuna), kindness and simplicity: “Remember what Mahatma Gandhi said: the world has enough for everyone’s need, but not for their greed.”
Let us enjoy the V & V prose-poems; re-claim our lives, if we can dare, from the decadent ‘normal’ of the pre-Covid-19 days; restore the only Earth we share; reconcile the differences that divide us; re-live our humanity in harmony with Nature; keep vigil for our children and grand-children.