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Year of bugs and bugbears

Kattabomman is worried that locusts might come and eat his chilli plant, which he has been watering diligently

Despite my advanced spiritual attainments, when I decided not to go for mahasamadhi on December 31, 2019, I hadn’t anticipated that 2020 would be so stressful. First, there were the anti-CAA protests and road blockades. Then came the communal riots in north-east Delhi. And then, the COVID-19 pandemic and the national lockdown. Then we heard about the carnage on the economic front: our GDP shrinking like linen trousers, businesses collapsing like dominoes, employers wielding the axe like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

On cue

And then, when you thought we’d hit rock bottom, the Chinese decided to come and squat on our land in Ladakh. A rude thing to do, if you ask me. Then came Cyclone Amphan, destroying everything in its path except man’s inhumanity to man — the only department where India continues to outshine every other country. Then the police in J&K busted a major spy operation run by a Pakistani pigeon. The pigeon, whose passport gave away its Pakistani nationality, had illegally crossed the Line of Control into India. It underwent a thorough interrogation at the hands of our intelligence officials, who managed to ‘turn’ it and send it back to Pakistan as a double agent.

Soon after the pigeon was despatched, a monkey in Meerut ran away with a bunch of coronavirus test samples, sparking fears of a rapid spread of infections. Public health officials in Meerut were forced to hijack a Shramik Special train to chase the monkey and retrieve the coronavirus samples. But the media started spreading fake news that the trains had lost their way. The trains hadn’t lost their way — it was the media that lost its way, and turned into vultures that, in turn, morphed into Prophets of Doom.

The hunt for the delinquent monkey had barely started when Donald Trump got into the act, declaring war on Twitter. And then, as if on cue, a huge army of locusts invaded India — from Pakistan, where else? For those who don’t know what locusts are — they are basically a kind of grasshopper. But unlike the lonely, harmless insect in your garden, these are grasshoppers that have the judiciary, media, election commission, police, bureaucracy, intelligence agencies, armed forces, big business, and a vast militia of majoritarian lumpen elements backing them. In other words, the locusts are unstoppable. And they’re threatening to eat up our crops and finish off our food supply, including rice, wheat and mango pickle.

In Delhi, where I’m stuck — by the way, people no longer live in Delhi, they’re merely stuck there — the wife woke me up at five in the morning to shut all the doors and windows so that the locusts don’t get in. The same night, after we had sealed every potential opening in the house, and were sitting down for dinner, the dining table began to shake like an Ouija board. We rushed out in our pyjamas and in banians with holes in them. It was an earthquake, 4.6 on the Richter scale.

Stronger than Hulk

It’s only June, and we’ve already had riots, pandemic, earthquake, cyclone, locusts, Trump, and China. There are still six months left of this unique year when, for the first time in history, humans are trapped indoors while murderous microbes roam free. What can a sane and rational individual do in such circumstances, except curl up on the sofa with Nachos and Netflix? That’s what I’ve been trying to do. But Kattabomman wouldn’t let me. It’s not his fault though.

In our house, everyone has a screen to disappear into, except for Kattabomman. Which means, he has no option but to pile on to someone else’s screen. Between me and the wife, temperamentally, I am more like India — I don’t react harshly to intrusions. So Kattabomman feels emboldened to trespass the Line of Parental Control, clamber up my shoulder, and perch on my head when I’m watching something on the phone. It’s not long before his queries start: “Papa, why are Uncle and Aunty taking off all their clothes? Are they going for bath now? Papa, what is Uncle doing to Aunty’s face?”

I quickly minimise the screen before things between Uncle and Aunty escalate any further. From Altered Carbon, I switch over to a cartoon show, confounding every algorithm that’s been tracking my content consumption patterns. The cartoon is about locusts, Kattabomman’s current preoccupation. He’s worried locusts might come and eat his chilli plant, which he’s been watering diligently.

“Papa,” he says. “Is coronavirus very strong?”

“Of course.”

“Is it stronger than Hulk?”

“Yep.”

“Stronger than locust?”

“Possibly.”

“I have an idea, Papa.”

“Really?” It’s the first time I’m hearing him use the word ‘idea’.

“If we make coronavirus fight with locust, it will kill the locust.”

“Not a bad idea,” I say. “But coronavirus and locust won’t fight each other.”

“Why?” he says. “Are they friends?”

“No, they are not friends,” I say. “But they aren’t stupid like humans either.”

G. Sampath is Social Affairs Editor, The Hindu.

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Printable version | Jul 15, 2020 2:44:00 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/year-of-bugs-and-bugbears/article31755131.ece

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