• Tuesday, Jan 26, 2021
  • Last Update : 09:11 am

This lengthening procession of death

  • Published at 03:23 pm April 15th, 2020
coffin death
Death sings: ‘I row the boat of your life’ BIGSTOCK

How long before that disease comes to your door?

These are not the dawns we have woken up in. That is not the sun we have waited for down the centuries. In the silence we encounter with break of day, quiet gratitude to nature wells up, for we are alive and have not yet joined those who have succumbed to this strange, dark affliction the world calls the coronavirus.

As you look out at the empty street a few feet away from your window, with no soul in sight, with that eerie absence of vehicle sounds and people’s voices, you rub your eyes, you sometimes pinch yourself, to convince yourself that you are lucky to be alive.

But how much longer before that notoriety of a disease comes to your door, smuggles its way to your room, assaults your body and claims you for itself? As dawn gives way to a day which promises to be a spring celebration you cannot be part of, it is not poetry which moves you.

It is a prayer, a profound one in the recesses of your mind, that fills your heart, touches your soul, in remembrance of the tens of thousands who have gone to early graves across the world. That prayer is for those gone, for those who you know will join the lengthening procession of death before this new day loses itself in the coming grey of twilight.

Who knows? You could be joining that queue. You pray hard to be given the gift of another day of life. Tomorrow will be taken care of later.

In the woods and even in these silent, forlorn urban streets, in the back gardens of beautifully structured homes, the squirrels and hedgehogs and rabbits and birds celebrate their reclaiming of the Earth. They see nothing of humankind around and before them.

You observe them in all the love you can muster. And yet something snaps in you when you go through newspaper reports of the struggle for survival dogs and cats are putting up, in increasing frailty, in other societies because closed restaurants and locked down homes do not offer them morsels of food anymore. And then you remember all those poverty-wracked people around you, out of work and unsure of what the future holds for them. The coronavirus has laid all of us low.

It is hard to be optimistic anymore. There are disturbing memories of the plague, malaria, small and chicken pox, SARS, Ebola, foot-and-mouth, the Spanish flu. But, then, people knew they would survive, that those maladies were localized in countries or continents.

But this coronavirus is an enemy we have never known, were never prepared for. Not all our power, military or economic or political, can beat it back -- because this power knows not its whereabouts. But you know it is there around you.

As the spring breeze stirs the leaves on the tree out there, as the cherry blossoms sway in happiness a few feet away from you, as the krishnachura flaunts its fiery glory across town, it is the sheer helplessness of the human race that hits you hard.

Thousands have died in China, Italy, Iran, and Spain. Thousands keep dying in powerful America and rich Britain. In Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, South Korea, Japan, Pakistan, Russia, the Philippines, indeed everywhere, this virus is gleefully taking lives.

Those intricately designed coffins holding the remains of people who did not know death would fell them without warning are the images which threaten to disrupt your prayer in the broadening morning. Mass graves in London and New York, the absence of proper coffins in South America, the dumped and putrefying corpses the coronavirus has already claimed, the rush for new hospitals and hospital beds and personal protective equipment -- all of these are images you will never ever forget, assuming of course that you remain alive to remember them.

Prophets do not arise anymore. Mystics belong in the past. Mendicants preaching the message of God have passed into time. But you know, as you pray in that deafening silence around you, that it is time to step up a few paces into faith in order to recall within you the truths that the prophets of old preached centuries ago.

It is the creator you seek again, not the power that politics offers, not the hubris which wealth throws your way. You are grateful that men like Andrew Cuomo -- hardworking, intelligent, commonsensical, humane -- are around, illustrating the power of leadership in these distressing times.

As the virus batters us day after day, it is to such men we look to show us a way out of the woods, to serve as embodiments of honesty and commitment for those who would lead. It is not to men boasting of enjoying total authority or denying climate change and the coronavirus that we go. We can do without the Trumps and Bolsonaros around us.

In a world where 7.8 billion people remain imprisoned at home, on a planet 4.5 billion years old, a consciousness of mortality suddenly assails us all. As day passes into night and the stars peer out of the white-grey-black clouds, you imagine the absence of life on the planets beyond your own.

A sudden tug at the heart tells you the apocalypse could well be on its way. This blighted planet you call home could well be headed toward extinction. The future might not be.

“Death sings: ‘I row the boat of your life.’” That was Tagore. That is us.

Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist and biographer.

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