Feb 11, 2020 ਪੰਜਾਬੀ ਲਈ ਕਲਿੱਕ ਕਰੋ
With the camera on the table, I am looking at the squirrel without moving a muscle as he slowly moves closer. Daring, when he gets distracted in between, I stealthily extend my hand to retrieve the camera. However, the creature becomes alert as if connected with my thought and moves his gaze back to me.
“Are you gonna sit outside all day? The tea is ready, come inside,” my wife shouts from the door, and that does it, the squirrel quickly vaults away. Today, he escapes, but ‘next time I’ll sit with the camera ready in my hand,’ I decide and go inside.
It is February of 2020, and today is the 11th. I take my cup of tea and get seated in front of the computer. What better is there to do for an old retiree. New York Times has a headline – the WHO has named the new virus as COVID-19. The name is selected so it cannot be associated with a person, place, or animal. My eyes waver to older news, about the death of a Chinese doctor, Dr. Li Wenliang. He had died of coronavirus infection. Doubt creeps into my mind; it was the same whistle-blower doctor who warned the world about the spread of the virus getting out of control and of the Chinese government suppressing the news.
We recently returned from a beautiful trip to Tanzania. It was terrific wandering around the National Park of Ngorongoro and its wide crater, in an open jeep amid wildlife ranging from Jackals and deer to elephants, lions, and leopards, and to see the people living in small hutments in the middle of all this. Sometimes we would see miles of the wide-open, green ground all around, and at the other, we would be driving through a forest. All this made us feel so close to nature. I developed my taste of photography during this trip. I had bought a Nikon d610 a few years back but had rarely used it. Beginning to appreciate photography, I have developed a longing to capture the passing moments, the flying birds, and the hopping animals in my camera. Is it my sense of fleeting life, or my newly born appreciation of nature’s beauty, I do not know? For months I have watched a squirrel running around in our back yard. My craze since yesterday is to capture him on my camera.
So much has happened during the past month. The coronavirus has reached India; a few Kerala students returning from China were infected. WhatsApp is exploding with Interesting messages, some saying that China is lying, the deaths there number not in thousands but in hundreds of thousands. A few videos show the Chinese police pulling people, suspected of being infected, from their homes and cars and taking them, God knows where. It is difficult to discern the truth from the fake news. WHO declares the disease a global emergency, and Trump bans all travel from China. People infected with the virus are now beginning to be identified outside China as well. Japan has prohibited anyone aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship from disembarking, the boat is docked at the pier of Yokohama for the quarantine. What an irony, ‘Diamond Princess,’ a beautiful name, which instead of invoking a sense of all that is beautiful, creates hellish images of people restrained to their rooms without their will with food being delivered to their doors. Those occupying the inner quarters on the ship, cannot even get a glimpse of the sea, not to mention a peek at the sun.
Feb 17, 2020:
It has been raining since morning. I glance out the window. The rain has stopped, and the squirrel is running around in the yard. I quickly get my camera ready and very slowly open the porch door. The squirrel, busy eating, is unaware of my approach. I reach the perfect distance and gloating in my nimbleness, raise the camera to my eye. “You are walking in indoor slippers on the wet grass; you are gonna bring all that dirt inside!” yells my wife from behind. Before I could get him in focus, the long strides take the squirrel away from my sight. I return, cursing my carelessness.
I go back to my computer. Grandpa Google flashes a piece of news that China passed legislation to ban the eating of wild animals. The story took my memory to a WhatsApp video I had seen a while ago. It had shown a meat market in China. Various kinds of live animals ranging from rats, snakes, and constrictor snakes to dogs, cats, bats, wild boars, and monkeys were stuffed in cages. The market was alive with meat buyers. Customers could buy an already cut, even freshly roasted meat, or they could have an animal butchered in front of their eyes and have a part, or all of it packed. The animals in their helplessness, waiting for their turns, were witnesses to the horror scenes. ‘At least the wild animals will benefit from the endemic,’ the thought crosses my mind, inducing a sense of satisfaction.
It appears that the newspapers have nothing else to report on these days, all are filled with the corona news. After China, the plague has hit Iran. A corona patient story comes from South America, and then the pages start to fill up with similar stories from Europe. Pakistani newspaper, the Dawn publishes excellent articles, but what I enjoy even more is the comments its readers make, and some pieces get hundreds of comments. I unconsciously divide these readers into four categories: 1) Indian origin readers who take pride in India being a superior nation; their comments are intended mainly to show how deprived Pakistan is as a country. 2) Pakistani nationalists, who in a tit-for-tat effort, do not spare a heartbeat showing the inferiority of Indians, India, and its ruling party, the BJP. 3) The third category is those I call rational readers. They read the news just as it is, the news; their comments are usually brief and straightforward. 4) The fourth category commentators are fewer in number. These souls loudly tout the Pak-India -or Indo-Pakistan, depending on which side of the border they live, brotherhood. When Pakistan did not evacuate its students from Wuhan, China, the back and forth squabble from category 1 and 2 was entertaining. These days they are having a competition on who is better at managing the corona outbreak – Imran Khan or Narendra Modi.
Every now and then, a piece of good news creeps into the ever-depressing pages of the internet. For example, the report of four hundred and fifteen passengers from Diamond Princess coming home was uplifting. Currently, the news of increasing cases from Italy is trumping everything else. Emerging images of Italy’s overwhelmed hospitals and morgues, and the stories of the lonely, dying patients are nerve recking. Trump has asked the US Congress for $1.25 billion to fight the virus, the invisible enemy as he calls it.
Meanwhile, the virus has started to make news in South America, and the numbers of cases in Europe get on a fast climb. On the 28th of February comes the announcement of its first case in Africa. I take a sigh of relief and shudder at the not-too-distant memory of wandering around and mixing freely with the locals. The US digs her heels, ‘it’s never too late,’ I think and imposes travel restrictions from virus-hot areas around the world. The news of upwards creeping numbers is emerging from India; the returning compatriots from Iran and South Korea are faulted.