Pandemic, poetry and prognosisThese are the times to make friends and work in tandem with them.
Surfeit of readings about the Covid-19 pandemics over the days and hours has landed me nowhere, I must confess. People who write about the subject of the apocalypse in different countries today naturally tend to feel that they can talk with great authority about the subject that crosses the boundaries of time and space. Among the plethora of articles I have read, some arguments have struck me. They were written by Nepali writers whose comments were retrospective and cultural. Political and government leaders when they take a chance to jibe at the opposition or the citizens misinterpret the very subject of coping with such calamity. Their racist and xenophobic ideas come to the surface, which cannot be helpful in tackling such a common problem. These are the times to make friends and work in tandem with them. Come to think of it, this is a Buddhist approach taken to overcome animosities at a time when power, wealth and capitalist markets do not function as intended.
But the suddenness with which Covid-19 has encircled the world has left people guessing and fearing. Philosophers find such suddenness difficult to explain just as the scientists and governments find it difficult to manage. Humankind has endured at least five such calamities in its history. In literature and poetry such apocalyptic imaginaire has been given ample space. In our own literature, the late poet Lekhanath Poudyal wrote a famous poem entitled kaal mahima or 'in praise of kaala’, which means time as well as death. He says in that poem ‘kaal is so sinister and strong that it is not moved by people crying in grief. It loves only grief-stricken mourners' wails. When the time comes, it just arrives and picks up the victim. You cannot evade its approach’ (translation mine).
This is a fatalistic approach to death, which is not accepted today. But this poem evokes the apocalyptic imagination that many scholars and poets have been writing about. The eighteenth-century English poet Robert Southey wrote a famous poem entitled ‘death the leveller’. Eastern and Western poetics differ in their perception of the cause of mass death. The middle and later medieval English and Italian poets equated human qualities like greed, corruption and sinful acts as viruses in the sense that we know today.
For the German philosopher of the nineteenth century like Friedrich Nietzsche to see the end of an era that he said came with the death of God was quite a tumultuous matter. Such a sense of change in all realities was a subject of epochal change. French philosopher Michel Foucault's very last sentence in the brilliant book The Order of Things (1970) ‘that man would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea’, comes when the order of things change completely. He is indicating how we interpret knowledge. But these are philosophical speculations. Karl Marx's prediction, on the other hand, was not apocalyptic but based on his conviction that nature should be interpreted as an ever-dynamic force, and human actions should be guided by purpose.
The two decades of the twenty-first century had a tumultuous start. Factors that precipitate human disaster are strong; they are at least half a dozen in number. They are mostly human-made like the stockpile of nuclear weapons and the destruction of the earth's ecology. But on the other side of human creation, we find science-induced achievements such as those described by Yuval Noah Harari in his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2019). Hariri shows how human beings are radically changing because of their scientific and technical achievements.
But pandemics like the current Covid-19 can change the very perceptions about power and history. After the big and small, rich and poor, sparsely populated and crowded nations tackle the problem, it becomes clear they are not left with many choices. Nobody knows how to tackle the problem. But they have learnt one thing: To tackle such a problem one has to redefine space and make action plans. But by the same token, you have to establish close links with the other countries far and near because pandemic is a shared calamity. In this sense, in a strange way, the pandemics can be tackled by linking your problems with the world at large, and the guiding principles for that would be shaped by humanism and cosmopolitanism.
Roles of politicians and their governments at such times count extremely. The Nepal government too is issuing lockdown orders asking people to stay at home, wash hands, meet not more than three people at a time, use sanitizer and greet everyone with a Namaste instead of shaking hands. We should all agree that they are doing so for the safety of all of us. Being too negative about the government if it is taking the measures for everybody's safety is not becoming of the human response at such times. But as we have seen everybody has not followed these measures. There could be hard times ahead, therefore, working together and cooperating with each other is the best way to tackle our problems.
We cannot predict what the post-coronavirus effect will be in the patterns of thinking. But the major obstacles that people, societies and their governments are facing, and the realisation of the futilities of one's ideas about superiority, and illusions about one's absolute power will definitely change. In Nepal, we have yet to see how that will happen.
The government, parties and people should work towards establishing hospitals and medical colleges in remote regions and making efforts to continue the great opportunity that this calamity has given to work together.
What do you think?
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