Corona Corona - Kya Karoon?

By Shyama Parui

On a day in February, when my biggest challenge was to carve out enough time to drive to the local Indian store 30 miles away to stock up on basmati rice and dal, I heard about a fatal new virus consuming lives in China and infiltrating numerous other countries. After listening to the radio, sifting the internet for reasonably “unfake" news and reviewing multiple text messages, I got a vague understanding of what was going on. The remarkably sad situation was and continues to be a reminder about the unpredictability of life. At that moment, however, all I wanted to do was get to the store before closing time. Neither denial nor indifference had anything to do with my priority, instead it was being pragmatic.

News and more accurately, our own reaction to the various sources of information, reminds us about our personal anxieties that lurk beneath the surface of our smiles and cheerful posts on social media. My vivid imagination, which serves as a blessing when I am reading a sci-fi or historical novel, became a curse as positive cases were detected closer and closer to home. Unbridled, my mind galloped into dark territories. A few days later, I worried about our maid who was determined to embark on her first cruise to the Bahamas. My worry turned into alarm when she returned from her trip and called to say that the scheduled cleaning at my house would be delayed as she was sick with the flu. Flu, was it really flu? What if it was…. I declined to use the dreaded C word.

We wake up on most days with incredible optimism continuing our routine lives by driving to work, finishing chores, going for a swim, or catching the latest movie in the theater. We place faith in planes, cars, elevators, gyms, and so on even though there is a potential threat to our health and safety in each one of those things. Approximately 40,000 fatal car accidents occur every year in the US, yet the nagging fear about getting behind the wheel is low. So, what is it about the… okay, I'll say it, Corona virus that is fueling everything from lame jokes to panic buying?

Political debates, uncertainties following the primaries, even the devastation from the tornadoes in Nashville, moved to the sidelines as COVID-19 became the focal point of our lives. Fear of the unknown is probably bigger than qualms about your least favorite candidate winning the election. Partisan feuds among family members have been replaced by arguments about the best home remedy for the disease and creative minds are squandering their talent by inventing conspiracy theories. Amidst the chaos, researchers and healthcare workers are in a tough race against time as they attempt to contain the disease and produce a vaccine. Let's keep our fingers crossed in the hope that today's solutions do not sow the seeds of tomorrow's problems.

In a crisis, the world could use foresight but unfortunately, we lack a crystal ball. If we knew how our actions will play out in the future, we could in theory allay our fears to make the best choices. My family would skip specific gatherings if we knew the location of dangerous bacteria or viruses. If only those troublemakers were visible to the naked eye. The microscopic nature of disease-causing organisms increases their chances of survival but lowers ours. In today's global economy, we share more than commodities. A sneeze in Tokyo sets into motion a domino effect that has the potential to hospitalize someone in Johannesburg. Our worldwide connection exacerbates problems enabling a malady to reach pandemic proportions. The seemingly impossible goal of attaining global cooperation becomes a prerequisite for fighting complex situations that threaten the entire human race. Heads of state should set aside their differences as the common enemy is a disease at war with vulnerable humans who can be ambushed anytime.

While information in the 24/7 news cycle keeps people on high alert, the propensity of sharing advice, unknowingly forwarding fabricated material, and adding personal commentary has blurred the line between fact and fiction. This mirrors the old party game, ironically named Chinese Whispers and succeeds in providing some comic relief. However, the key difference is that when it is played by kids at a party, mass hysteria is far from the picture.

Our instinct for self-preservation along with the desire to protect our family fires these trepidations whether it is the fear of a new illness, its pandemic nature or the lack of control over our future. On the flip side, our fears also help us in our fight for survival. It is my sincere hope that when you are reading my article, this ailment is a thing of the past and the only unsolved mystery that is lingering around is why did the Corona virus trigger an uncontrollable urge to hoard toilet paper?

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Shyama Parui is a long time North Carolina resident and an ardent writer. You can reach her at: shyamashree_parui@hotmail.com