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This brief post has been inspired by a short joke that I received on Whatsapp today – while I would love to give credit for that joke to its rightful composer, it was one of those nameless, faceless forwards from a friend meant to keep people in good humour in these trying times. Before proceeding further, let me explain the dictionary meaning of a common word. Guess the word, anyone?

Dense, adj

1. closely compacted in substance. “As the storm cleared, a dense fog came down” or “dense population” in our context.

2. INFORMAL (of a person) stupid. “Am I being dense? I don’t quite understand”.

Coming now to the cute little joke that I mentioned… Though seemingly flippant, it is loaded with meaning and wisdom – provided we have the intelligence to understand it, absorb the import and learn the vital lessons. Here goes…

The spread of COVID 19 is based on two factors: –

          1.  How dense the population is.

          2. How dense the population is.

This has been true of India and perhaps for many parts of the world. It is applicable to leaders, the general public, specific individuals, religious affiliations, political groups and every description of human beings, individually and collectively.

In many parts of India, social distancing is a joke. The sheer population, especially in urban areas, does not permit any kind of distancing. Advocates of social distancing  need to spend just five minutes at CST Railway Station in Mumbai at rush hour to realise its futility as a standard practice in India. Any urban living space, unless it belongs to the rich or the rather well-to-do, is overcrowded. Metro cities are the worst in which poor people, including migrant labour, live in unimaginably small and crowded dwellings where proper hygiene, sanitation and social distancing requirements militate against the idea of survival. Nowhere has the bogey of social distancing been so apparent as in the Dharavi slums when the first COVID positive case was reported. We have been extraordinarily lucky that whatever measures were taken, mainly the isolation of migrant labour and affected slums, may be effective in containing the spread of the virus somewhat (though it is too early to say anything). The manner in which we conduct our public events, festivals, political rallies, religious gatherings and the sheer load on public services have taken our cities and towns beyond their breaking points. Population management by all means available has to be one of the prime items on the national agenda in a post-COVID India.

The second definition of density is more worrying. This is the sheer inability of people to see sense in what they are doing and in what should be done. This trying period has been witness to intensely ‘dense’ behaviour – internationally. These range from fudging facts, figures and the truth, thus allowing the virus to spread globally, continuation of tourism and international travel despite the rapid spread of the virus, conduct of large religious gatherings knowing fully well that this would be dangerous, important personalities breaking self-quarantine, VIPs breaking lockdown to conducting marriages of their kith and kin, despicable behaviour of people in quarantine facilities like spitting and openly defecating, a complete lack of seriousness among people in implementing mitigating measures and many more instances of gross irresponsibility and negligent conduct. Once again, human behaviour has been the cause of a global disaster. Historically, every calamity upon the human race has been caused by none other than humans themselves. Because we think – and often think destructively. We therefore need to behave responsibly and choose our leaders wisely– in every organisation and at every level, as they take important decisions on our behalf and often guide our own actions.

It  has been rightly said “Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.” When this crisis blows over, we will need to show a lot more wisdom than we have hitherto displayed.


19 Apr 20

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