What would have Ghalib said on Weekend Lockdowns

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The other day, I was ruminating on present COVID crisis and our approach to look at a particular scenario, person or thing. It occurred to me that ordinarily it is almost fixed the way we want to see any object because of our preconceptions and biased notions. Often, we get flanked with our own cultivated irrational justifications without being empathetic and paying heed to others’ point of view. It seems we are quite intent on harbouring this paradoxical approach.

Let me try to de-clutter above statement with a recent example of lockdown implemented in many countries because of the current pandemic. Lest I be misunderstood, I would like to proclaim that I attached a lot of importance to lockdown and, many a time, wrote explicitly in my columns underscoring necessity of lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. 

In our country also, we had protracted nationwide lockdown with various and sometimes ambivalent implementation guidelines. Out of those guideline sheaves, many injunctions did beat a retreat. Later, it dawned on us that we need to learn to live with coronavirus. Eventually lockdown, which was damaging the economy, got lifted and, in time, we entered into ‘un-lockdown’ phase. People accepted all these without any demur. 

Though, nationwide lockdown was lifted months ago but unfortunately the virus is still hovering on us and the tally of positive cases continues to mount. This has forced many state governments to initiate short term lockdown in various districts and even across the entire state. Subsequently, in Uttar Pradesh also, state government has decided to implement lockdown on weekends to stop the spread of this formidable virus starting from July. There, as per the weekend lockdown guidelines, the markets and offices would remain closed on Saturday-and Sunday. Shops of ‘non-essential items’, malls, and restaurants are not allowed to operate. All urban and rural haats, galla-mandis, and markets need to remain closed during weekend lockdown in the state. 

Clearly, it is no-brainer for common people to expect that grocery shops would also be allowed to open in mini-lockdown like it was available throughout the day during nationwide lockdown and they can purchase necessary grocery items following lockdown protocols as to plan their week ahead. But, one Saturday morning, when one of my acquaintances tried to reach out his grocery shop owner in Prayagraj to dictate him the list of items needed, he whimpered that police was not allowing them to open the shop. It seems morning time they had opened the shops but soon police-van came hollering, “Would you people die if you do not open your shops?” Looks like, they received decent dressing-down from the police and eventually closed the shops.

It flashed through my mind that a few days before whilst peering over a newspaper, I had seen a report with the title ‘Liquor shops allowed to open during weekend lockdown’. I was appalled by this contradiction. Grocery shop, which was allowed to operate during the nationwide lockdown, became almost forbidden in weekend lockdown! According to the order, shops selling country-made liquor, foreign liquor, beer and ‘bhaang’ and model shops can remain open daily (including weekends) from 10AM to 9PM. Conspicuously, one can easily get liquor but may struggle for necessary household grocery items during weekend lockdown in UP.

On hearing this, in jest, one of my friends grinned ferociously and quipped, “Now we should consider start respecting the boozers, they are important pillars to shore-up the economy. You see, liquor is given priority over household items. It should not be considered social anathema anymore.. Hui muddat ke ‘Ghalib’ mar gaya par yaad aata hai. He (Mirza Ghalib) was right while asserting- Banti nahi hai guftagu  ‘bada-o-saghar’ kahe baghair.”  

Joking aside, people have no doubt about government’s well intentions behind these curbs. Bureaucrats, police and local administration all are putting their shoulders to the wheel and working 24X7 to stop the spread of the virus. It would be good, better still, if they assimilate priorities of a common person, impoverished daily-wage labourers, urchins, and students staying away from their homes. They do not have resources to store or purchase grocery or food items in advance unlike middle-class people. For them, no weekends but all days are equal. They need grocery shops at their disposal. I hope people concerned would get wind of these off-key priorities and carry out a course correction.

Riyaz Khan

Written by Riyaz Khan

The author is Director at an engineering and IT services company in Hyderabad and a columnist.

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