Causality – that that may have led to this – has never been a strong point with the people of Bengal. Or it may quite well be that fatalism – that this was simply meant to be – has always been a strategy to make some hay even while the sun doesn’t shine.
While Covid-19 infections and deaths seem to be coming down in India from their peak numbers in September, West Bengal, like Kerala, has seen a surge in cases, and more distressingly a spike in fatalities. That as Durga Pujo approaches, the state is already witnessing hordes in markets and malls throwing social distancing and mask wearing norms out of the window, bodes a self-culling project. Even as doctors and the state administration reiterate the absolute need to wear masks when visiting pandals and ‘taking selfies in front of idols’, Kolkata’s Beliaghata ID (Infectious Disease) Hospital principal professor Dr. Anima Haldar stated last week that only about “30% [of people] are wearing masks in public places.”
Chanakya lists five ‘great calamities of divine origin’ in his third century BC Arthashastra: Fire, flood, disease, famine and epidemic (down from his original eight that also included rats, wild animals and evil spirits). Writing the narrative poem Maharashtra Puran in 1751-52 AD, the Bengali poet referring to himself as Gangaram, includes the Maratha raids of 1742-51 in this Kautilyan list. Their cause was also apparently ‘divine’.
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October 19, 2020