In the perception of some occidental philosophers of the past, ‘leisure’ has been given special importance and has been extolled as generating a consummate fruition of creativity. Leisure in this view is not to be treated as a period of indolent whiling away of time or of roving in wanton misdirection. It connotes an earnest essay to conceive of the immanent philosophy of life and is construed as a novel attempt at exploring, though indirectly, the avenues of epistemological research.
The benumbing crisis of the present engendered by the coronavirus, the unknown, unpredictable and vicious enemy, has made it obligatory by bewildered medics and scientists to ask the victims to take refuge in home isolation or to be put in quarantine and resort to social distancing to escape the scourge of the lethal danger. This is in some form ‘leisure’ thrust upon the people without any option. It may not be out of place to gauge the impact of leisure inside the four walls of the jail ~ the prolonged incarceration, the torture and torment of body and ‘Soul’.
It is the crippling monotony of the isolation in the Mandalay jail which prompted Subhas Chandra Bose to remember the unforgettable lines of Tagore’s poem ~ “ It is time to think in silence, pray in privacy without any outside work and day-in day-out listen to the murmur of the soul”. Home isolation with the corollary of social distancing as prescribed is a different thing, though hardly less painful.
Afflicted by the infection, the home has turned out to be a place of solitary confinement but that does not lead to solitude whose charms have been seen by the sages. Solitude is far from solitary and practically crammed with people ~ the family members who are restive and panicky and irascible because of the uncanny sense of uncertainty. How many of us can afford the comfort of the exclusively separate rooms with attendant facilities of toilet, ventilation and moving space?
Most of such people are huddled together unceremoniously in their respective holes of home isolation or in quarantine bereft of actual social distancing. If hospitalized for medical compulsion, they are to spend time in anxiety intensely accentuated by the probability of death in the damp beds of the hospital infested itself by lack of proper management, substandard infrastructure, grudging nurses and medical attendants whose reasons for the grouse are well founded. It is a utopian conjecture to suppose that home under these circumstances is a place where we have to earn our grace as proposed by some robust optimists (Home Isolation; May) in this paper. In fact there is no dystopian scenario but the stark reality of distress and impending doom.
With this kind of environment and with hardly any ray of hope for survival it will be patently naive to assume that a Shelley or a Keats will flourish with their mighty pen terming this solitude as sublime. This leisure is certainly not to the flowering of the potentiality of heart bubbling with pristine grace. Then what remains! A horrific emptiness and vacuous future with near and dear ones shuffled to the dank shelter of a hospital with hardly any chance to come out. If death comes, the body of the dearest one may well be subjected to dreadful treatment when the body will not be burnt properly and decently; the ritual of bidding goodbye by the relatives will be conspicuous by absence.
For, the corpse may be taken out without the knowledge of the relatives. The foul smell of disjointed bones and mangled flesh will float in the putrid air. But there seems no remedy to this pitiable plight… no solution. Let the scientists be successful and come up with a ready vaccine. Let the administration be properly motivated and dedicated to hasten to remove the ill-effects of this pandemic. Let this be done and the rest be left to the Almighty. The proponents of spirituality and believers suggest that in this moment of cataclysm it is time to remember the rumblings of the Shastra which are often forgotten and lost in the cacophony of quotidian existence.
They insist, even at this juncture, man must strive to live a true life, to achieve real life fulfilment and has to manifest the infinite self within him by controlling and transcending his lower self. A sneer of the cynic is inevitable. Such a pontifical claim is easier said than observed. But come what may, the spiritualists aver, he has to change his sensebound nature to combat the nagging and compelling demands of his horrid, humdrum life. But this is a particularly uphill task on the part of ordinary mortals, incurably afflicted by debilitation and morbidity. Out of the inmost recess of the heart he is to crave for divine mercy for manifesting the infinite self within.
He is to pray to the Almighty without whose command fire does not burn, sword does not pierce and disease and decay do not touch the body. With an unswerving dedication to the Lord, he should practise resilience to tackle the practical problems and ultimately to find the way of transcendence. Endurance, as the Scriptures say, is the ultimate safetyvalve. A gama Payino Anityam Stang Titikshasya Bharat, says the Gita. Titiksha has a wonderful efficacy in this world in the battle against odds and vicissitudes and the virus ~ that formidable submicroscopic organism.
This frantic cry of the distressed soul with frenzied earnestness will surely reach the throne of mercy and relief will come in one form or other. Coronavirus, this pandemic nightmare, causes suffering of people irrespective of caste community or creed. It makes no distinction between the opulent and poor, dauntless and pusillanimous, scholar and numbskull. All are equal before God and before the vicious virus. The great Bhisma of the Mahabharata adored the Omnipotent and Omniscient God in all his multifarious activities. “Tang Debatmone namo, tang ghoratmone namo”.
It is the flow of time ~ Kala that has hit late after many decades ~ about a century, but hit hard. This is divine reprisal without reprieve against the diabolical torture and exploitation of Nature by men out of avarice and unbridled greed. Thus asserted the Lord in the Gita ~ Kalo-aham, lokaksyakrit Prabriddha, lokan samahartum iha prabritta. God has taken up the gauntlet to penalize mankind. So suffering is inevitable, but will end, by the grace of Debatmona before the final end comes. Therefore, in the midst of this grave crisis, the devotees prescribe that in addition to our unrelenting fight against the danger we should take recourse to prayer and chanting of the name of the Lord ~ Nama Smaranam.
An ordinary man may weep in despair. A saint and ascetic may well muse ruefully with abject surrender that all is Divine Play. Let us board the Noah’s Ark of namosmaranam to tide over this frightful flood of pandemic disaster.
(The writer is a retired IAS officer)