Md Shamshul Arafin is in self-quarantine with his wife at an apartment in Dhaka. Drawing from his experiences he talks about the COVID-19 outbreak, people’s fear and helplessness
He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision — he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath: ‘The horror! The horror!’
— Heart of Darkness
MR KURTZ who testimonies the evil clutches of imperialism in Africa before dying in Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness, laments these above-mentioned lines. These infamous lines were echoing in my heart yesterday while returning home from a local grocery shop in the evening. I did not know why this lamentation of Mr Kurtz’s echoed in my heart out of the blue but I can certainly relate to this with the horrible and fearful situation my beloved country is going through due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
On that evening, it felt like midnight — only a few people were out there. The chaos of people, dazzling lights of different shops, never-ending gossips in the tea-stalls, buzzling restaurants — all were absent and were becoming unfamiliar to people. Gloomy dark clouds of fear created by the coronavirus are now pouring on in full swing.
That evening, I saw only one or two shops remained open. I asked one of the shopkeepers and he described his sufferings and fear. He revealed that his daily income had shrunk from TK 500-1000 to only TK 50-100. He raised concern that even if the coronavirus may not kill him, hunger certainly will. On that evening, night guards and police were on the streets warning people to stay at home. People were maintaining distance. The distance and the pale face of the people were not familiar to me.
I can certainly understand the untold feelings and emotions imposed on their pale faces. The enemy against the whole world is fighting is invisible in our eyes, neither we can sense it nor we can immediately feel it but the fear of the enemy is more than enough that any word can describe.
For some days, I remained at home in my small apartment in Dhaka. Passing a cautious quarantine time with my beloved wife in this crisis moment. Growing up in Dhaka city, I have never seen such worse condition of my country. It seems people are fighting against an invisible giant who at any given time can come and slay them.
Both of our parents are warning us not to go outside and pray and eat regularly. Meanwhile, I am keeping my curious eyes glued on television, online newspapers, radio and social media platforms to remain up to date with coronavirus news.
So far 70 people have been tested positive for the coronavirus and among them, eight people have already died. Most importantly, the fear of the coronavirus has been spreading throughout our country like a wildfire.
Rumours associated with COVID-19 are spreading frequently which is worsening the situation of our country. Influenced by rumours and pressures from relatives, I have also bought enough groceries to survive for two months easily. When I went to buy the essentials one week ago, I saw people were returning home with too many goods than their needs alike me. Therefore, the prices of the goods have risen up and economically marginalised people are suffering from this.
I am not worried about myself nor for the wealthy, solvent people but for the day labourers, the rickshaw pullers who live hand-to-mouth. People were terrified and shocked too. It was very much visible in their faces. It was like a big cloud of depression and anxiety that are hovering above our nation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has become a real-life nightmare across the globe as well as in Bangladesh also. It is true that being a densely populated and poor country, Bangladesh will not be able to cope up with the COVID-19. When the western nations were struggling to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, we the people of Bangladesh were just mere spectators. Now, the coronavirus pandemic is about to launch its ace and ravage our nation.
However, to stop the spread of coronavirus, some early precautions and measures have already been taken. Schools, colleges and universities were closed at first. Transportations across the country have been shut down. Ridesharing services are suspended too. Praying together in mosques and temples are encouraged to be stopped. Playgrounds and parks which were occupied by people now have become a perfect place for stray animals. In the broad daylight, people are hardly seen. It seems that section 144 has been imposed.
During the night-time, Dhaka city has become a haunted, ghost town. People are not coming out from their homes not only for the fear of the coronavirus but also for the fear of getting beaten by the law enforcement agency, such photos and videos went vial in social media platforms. Authorities are advising the mass people to remain at their home.
Doctors are also afraid to treat corona virus patients in our country as they do not have enough personal protective equipment, as reported in media. Patients who are going to the hospital with normal coughing, cold or flu, asthma, stomach pain-related diseases are being sent home without treatment. People are scared and feeling helpless. People are showing their fear, anxiety and anguish in social media.
Due to the lockdown, streets have become empty, shopping malls have become vacant. People are staying at home with their families. It is like our country is going through a wartime crisis. Wearing face masks on such a huge scale have never been seen before. Different colours of masks, gloves making it feel that people are in an active chemical factory where it is mandatory to use such protections.
Sadly, social media platforms are creating more fear and anxiety. Mass people are easily misguided due to some greedy pages, websites and channels for obtaining more ‘likes’ and ‘subscribers’. Some people are playing with the psychology of the common people.
Along with the civilian law enforcement agencies, the military has been deployed to help the common people. In our country, the virus has possibly spread through foreign returnees. These remittance warriors are the heart of the country’s economy but now they are treated as the enemy of the nation. They have been caged at their own home. People are insulting them, cursing them and maintaining distance from them. Now, they are treated like strangers and aliens in their own motherland.
People are warned by the government and lockdown is continuing to date. Italy, Spain and the USA are experiencing an alarming rate of deaths because of the COVID-19. The horrible and hellish situation like Italy did not happen yet in Bangladesh.
The government of Bangladesh has taken few steps like general holidays, raising social awareness, maintaining social distance and deployment of the army. Sadly, the general mass has become suspicious about the government’s activities, especially when people from different parts of Bangladesh are dying suddenly with coronavirus-like symptoms, as reported in different media. There is also shortage of coronavirus testing kits in the institute of epidemiology disease control and research. On top of that, police brutality and public shaming by government officials have created mixed feelings among the people.
The current situation created by the COVID- 19, even three months ago, it was beyond my imagination. I was roaming outside, eating in different restaurants and visiting tourist spots. Now, all of a sudden, all of my freedom has been taken away. I am afraid of the current situation, thinking about my aged parents and relatives. It is hard for me to deal with these sudden and uncertain changes that are taking place rapidly.
Surely, an uncertain future is waiting for the coming days ahead. Upcoming days are very crucial to stop the spreading of the coronavirus. Any negligence can cause a rally of death that we cannot even imagine.
Yes, I am accepting these changes, following instructions and staying at home, maintaining quarantine not for my sake only but for the people around me as I live with my wife, my parents, relatives and my countrymen.
Md Shamshul Arafin graduated from University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh
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