As a public servant, I have been asked to work from home and stay at home as much as possible. Last week I worked from home. To start with, the computer system got overloaded and crashed. I sat at home doing a bit of gardening and household work. In the afternoon, I relaxed on my arm chair. Later, enjoyed a lovely home-made dinner (rice and curry of course!). Life just could not be better. May the COVID-19 have a long life. This is rather an unusual thought process.
The COVID-19 has brought Melbourne to a standstill. Public transport usage has dropped by 80%. There are hardly any flight keeping to schedule with most aircraft were grounded. Countries have locked themselves in with travellers under quarantine for two weeks. Hotels are not for tourists, but for COVID-19 patients. Every news channel is broadcasting statistics related to the pandemic situation. It is becoming so painful to listen to the news.
Why am I being so relaxed? Is this the calm before the storm? My internet was down. I called the technical support telephone number. A recorded message said unable to provide assistance due to lack of staff in the call centre as a result of the virus spread. I called my doctor to arrange a routine check and the recorded message said, if suffering from the virus symptoms, do not attend surgery, call the hotline to arrange a test. I am now realising that life, as I know, it is about to change. Services that I took for granted that it would be available, is slowly winding down. If my car breaks down can I get a mechanic?
"In the 1960’s and early 70’s living under the Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s regime, one cannot forget the early morning bread queues. Then 7.00 am water cuts"
With all the doom and gloom, I am quite relaxed and calm. Is it because I am 62 and have experienced more terrible things in my life, that this pandemic is not worth worrying about? The answer is several hundred kilometres away in sunny Mount Lavinia. In the 1960’s and early 70’s living under the Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s regime, one cannot forget the early morning bread queues.
Then 7.00 am water cuts, then to spice it all up the power cuts. There was a queue for every day-to-day item; chili powder one queue, sugar the other queue, for rice, the longest queue. Who can forget the coupon books allocated to each family. School uniforms, join another queue with the coupon book. With imports severely curtailed, everyone was asked to “Grow More Food”.
Even at school, the S. Thomas College quadrangle was dug up and we grew manioc. Even the simple cup of tea required some form of improvisation. There was no sugar so, out came jaggery! We did not have much, yet we had a plenty. Neighbours shared the little bit of what they had. Families and friends looked after each other. No one turned to the government for help. In fact, the government provided no help, at all.
Newspapers and news channels in Melbourne are constantly filled with news relating to government-funded assistance. Rent assistance, income support, medical support, industry subsidy just to name a few. A few days ago, 280,000 signed up for income support. The news reports painted a picture of abject despair.
Yes, people are suffering but a great part of it is imagined. A friend of mine asked me whether we had bought the essentials and stocked up. I calmly told him a bag of rice and lentils will be sufficient for one month. He had a look with disbelief on his face.
Having endured Sirimavo’s regime, then the JVP, followed by the ‘Black July’ in 1983, the JVP, and finally the LTTE… a few weeks of lockdown in Melbourne is nothing to worry about. I have lots of time to enjoy relaxing on my arm chair.