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Covid 19 nights have their Edvard Munch feel

12 April 2021 06:35 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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It’s never been a fair playing field. Instead of reducing inequalities, the pandemic has only widened them  

A security guard cycling to work during the 2020 lockdown

I got into the habit of travelling to work at night during the pandemic. Much of the past year seems to have been spent in lockdown. But there were sporadic periods of going to the office. The nights were always hot and sultry, but infinitely better than the days.   

"It’s never been a fair playing field. Instead of reducing inequalities, the pandemic has only widened them. But cycling through an apocalyptically silent and empty city at night has its rewards, bringing you face to face with your deepest insecurities ..."

I rode to work by bicycle. This has been a lifelong habit. But over the past few years, I rode less during the day due to increasing heat. I have never liked our dangerous, bone-rattling and rude buses, though I have done a fair amount of bus travel in my life. The bicycle with its manoeuvrability, ease of parking, non-polluting motion and silent speed is a blessing in any city. During the pandemic, when invisible virus ghosts seemed to cling to every available surface, it became truly a godsend.  


But riding at night along deserted city streets can be unnerving. There were always passing a few vehicles, but hardly any pedestrians or bicycles. It’s as if people were afraid to step out unless protected by a metal cocoon. Unlike in many other countries, Sri Lanka didn’t witness a cycling boom during the pandemic.

"People I’d known for years looked like strangers when you met them again. They seem to have aged by years. The damage caused by Covid 19 has been reported mainly from the medical side – infections, deaths, depression and suicides."

My route takes me past the Vihara Maha Devi National Park. Closed during the first lockdown from late March 2020, it reopened tentatively only to be declared out of bounds again in October as the second Covid 19 wave swept across the country. Cycling past the empty park illuminated by ghostly lights at night was unnerving. I longed to see people strolling, or sitting on the benches, to hear voices. But there were none. Colombo looked like an abandoned city, though this time the parts of the city were locked down.  


On the other hand, it was nice to escape the heat of the day. November nights were chilly, December chillier. Rain was uncomfortable, but much of the time the weather was fine. You could even forget that people were focused entirely on survival. With food prices going up astronomically, how people facing salary cuts fed their families was a mystery. As for those who didn’t have jobs, the math was even harsher.   

"Covid 19 is said to have taught the world a lesson – curb your greed, consume less. Wildlife returned to cities, fish were back in the canals of Venice, and China imposed a ban on wildlife farming and the skies were blue again over industrial cities."

Someone I knew had to sell his car. Another lost his three-wheeler to a finance company. Millions of children all over the world had their literacy levels pushed back, and ours can’t be any exceptions.   
People I’d known for years looked like strangers when you met them again. They seem to have aged by years. The damage caused by Covid 19 has been reported mainly from the medical side – infections, deaths, depression and suicides. 


The psychological damage, the loss of hope, the sense of alienation and disorientation – these will haunt us for many years to come. 
Covid 19 is said to have taught the world a lesson – curb your greed, consume less. Wildlife returned to cities, fish were back in the canals of Venice, and China imposed a ban on wildlife farming and the skies were blue again over industrial cities. 


But how durable are these lessons, and how many people in power would have learned anything? The most powerful country on earth had a president who caused thousands of deaths because of irrational pandemic denial, and it looked as if he might get re-elected till the last moment.   
The daughter of a Portuguese millionaire, grief-stricken when her father died of Covid 19, said all his wealth could not bring him back to life. But one suspects that most of the wealthy who survived would work with a vengeance to recoup their losses once the world is declared pandemic free.   

"But riding at night along deserted city streets can be unnerving. There were always passing a few vehicles, but hardly any pedestrians or bicycles. It’s as if people were afraid to step out unless protected by a metal cocoon."

Not everyone got poorer during the pandemic – the owners of Tesla Motors, Microsoft and Amazon got richer by billions during the past year, but their employees faced salary cuts and reduced bonuses.
It’s never been a fair playing field. Instead of reducing inequalities, the pandemic has only widened them. But cycling through an apocalyptically silent and empty city at night has its rewards, bringing you face to face with your deepest insecurities and teaching you how to cope.   


Money is not the only factor that makes us stronger and, for all the pervading sense of alienation, the bicycle offers more scope for an unexpected chat with a stranger on the road, which you can’t do in a car.  
One night, I saw a neatly dressed man – dark pants, black shoes, white long-sleeved shirt and backpack slung across his back, riding a shiny new standard bicycle.   All standard bicycles on the roads nowadays are rickety, ridden by the poorest people. Curious, I began chatting with the rider.  


He was an employee of Hilton Hotel and said the hotel had bought twenty bicycles for its employees who come to work at night – a smart move by the hotel, and the rider seemed impervious to the pandemic ghosts lurking in 
the shadows.   
Two days later, I met another night rider on a standard bicycle – old, not rickety, and the rider was well dressed. We began chatting, and I told him I was going to work at the newspaper.  

"The psychological damage, the loss of hope, the sense of alienation and disorientation – these will haunt us for many years to come."

“I work at Park View Restaurant, and we supplied food to your company long ago,” he laughed.  
The old Park View, a landmark along Park Road, ceased to be years ago, but now it’s resurrected at Kotahena, and he was riding there to work. He told me his father was one of the founding staff members when the restaurant was started long ago.  
“I should have become a cook. But I chose to be a waiter because that was good money. Today, I can see it was a mistake”.   
Like most people, he may have blundered through life, but looked confident and secure before he and his black bicycle vanished into the night.   

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See Kapruka's top selling online shopping categories such as Toys, Grocery, Flowers, Birthday Cakes, Fruits, Chocolates, Clothing and Electronics. Also see Kapruka's unique online services such as Money Remittence,News, Courier/Delivery, Food Delivery and over 700 top brands. Also get products from Amazon & Ebay via Kapruka Gloabal Shop into Sri Lanka.