It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. Each day brings forth its old cacophony of contradictory claims and overwhelming statistics.

The global pandemic has sired some new phrases and expressions. One of them is “the new normal is the ever-changing normal” and another is “progressive digitisation.” Between “the changing normal” and “progressive digitisation” is endemic anxiety over a situation totally out of our control. One doesn’t know where it began and frankly one doesn’t know where it could end. In the meanwhile, the act of governance of 130 billion people continues to spawn a large number of contradictions. It began with the slogan “jaan hai, toh jahan hai (health is wealth).” All shutters were closed  in a matter of hours and events were allowed to run their course. Many in the power circles claimed to be surprised at the mass exodus on foot the lockdown triggered. Teenage daughters and pre-teen sons were seen pedalling their fathers and mothers on bicycles and tricycle carts to destinations they thought of as home, hundreds of kilometres away. A child perched on a suitcase on wheels was seen being pulled by a mother on a 700 km-long journey home. The distressing images were so many that even those who sensationalise such things in the media failed to call them “haunting images.”

Some news channels launched a campaign to extend the period of the lockdown when the first three weeks were about to end. The powers that be obliged. The believers celebrated the extension of the lockdown period, which was then prolonged all over again. By the time the actual unlocking process started, many had almost forgotten how to begin again. This time around, the new slogan was “jaan bi, jahaan bi (health as well as wealth).” There were various permutations of the early “un-lockdown.” Inter-State barriers got diluted, inter-district constraints played havoc and many “innovative” constraints surfaced.

Even today, in a city which is the proverbial centre of power, pick up a phone and call a landline of the metropolitan telephone service. The ring is preceded by a recorded voice message, which when translated into English, goes something like this: “In the entire country, the process of un-lockdown has begun. In such circumstances, move out of the house only when it is totally necessary …” The political masters proclaim that the “un-lockdown” phase is necessary to encourage economic activity. One is not quite clear how such telephonic alert on stirring out of the house would encourage economic activity. When this question was posed to the head of an information technology company, he chuckled and said, “Surely this is to encourage online business!” Pointing out that internet capacities are stretched to the limit, several communication platforms have drafted their amateurish connectivity regulations. This is something few have patience with. The endless webinars often get interrupted and the screen blinks that the “internet connectivity of xyz is weak.”

Undeterred, the economically weaker sections, desperate to keep the learning of their kids alive, scout around for second hand smartphones. To borrow from a much-celebrated English novel: “People were all going to heaven and all of them were going the other way. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.” Each day brings forth its old cacophony of contradictory claims and overwhelming statistics. One news channel proclaimed that 17 per cent of the world’s total cases of Covid are in India — among the highest figures countrywise. Practically no virus-detection test claims to be definitive. Being positive needs an interpretation on where you could stay to get cured. Being negative leaves open the possibility of you still being infected. A statistician commented that a similar situation was reported 100 years ago when the Spanish Flu struck Mumbai and subsequently the rest of India. Indeed, the colonisers were to “blame” for that sorry state of affairs. After so much fanfare over “the great revolution” the Indian healthcare system has undergone, the tally of victims today remains similar in global percentages to that in the times of the Spanish Flu. In the meanwhile, one witnesses a spate of policy reforms in education, administration, maritime-related matters and of course agriculture. Each intervention threatens a “new dawn.” Believing in it is a great source of joy. One may suffer from Covid-19 or simple pharyngitis. One may or may not have access to a simple medical advice, which may or may not be clear or effective, but the sheer joy of living in such “pulsating digital times” is surely a “unique” experience.

In the meanwhile, a few business houses move from being successful to being even more successful. Mandis to ports are variously covered. We should be “grateful” their enterprises keep the wheels of the Indian economy lubricated. That apart, the poor pensioner — especially if he is on Government benefits — has not had his pension revised for several years since the last Finance Commission while other groups of employees have raked in their increments. Yet in the true Indian spirit, we firmly believe that “we shall overcome.”