Rayomand Coins

Parsiana and the pandemic

Returning to office after the historic hiatus necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing lockdown was daunting. But the apprehension dissipated when we rediscovered our sense of purpose: to keep those interested, informed; to espouse the cause of individual rights.

Except for financial losses, Parsiana emerged relatively unscathed from Covid-19 and the forced confinement. But three plants in large concrete pots situated outside our bookshop were not so fortunate. Six other hardier flora with thicker stems which conserve water survived. Though we had requested a watchman from a building diagonally opposite to water the plants on payment, he sadly neglected to do so. Like so many other victims of the coronavirus who lost their lives, not from the illness but through government indifference and misguided policies (statutes, grandiose vistas and persecution of certain minorities), the three once blossoming perennials perished.

The nationwide lockdown imposed with a mere four-hour notice left many lives shattered. Families were separated, small businesses bankrupted, marginal workers left jobless, people rendered penniless, unable to pay rent or buy food. At least when the Maharashtra government announced an initial lockdown, they gave notice to permit citizens to make preparations. The drastic national lockdown, like demonetization earlier, was done impetuously, with little or no comprehension of the disastrous consequences and untold misery that would follow.

The solicitor general (SG) of India told the Supreme Court (SC) there were no migrants on the roads and indirectly likened journalists, who carried stories to the contrary, to vultures. Dissent in India often results in the police filing first information reports against the dissenters for sedition. The courts may or may not grant bail and even order the critics to confinement in crowded jails and at greater exposure to the deadly infection. One sitting SC judge had earlier even publicly gone to the extent of terming the Prime Minister "a versatile genius."

Though many business concerns may be on the verge of bankruptcy, the chief economic advisor to the Government of India cynically announced there would be "no free lunches." Companies, factories, small scale industries would have to manage without government largesse, even as they faced ruination. The Covid relief package offered by the government is around one to 1.2% of the country’s gross domestic product, not 10% as claimed.

Both officials were proved wrong. The millions of migrants and their families who trudged, bicycled or hired trucks to take them to their home states, towns and villages belied the SG’s statement to the SC. The forlorn, homebound travelers were given food and water along the way by compassionate and charitable persons and organizations, demonstrating that "free lunches" could indeed be given without any expectation of returns.

The migrants endured police barricades, beatings, confiscation of their modes of transport, fatigue and hunger. They died on railway tracks, run over by passing trains, or struck down by speeding vehicles on highways. They were turned back at some borders, detained at others, kept in quarantine, when and if they reached their homes. The SC initially looked the other way till prominent lawyers, retired judges and bureaucrats raised voices of concern. The Court then intervened to order a callous government to perform its most basic duty: looking after the welfare of its most vulnerable citizens.

Perhaps taking a cue from governmental priorities, housing societies set up barriers to separate the privileged from the disadvantaged. But in this environment of distrust and misanthropy, there were many who aided the susceptible. We wrote about some of them earlier on our social media outlets and in this issue we focus on individuals, organizations and anjumans/punchayets both in India and abroad who have helped, and continue to selflessly assist, Parsis and non-Parsis.

Though the community is a privileged one and largely escaped the cruel brunt of the pandemic, many showed concern for the disadvantaged within and without. Whether providing meals to the elderly and the homeless, making calls, organizing online games or holding Zoom sessions, the community extended a helping hand. Even the much maligned Bombay Parsi Punchayet stepped up to the plate and organized voluntary groups to assist Parsis in their baugs and elsewhere access food and provisions. That too with two of the seven-member board indisposed (chairman Yazdi Desai suffered a stroke in the second week of April and trustee Zarir Bhathena has been hospitalized for the past several months).

The Jam-e-Jamshed and the Parsi Times valiantly brought out e-versions of their weeklies. News and views proliferated on WhatsApp groups. What was generally lacking was an overview and analysis. Events have to be put in perspective. The controversy over the ban on consigning to the dakhmas corpses of Parsis who died from Covid-19 is one such example. Differing opinions are being expressed but the practical aspects and general public sentiment are often overlooked in the emotionally charged debate.

Aside from some social media posts, Parsiana did not produce an e-version of the publication. We did not have access to our office computers or reference texts. There were many imponderables. We opted instead to accept the unprecedented recess resulting from the viral threat as an 80-day break!

Our March 21 issue languished in post offices throughout the country. Our plans to print the June 21 issue hit a roadblock as the post office refused, for an undetermined time, to accept publications for mailing; even courier companies could not assure deliveries. Hence, we are publishing this digital version which is being sent to all subscribers whose emails we have. We also intend to place our day-to-day, work-in-progress material on a Cloud server so that in future our files are accessible from anywhere. This will be at an additional cost and that too at a time when we have had no income for three months, but it is the price one has to pay to remain relevant.

In life, if the journey is halted, one does not have to lose sight of the destination.


Villoo Poonawalla