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'What's happening in the country angers me'

By SUBHASH K JHA
May 19, 2020 12:17 IST
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'We might have been better prepared to deal with the pandemic had so much time, attention and money not gone into welcoming one of the stupidest men on the planet.'

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi, United States President Donald John Trump and US First Lady Melania Trump wave to the crowds at the Namaste Trump event at the Motera stadium in Ahmedabad, February 24, 2020. Photograph: ANI Photo
 

"If the people fanning the flames had any idea what their provocations can lead to, maybe they would desist," Naseeruddin Shah tells Subhash K Jha.

2020 will probably be remembered as the worst year ever. Do you think man has brought this crisis upon himself? Are we responsible for the mess that we are in?

Humanity's hold over the earth is a giant evolutionary blunder.

Nature certainly didn't intend this and we humans will have to pay the price for our rapaciousness some day -- that day may be already here.

That Nature doesn't need us is proved by the rapidity with which the earth is healing itself -- the sky is clearer, Mumbai's gum-coloured sea is showing traces of blue-green, porpoises are venturing nearer the coastline, flamingoes are crowding Sewrei (south central Mumbai)...

In short, the animals to whom the earth belongs are reclaiming it.

Would you agree this is the worst year in the history of civilization?

Whether 2020 is the worst ever year is a moot point and will only become known when COVID-19 is brought under control.

It is worse than war in the sense that this time, we are battling an invisible enemy.

The political mess we are in and regressing into superstitions to cure COVID is, without doubt, our own doing.

One can only pray for the well being of those who do not have shelter enough to isolate themselves and are being subjected to hardships, which would break the back and the spirit of any of us.

What would you say about the way the situation is being handled by our administrators?

The way the government is dilly-dallying over extending help to those walking hundreds of miles to their homes would be termed inhuman, if it were at all comprehensible.

How much time should it really take to swing into action instead of 'mulling' over the problem and trying to decide the manner in which help could be given?

The urgency of these pedestrians's situation seems to have escaped all the wise heads who are content to let the much maligned NGOs extend themselves while they look on with barely concealed indifference.

And in the midst of this tragedy engulfing us, the government, of course, has the time and inclination to harass and arrest dissenting voices.

Do you think the lockdown is the solution? Or do you feel that a majority would now die of hunger rather than the virus?

The lockdown is the only solution at the moment, but we might have been better prepared to deal with it (he coronavirus pandemic) had so much time, attention and money not gone into welcoming one of the stupidest men on the planet.

How have you been going through the last four weeks of enforced confinement?

I have been brushing up on my Urdu reading and am thanking my stars that my father made me learn the Arabic alphabet as a child.

My ability to read Urdu is fast improving, but writing it is another ball game, so I'm not trying that -- as it is, sometimes I cannot read my own handwriting in English!

I have been helping around the house, in the kitchen as well, which is something I should have been doing earlier anyway.

I never knew what a stress-buster cooking can be!

I'm reading a lot of Faiz Ahmed Faiz's poetry and about his life with a view to mounting something on stage about him in the future, if there is a future.

I have been educating myself on those Shakespeare plays I know nothing about -- and there are plenty.

How do you look back on your life so far? If you had a chance to change things that have happened in your life, what would you like to change?

I would consciously try to control my temper, which runs away with me often.

It is a bad habit I would like to lose.

Apart from that, I wouldn't change a thing even if it was in my power to do so.

IMAGE: The Tablighi Jamaat headquarters in Nizamuddin, New Delhi, being evacuated on April 1, 2020. Some television news channels have accused Muslims attending the Tablighi convention of spreading the coronavirus in the country. Photograph: Ravi Choudhary/PTI Photo

As a nation, we grow more intolerant. The lockdown has unlocked new waves of bigotry as Muslims are being blamed for the spread of the virus.
Do you feel the culture of intolerance would finally splinter India's socio-political fabric into irretrievable anarchy?

We have to learn to cope with whatever life throws at us. But the fact is thoughts of mortality occur more frequently than they used to.

To utter the word 'intolerance' in India has become blasphemous and moderate, liberal etc have become pejoratives.

But what is happening in the country is tragic and it angers me.

It does not scare me, as some people seem to derive pleasure from repeating.

If the people fanning the flames had any idea what their provocations can lead to, maybe they would desist.

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