Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXI No. 9, August 16-31, 2021
No longer do I go for my morning walks in open air. Instead, I plod through my flat like an aged tiger incarcerated in a cramped cage at the zoo. It has been almost a year since I showed my face to the outside world barring the visits to my cardiologist who attends to the recalcitrant blocks in my arteries. You see, that tyrant corona took a shine to me and damaged my heart further in the bargain – the virus has reduced the capacity of my heart to pump.
As I waited for my doctor’s appointment one morning, I happened to run into a friend, a retired professor of English literature. Duly following social distancing, he sat down two seats away from my own. He is a bit of an indecisive fellow – a quality which perhaps rubbed off on him from his days of teaching Shakespeare, Hamlet being his favourite work of the bard. He takes a second opinion in every matter, especially if it relates to his health. The simple act of purchasing an over the counter medication like, say, a painkiller, is a process for him – he first gets the opinion of his neighbour, who is a medical rep, and then consults his family physician for good measure. Should their respective advisories differ, he is in a pitiable fix, stuck in a mire of indecisiveness; should he buy brand 1 or brand 2? Hamlet would empathize with the man if he knew of him.
When I met him last, he had wanted to take an RT-PCR test. He asked me whether he ought to go to the lab around the street corner or book an appointment with the one that collects home samples. He had decided to put his entire trust in my opinion on the matter, since I am a Covid Survivor. He had wondered whether a single nostril swab would suffice; if yes, whether it should be of the right or left nostril; if no, whether a throat swab was likely and would it make him throw up his breakfast and lunch during the procedure. I remember how he had shivered at the prospect of a nostril swab, imagining the lab technician to go about his task like some sort of worker drilling in a construction site.
The professor was terribly scared of his wife, who was also in the business of education – like him, she taught English to college girls. Whenever he was ‘infirm of purpose’ and dilly dallied in decision making, she could pull him up like Lady Macbeth, gritting her teeth.
I heard that he had been asking around among his inner circle of friends whether he should go in for a Covaxin or Covishield jab. He was also keen to know what would happen if his chosen vaccine went out of stock when it was time for his second dose. Furthermore, he wanted to know if the medical fraternity could guarantee that vaccination will prevent him from catching the virus – clearly, he was unaware that even the best of doctors probably would not hazard an accurate prognosis on this point.
As the doctor’s secretary called out his name, he scrambled from his seat. “I have RT PCR reports from two different labs of repute,” he told me. “Both say I am covid-19 negative.”
I reached out to him to shake his hands. He jumped back a foot and joined his palms.
“No handshakes please. But I have a confusion. Both certificates testify I am covid negative. But my grandson Pintu saw the reports as he was working on his Algebra sums and asked, “Thatha, don’t two negatives make a positive?’ Fancy that! Is he right? Or wrong?”
With a question mark clouding his face, ‘Hamlet’ entered the doctor’s cabin.
– J.S. Raghavan