“O come with old Bachchoo and leave the lot
Of Shakespeare and Tennyson forgot
Let Ghalib remain a haajatmand
Or Lata sing her heart out—heed them not.”
— From The Rubaiyat of Bachchoo
As in the sight of God, in the compass of corona, all are equal. The virus knows no rank. Our prime minister, Boris Johnson, has been taken into intensive care at St Thomas’s Hospital directly across the Thames from the Houses of Parliament. From the window of his intensive care room he will wave twice a day and shout orders to his parliamentarians across the river. (That last bit is surely false news? Ed. Gosh, you are getting sharp! — fd)
BoJo’s allies and enemies send him best wishes for a swift recovery. When it was reported that the prime minister had become inactive the question on everyone’s lips was “How can you tell?” BoJo is known for a Churchill complex and in imitation declared that we were at war, but then had to add “er… don’t fight them on the beaches or fight them in the streets.”
Dominic Raab, foreign secretary, deputising for BoJo, refers to him as “the Prime Minister”, as do TV commentators and Keir Starmer, the new Labour leader. The only person who doesn’t is the leader of the Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon, who insists, while wishing him well, on calling him “Boris”. This isn’t a way of cosying up to him — quite the contrary. She’s demonstrating that she is the elected head of a potentially independent nation. It’s like Angela saying “Achtung Emmanuel!” when greeting Macron.
By the time this column goes viral (dare one use the metaphor nowadays?) BoJo may be back in his bed at No. 10 — a small outing. The rest of us will still, alas, be confined to barracks. There is some consolation in the fact that all humanity is so beleaguered — everyone from Cairo to the Cape, from California to Karachi is “cabined, cribbed and confined” as William Shakespeare would say. And talking of William (I adopt Nicola Sturgeon’s conceit here), one reads that there were several plagues in Elizabethan England that resulted in the closure of pubs, theatres and other public places.
Lloyd Evans, a columnist in the Spectator, writes, “Shakespeare often found himself unable to write for months on end because The Globe had gone dark.” He goes on to contend that “schoolboys (not girls, Lloyd? Oh well, the Spectator, what does one expect?) should be thankful for the state of 16th-century medicine. Had vaccinations been available, the Bard’s complete canon would be three times longer than it is.”
This is, as any fool can see, disgraceful space-filling in his column (really? — You can talk! — Ed.)
Because the exact opposite is the truth. Surely when theatres are open and one is at work in rehearsals, auditions, memorising one’s own lines, travelling from Stratford-on-Avon to London, going to church and doing the shopping, one doesn’t write plays.
I have it on good authority — my second cousin in Canada, Rustom Immoralearningswalla, who studies these things — that William wrote King Lear during one of these prolonged theatre shutdowns. Perhaps it wasn’t that particular play, but it ought to be obvious that with time on his hands and plenty of stored parchment and birds’ feathers for pens, he must have spent the time writing one or more of the tragedies.
So, in our own period of prolonged lockdown can we in anticipation thank the coronavirus for the production of new works from the computer-fingers of our novelists such as the inimitable Ms Shobha De and the prolific and enchanting Chetan Bhagat? Dekha jaiga! I might even turn my own hand to writing a little piece. (Not that anyone cares — Ed.)
And in these idle times, gentle reader, I find myself, as does everyone in the world with a mobile phone, a computer or even a radio, inundated with conspiracy theories about Covid-19. I was sent a video of a scientist who claimed that the expansion of electronic satellites in the atmosphere, resulting from the invention and commercialisation of the 5G phone network, has created the electromagnetic field conditions which allowed this particular strain of coronavirus to breed. I don’t think any other scientists “peer-reviewed” the contention.
Then there are all the cures and preventive measures, from the ingestion of cow’s urine to drinking lots of tea, to particular breathing exercises, none of which is in any way a proven prophylactic, though one is tempted out of desperation, to try at least the latter two.
The idiotic conspiracy theory that has gone viral is that the big pharmaceutical companies have spread this virus through the agency of “The Dark State” throughout the world, spreading terror for a few months and then selling at exorbitant prices the vaccine or antidote they have stored through secret research and manufacture.
I am sure very many people believe this stuff. But, gentle reader, think! It would have taken hundreds of biologists and manufacturing pharmacists to have researched, invented and mass-produced such a vaccine or antidote. Have the Dark State and the evil drug companies bought the silence of each and every one of them? Or as Shah Jahan is reputed to have chopped off the hands of the workers who built the Taj Mahal, have these pharma companies killed the researchers and manufacturing personnel and prevented the news of this mass murder reaching the police or going viral?
And at any rate, my friend Cyrus Poonawalla, whose research laboratories are reported to be working on such a vaccine and cure, is known for making his manufactures available to the world at charitable prices. That would knock the breath out of the conspirators profiteering plans, wouldn’t it?
If I were Cyrus, I’d recruit a good security force to protect his laboratories and factories, as the Dark State (situated in Bullshitstan) will, certainly after reading this column, target his philanthropic enterprise....