I was booked to travel to Chennai on March 26. The election campaign was in full swing and I was least bothered about the infamous Chennai heat for many summer vacations were spent at weddings in silk pavadai (a long skirt worn by girls) and I was used to it. I made many phone calls to fellow journalists to gauge how Chennai was coping with the campaigning even as Covid-19 was a terrifying reality.
I got the usual responses. “Come and see for yourself,” was one. “Don’t worry, just mask up, cases are on the decline,” was another.
The first thing my colleague and I noticed on landing at the Chennai airport was the silence. We ran around looking for someone to present our e-pass, but we were waved on with a smile from a policeman; “TV? Go, go. Corona is scared of reporters!” he said.
He assured me: “Amma, is it true that Corona attacks men more than women?”
Outside, a sea of cabbies beckoned us. Soon, their calls turned into sympathetic sounds when they noticed the fear on my face. None of them were wearing masks.
That day in March, the airport became a template for the days to follow. We would be up at the crack of dawn and follow politicians across the city; Stalin, Kanimozhi, Sekhar Babu, Edapaddi, D Jaykumar.
Even as politicians would rise like mythical characters out of their vehicular contraptions with loud music heralding their arrival, the masses below would look up in hope and euphoria. Their pupils dilated in ecstasy and their hands waving the party flag. And out of 30, only five wore masks.
Before a politician arrived and we started filming, I would plead, beg and even berate them – “where is your mask?” I was derided and ignored. People even apologised. But nothing changed.
One day a young man told me, “Akka, we don’t need masks. Thalaivar has promised that we shall never get Corona. Let him come to power and he will prove that there was never a bird called Corona.” I stared at him even as he returned with his mother. It was now her turn. “What Corona? All a ploy to sell vaccines. So that our sons become impotent and our girls have childless wombs,” she said.
Chennai had discarded the mask in the hope of deliverance from a leader who would be its saviour. He would rid them of Corona; not hunger or unemployment. But Corona which they felt was the figment of someone’s imagination.
And now, when the Madras HC has berated the EC for surging cases in Tamil Nadu, saying it has murder on its hands for being the most irresponsible institution, I wonder if the buck stops there? What about the politicians who must be preparing for the big day laying out their starched veshtis and placing orders for sweets and flowers? Will the young man and his mother be around to accept the largesse and the promise of deliverance from a dreaded virus? I wonder.