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Day 29 – The Relativity of Things


First, when making my list for my next turn at the supermarket, I realized I don’t need shampoo. Who needs shampoo when there’s soap? And who needs soap, when there’s water, I might now, as you will see later, add. Then I realized I don’t feel any need for deodorant anymore. Why put chemicals under my arms to wander around at home? Then I realized I don’t need face make-up or even sun-block if I wear a mask when I go out. So, that first set me, once again, thinking on the relativity of things. On Day One, I was still writing, you may remember, about how so many people world-wide and here went about hoarding toilet rolls, when I had already thrown them, unwinding madly, to the wind.

 Such is the relative importance of things. What is deodorant compared to rice and dhal. Or to potatoes and lentils. Or to maize and beans. And who exactly am I trying to impress by covering up my natural perfumes and appearances? 

 Second, what is “dirt” soon changed. There was a time when I asked my mother why I couldn’t eat a bit of biscuit that fell on the ground – I must have been all of three – and she said, “Because it’s dirty.” When I asked what “dirty” meant, she said people’s shoes might have been anywhere, even, say, in dog poo. So, I was left with a life-long belief, in the silly way child-memories stay crystal-clear, that dirt is roughly equivalent to dog poo. Fair enough. Then, when gluten turned out to be a kind of trigger for illness for me, and all my friends were coming to grips with the danger to me of bread crumbs, I joked one day that I’d be better off risking eating a bit of food that fell on the chippings outside – dog poo or no – than eating a bit of my food that had fallen on the surface of the common dining surface where there might be bread crumbs. So that was already the relativity of things. But that, too, has been trumped. Now, it would be better to risk a few bread-crumbs in my food than to expose even the hands I eat with to a supermarket trolley without sanitizer, or to expose my face in a supermarket to a stranger’s breath, or even to my best friend’s breath. They might give me something more dangerous than dog poo or even gluten: coronavirus disease. For which, to not be dirty, you have to wash your hands for 20 seconds 20 times a day or so. And we get a lot of time to ponder over relative dangers. The statistical dangers. The mathematical dangers. The medical dangers. The social dangers. And what others might “give” me.

 As indeed I might “give” others. For this, however, I had been prepared years ago. I had long berated our two dogs, now famous for not permitting anyone to break the curfew in Ragoo Lane, because they, although not allowed out of the big back garden, still got fleas. I was mad at them, calling them “filthy dogs” and what-not as I shampooed them with special dog shampoo. And not only that, they managed to give me fleas. Even as I was putting flea “medicine” on them. Then one day, I was pouring water into the radiator of the car out front – our carport is not inside the yard, but outside and thus frequented by any number of street dogs – and as I closed the bonnet of the car, I looked down at my yellow trousers, and saw, that on each leg, there were about twenty little black fleas, walking up. I realized I was giving our dogs fleas. Another question of relativity. Not the dogs giving me fleas, me giving them fleas. So, it comes as no news that I might be giving others a virus. So, I know, at once that my wearing a mask protects you. Just as, indeed, your wearing a mask protects me. And this virus is so sneaky, it doesn’t even make most people show any sign of illness, so we don’t know we are giving it to others. The virus goes around incommunicado. Like invisible fleas. Only worse.

 Third, there is the relativity of demands. As we prepare, with the number of new cases being zero for five days in a row, to come out of the lockdown over the next weeks and months, we must all put our heads together so that we don’t go back to the old “abnormal” society that caused all the problems. We need agreement to be built over demands. Somehow, trade unions and often NGOs and human rights organizations are often hell-bent on limiting their demands to “anti-discrimination” measures, or prioritizing and strategizing on the basis of “anti-discrimination”. This would probably be fine, if they did not always refuse to address the two main forms of discrimination that need to be tackled:

 - Why do some people get born with land or capital or stocks, or get to own it, privately, by the ton, and the rest of us get none – when we are all working together in a firm or company? Isn’t that the main discrimination in society? And linked to this, those without the capital, from tea-lady up to CEO, are subject to the law of “hire and fire” by those with capital. One human has the power to hire and fire over a whole lot of others. Is this not discrimination of the worst kind?

 - Why, amongst that huge majority, who are already discriminated against by not owning stocks of anything, do some people earn more every month than others? It is clearly not because their work is more essential. Otherwise the rubbish collectors and contact-tracers would get the highest wages right now. And in the long run, those who work in the waterworks and in the fields on food crops would or should. 

 These two points must, in the above order, be the most important in any platform that aims to change society, going forward after the lockdown. The immorality of capitalism is exposed now. All the basic rights we did not get (housing, jobs, income) because there wasn’t the money, is no more than a lie. 

 Don’t let’s cover up the cruelty that underlies capitalism all over again, on the pretext of going back to “normal”. 

 Fourth, to get back to the relativity of hand-washing.

 After the first five days of us all, including me, acting like obsessive-compulsive people, washing away for two Happy Birthdays, I, for the first time in my life, got eczema on my hands. 

 Dear oh dear. I didn’t even confess to it in my daily notes, for fear it was here to stay. The one thing everyone says I have to do, wash my hands, I can’t do. Ram said, “You’ll have to stop using all those different hand washes around the place and just use warm water. When we’ve treated this and it has passed, you can use just one kind of soap, and see.” I can’t wear rubber gloves because I get an allergy. So, there I was, not able to use anything but water. Not even the soap I started out this article with. Then, when the eczema cleared up, as it promptly did within days of stopping the hand-washing, I discovered a mild, old French toilet soap, and have so far lived happily without eczema ever after. 

 Lindsey Collen, for LALIT,

a Personal View.