Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan (Hon'ble Chief Justice, Calcutta High Court):
Have you heard of a plant in Kerala, known by its vernacular name Thottalotti or Thottavadi? It is called as “Touch-me-not” in English (botanical name mimosa pudica). Its tiny leaves on either side of the stem are so delicate and tiny to be noticed. But the moment one touches it, even by chance, the leaves on either side instantaneously fold inwards, droop and fall below as if it was cut down from the bottom. Well, one may wonder that this tiny plant has to do in the present context. There is a reason, perhaps convincing too!
The whole world is now in the unprecedented grip of the dreaded pandemic COVID 19. The world over its threat is frightening. But we should not succumb and helplessly surrender before it as does the ‘Touch-me-not’ plant. We need to confront this threat with courage, but at the same time with all possible and conscious precaution. Let us not fall by the way side, but be resilient enough, like the ‘Touch-me-not’, and move on in these turbulent times around us.
Now, let us analyse this plant a little further. Where the leaves of this plant meet the stem, there are numerous cells endowed with cellular walls around. They absorb water and could be seen bulky. We are told that this unique process is the strength of immunity that the plant conserves. The leaves do respond to a touch from its exterior. But the moment the leaves droop down, the water conserved within the tiny cells, enters the stem. The cells contract, the strength diminishes and it spirals down. The uniqueness of this plant is that whatever touches it, it drops down and seems withdrawing itself. Not only this, in no time this contraction also becomes complete! It is only after thirty minutes or so, these leaves regain their former size. The immunity-building strength and the reflex action method involved in the ‘Touch-me-not’, I have felt, have a great lesson to offer to us in our present situation in the style and swift manner in which we too should react to the external objects and threats.
It is in this manner that we too should respond to the COVID 19. How should we combat this pandemic? Both the health experts and the Governments have elaborately and clearly apprised us the methodology by which we could withstand this biological threat. Put on your mask, use the hand-wash and hand-sanitizer, maintain social distance: these were all communicated to us by different media. But let us give a thought to the fact as to how many of us are following all these guidelines and methods? Initially those who had approached the looming threat with a sense of caution and fear seem to have mellowed down. They seem to have developed a feeling that there is nothing much to worry about all these. Many people could be seen wearing their masks below the chin! Some others keep their nostrils free from the mask and opt to cover only their mouths. Yet there are some who don their masks as soon as they spot some police constable somewhere! When we play card, we sometimes perch the cards on our ears. There are some who also seem contended using their masks likewise!
In the Calcutta High Court
As of now I am in the High Court at Calcutta. I ensure myself to maintain all the laid-down protocol while reaching the Court. But even there, at times, I do come across categories of people who I have described just before! “Let us all wear our masks properly and begin the court proceedings!” I used to politely, and with a smile, tell the court. Coming as it does, from a Judge, perhaps, everyone immediately ensure that their masks are on and in the proper manner. By now, we have glass screen separators, which provide better protection. But, is the care and caution that we need to take, to be at the prompting of someone? We need to seriously ponder over! It is not merely the society at large, but our own near and dear ones at home, including elderly parents, children and all, would get exposed and vulnerable of caving into the clutches of this frightening pandemic: and all these by a careless and small lapse that we commit!
There is something that I often notice when I watch the Television programmes. Important and responsible individuals who hold high positions in the society appear with wrongly positioned masks while they take part in some discussions or debates in the TV Channels. It could be that they are seated solo within the confines of the TV studio. Fair enough. But are they not conveying a wrong and misleading message to the multitudes of people who watch and listen to these programmes? When those who we expect to portray and set themselves by their own example tend to take recourse to such means, will it be proper to expect maturity and responsible behaviour from the ordinary folks of our society?
We do come across many people around us who are acquainted with the habit of touching their face or nose. It is a fact that such habits do not disappear just because he wears a mask. Involuntarily they are tempted to touch, say, their nose! They then touch their mask and feel their nose. And thereafter, they might also touch or clutch other areas or objects around. They might as well as touch their nose underneath the mask. Let us be more conscious and careful to avoid receiving our friends or acquaintances, as we are used to all these years, by shaking their hands or by touching their body. We need to be utmost careful to maintain and ensure the cleanliness of our hands in these days of extreme challenge and threat from around us!
These days, I consider ‘sanitizer’ as charanamrit. In the South, particularly in Kerala, the holy auspicious water distributed to the worshipers after the performance of puja to the deity in temples is called theertham. In Bengali, this theertham is piously referred to as charanamrit. These days when I reach the Court, I am greeted by a doctor who would take one’s body temperature and serve you with the sanitizer. Like we stand before the pujari of the temple to receive the charanamrit, one could see people, including the Judges, standing before the doctor with their extended hands to receive the sanitizer dispensed to them. To the doctor, I would mutter “thanks for the charanamrit.”
Kolkata is a metropolis with numerous big and famous temples, churches, mosques and other places of worship. In the ‘season of COVID’, the Judges too could not go to these places of worship and had to keep themselves away. I console them by saying that we all keep getting charanamrit from the Court! For us, the ‘Court is our karmakshethra, our temple is activity,’ I tell them!
Let us move out only for unavoidable reasons and purposes. This is definitely not the time or occasion wherein we need to force ourselves upon others and get our work done. Let us ensure that we maintain the mandatory social distancing, wherever we move about. We also need to maintain utmost vigil and care in matters concerning the elders and the children.
To conclude, let us keep ourselves away from the COVID, let us also allow the COVID to pass by!