The muezzin sounds the call to prayer in the little mosque in the little village. Conch shells echo in the temple on the banks of the river and beyond. In the ancient church, bells peal loudly to speak of the power of faith. The rabbi recites the Talmud in the synagogue. In the souls of men and women, all around the world, there is that feeling, unmistakable and loud, of the presence of God. Rarely have there been times like those we inhabit today, for these are long moments stretching into days, the days into weeks, the weeks into months as life turns from an experience of joy into a foreboding of disaster.
The coronavirus is upon us all. In these masks that cover our faces, it is a sheer struggle not to fall to the onslaught of this relentless inimical force that dominates our lives. And yet the casualties rise, day after day, to inform us that we are all vulnerable, that none of us is sure how many days --- days and not weeks or months --- we have remaining of life, before we make our way to the lengthening cemetery where our friends and family have preceded us. The struggle, the yearning to live remains strong. And yet a friend gasps for breath, a reputed artiste is on life support, people we know have passed on and have swiftly been covered over with earth. We become a little more diminished.It is a blighted world we live in today. In the sprawling deserts of the planet, in the valleys which have consistently aroused our sense of poetry, in the villages where we have heard the songs of birds and the melody of crickets, in the towns where we have deliberated on politics and power, it is the spectre of death we confront at home, and outside the home. The rays of the sun do not inject happiness into our hearts any more. No more do we compose verses of high romance in the light of the moon. We observe the stars, fearful that soon we will observe them no more, for starlight cannot penetrate the graves where we will slowly decompose into bones and then dust. The coronavirus is here to make sure that the light goes out of our lives.
These are times when we need God as we have never needed Him before. For the believer, for the doubter, for the unbeliever, God is the Supreme Power we go back to today --- in the mosques, churches, temples and synagogues. We go back to him for reasons that ought to be obvious, which reasons are testimony to His power to crush the arrogance and the conceit of men. Every grave dug anywhere is a potent reminder of God’s grandeur, of His omnipotence, of the hold He has on us, indeed on the consistently expanding universe beyond our inconsequential planet in the divine scheme of things. As our eyes brim over with tears, we watch those glistening coffins lowered into ever-expanding cemeteries, we see bodies in the purity of white shrouds swiftly laid in soil that is fast running out of space. And we know the claws of death lie in wait for those of us who have thus far survived.
In all this talk of vaccines that might and could help us, in all this social distancing and lockdowns through which we believe we will survive, believe that the laws of mortality will come to a state of suspension at a point, it is to God we pray at dawn. It is before Him we kneel the livelong day. In the depths of the night, God beats in our hearts even as we tremble in fear of death tiptoeing its way to our doorsteps. The power of politics does not matter anymore; and no more is the might of the strongest nations in the world a bulwark against the ravages we go through today. Businesses have collapsed, schools stay closed, impending impoverishment stalks all of us as we worry about the next meal for our children.
Observe the exhaustion on the faces of all those millions of doctors and nurses and health workers all over the world. Their lives are as transitory as are those of the rest of us. They weep as the stricken men and women in their care finally stop breathing, for these carers and those dead have blended into families. Nothing can be more agonising for a health worker to see his or her patients close their eyes on the world. There is a light of God in the perseverance of these men and women who try to keep the coronavirus-affected alive. Their hearts crack when the light dims and darkness descends on those they have tried to save. And when these carers themselves succumb to the malady, we hear the bizarre shrieks of the vultures circling all over us at the coming of the twilight.
Belief sustains our souls even as the virus plays havoc with our world. We see our friends die, our acquaintances pass on, our families struggle to not give in to the malaise. Every little cough we hear rising from inside us, every tremor of fever running across our foreheads, every second when breathing plays games with us, we watch the dark angels of death at the door, waiting to squeeze the life out of us. They provoke fear in us. They throw up eerie images of wet earth and hastily dug graves, those of the many who have passed on, of the many more who will join them. We do not know when we will join them. But we are under no illusion: we cannot hope to live on while everyone else around us dies.
In the fury of the pandemic, in its ruthless striking down of men and women and children across the continents, it is the power of God which touches the planet, every speck of it; which touches life, every breath of it. It is power which speaks to us of the sins we have made part of ourselves, of the iniquities we have promoted and presided over, of the corruption that has for ages insinuated its slimy way into our souls.The light of God shines tonight, as the winds of winter whistle past our doors and our windows, swirls across our accursed planet. Out of the distant past, we hear the voices of prophets gone by, of saints who have passed on, telling us all: Come back to the ways of the Almighty, for He giveth and He taketh away.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is a writer and columnist