Homo medicatis

With Covishield in my body, I feel like there is a capillary tube erupting from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and its panoply of attendant bodies vis-à-vis India’s COVID-19 response, soaring across the length of India and plunging into my veins, somewhere in Bangalore. And with every tug away from the compulsions of public healthcare and towards petty politics, the needle tugs at me in turn, its point dragging through my flesh, the blunt cylinder of its form cutting through my skin. I feel a bloodless injury on my body inflicted by an apathetic actor hundreds of leagues distant, and utterly powerless for it. Can you imagine the assault of such a foe? There’s the simple brutality of its strength and then there’s the ignominy of being told that your wounds are accidental, that you deserved neither the attention of your alleged assailant nor the consideration that everyone else has reserved for designated survivors. There is even pain but I cannot hear its wail clearly; it seems to originate from somewhere deep within me, so deep I can only hear its fading screams for help. I am doused in a sourceless, timeless numbness – the site of a revolution that is both ongoing and dead. I am the foregone conclusion of the state’s subjection, the fixed destination – one of many millions, of course – of whatever vaccines, drugs, therapies and philosophies it is determined to wreak; I am simultaneously the constant source of its strength. Imagine a god sustained by the faith of the dying-but-never-dead; does it take not their submission or prayers but their persistence in the face of diseases it will unleash for granted? When it increased the dose gap for Covishield from four to fix, then eight, then twelve and finally to sixteen weeks, the needle tore and tore and tore. Every change was a humiliating reminder of the control the state has grown to exert on me, on the fundamental biochemical defences millennia of evolution has instilled in my body, your body, our bodies. It is unacceptable at this point to insist that one dose of Covishield later, we are X% protected against mild disease and Y% against disease-requiring-hospitalisation by the delta variant. The variant has little to do with why I am reluctant to catch a flight to Delhi, where I long to be, or why the first thought when I wake in the morning is to wonder which member of my extended family has become the latest to succumb this year. Why, even before the vaccine, I was rendered mad ahead of choosing between Covaxin and Covishield. There was, and still is, no data in support of one and the other was, and still is, triggering terrifying – yet rare – blood-related consequences in some people, and both sat poorly with my knowledge of my own illnesses. And this was just me, a person aware of and able to navigate this swamp of nefarious possibilities; what of those who knew less, or knew but could do little to ensure the best outcomes for themselves? Would they be the triply ignominious, the triply neglected? Such foul and abject degradation. I have friends and family who expect to hear from me answers to their questions about how the vaccines work, what the new variants of concern are, and what they themselves ought and ought not to do. But even as I prepare, I become keenly aware of being conscripted to the state’s myth-machine – with the first utterance of “don’t worry” to fall in line with the other GI Joes. But only one misstep and the state waits, on the other side of the road, with irons at the ready to accuse us of lying, or of course seceding. And so the path ahead, the path of a free and unfettered citizen, becomes narrower and narrower, until we are all just needles in veins.

What is more, his entire existence is reduced to a bare life stripped of every right by virtue of the fact that anyone can kill him without committing homicide; he can save himself only in perpetual flight or a foreign land.

Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1995), Giorgio Agamben