At the airport, on the plane

at the check-in counter, at the boarding gate

nurses, doctors, dentists everywhere

gloved, masked, only whispers, mostly stares

and for those who can’t hear

—and mostly for the lipreader

all this’s a living hell

Poor Chinese—kept at bay

eyed with disdain, eyed with suspicion

specially masked to cull the contagion

holding breaths, holding sneezes in

but the moment someone coughs

heads are turned

hearts skip a few beats

and a moment later, everyone’s vanished

as the saying goes: as quick as lightning

Poor Chinese, kept at bay

on the plane, seats are changed

for people tend to keep away

and yet, epidemic, pandemic, no one can say

—imagine how in one night

eating bats can change our lives

(but here’s a caveat—this might just be lies)

as well as an entire economy, the future of a country

whose prospects we know

are now gloomy

(and if you ask me,

this’s a perfect breeding ground

for a conspiracy theory)

Face masks now come in pretty designs

and some are what beauticians, garbage collectors

or Tintin in space would wear

others are like speedos, G-strings, and other

type of underwear

In the less crowded and more chilled out cabin

(where there are no Chinese)

a few non-Chinese are obviously amused

one—suffering from the common cold—

coughs, sneezes, and clears his throat

while his friends smile and chuckle

watching people pull out Dettol

The atmosphere on the plane is tense—

for the first time in my life

they haven’t sprayed insecticide;

aisle luggage, aisle obstructions

and unbuckled belts

are no longer a problem

henceforth nothing’s used, nothing’s enjoyed

and meals have never been so awful—

the steward’s not convinced of the chicken noodles

nor the grilled fish, and while passing it, asks:

Is this fine? Are you sure? Do take a look

—after all, the plane ride must be made a quick affair

pillows and blankets

despite their history of coffee and period

stains, stale saliva, see-ech-four

and ech-two-ess,

and the flimsy handled-by-all

one-size-fits-all not-loud-enough head

sets, now remain in their plastic covers

still sealed, still untouched