Irishman on life in India: Police beatings, suspicion of foreigners and loudspeaker warnings
Dubliner Brian Ingle describes the daily challenges under a strict Covid-19 lockdown
People stand on designated areas to maintain social distancing as they queue outside a general store during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown in Bhopal, India. Photograph: Sanjeev Gupta/EPA
Brian Ingle is a Dublin-born osteopath and teacher of somatic exercise, a system of gentle movements that its practitioners say can reduce physical pain and psychological stress. (He is also the brother of the Irish Times writer Róisín Ingle.) He lives in Pondicherry, in India, which has been on a serious lockdown for a week due to the Covid-19 virus. This is strictly enforced. Indian police have been filmed beating people found out on the streets.
“It’s a very extraordinary lockdown, because they haven’t really given opportunities for people to prepare for it,” Ingle says. “When people go out to the shops, the police, at least in parts of the country, are beating them. Foreigners like myself are also seen as suspect, because many villagers see this as a foreign disease. There’s a fishing village nearby, I went to get some fish and as I neared the beach the road had been completely blocked off. There was no way I could pass on my motorcycle, so I parked and went around the blockage by foot … I was immediately met by the local villagers freaking out at me and telling me to go away.”
Is it a complete lockdown? “Officially, yes, but as I go foraging, I can see locals congregating around their houses playing cards and hanging out. Also, police cars are going around with loudspeakers saying, “Coronavirus, go inside, go inside.’ But it’s not going to work here, especially in high densely populated areas, like Bihar State and Uttar Pradesh. ”
Has he personally had any interactions with the police? “I’ve been avoiding them, I’ve been taking backroads and when I see them, just stay away.”
Has he got supplies? “I managed to score 20 litres of drinking water. I have potatoes, tomatoes, onions, 1kg of cheese, pasta but I’m running out of vegetables. I bought copious amounts of butter before the lockdown to make jars of homemade ghee [clarified butter]. Not as nice as pure Irish ghee though, we have the best dairy in the world in Ireland. My sense is things will calm down very soon and the supply chain will function again properly. But the question is, how long will it be like this? I’ll hear that a market is open but then when I get there, it’s often not open…I’m adventurous by nature and this environment suits me [BUT]a lot of people in my building aren’t like that. I met someone on the roof who asked, ‘If you get out there, can you get me a bag of rice?’ I came home through the back streets, it usually takes me like five minutes, today it felt like half an hour. Everything just slowed down because I was checking each and every person, ‘How are they receiving me?’”
What does he do every day? “I get up early and do a yoga practice, meditation, pranayama … I’m in touch with my family and my friends, making video calls and all the online social interaction is very, very important as I live alone. My perception is that the petty stuff that we used to go on about, is fading and disappearing. The Irish are lucky. Even though Ireland has gone into full lockdown the essential shops are open ... You’re safe to walk outside without watching your back every step of the way. Also, the State is looking after those who are now unemployed ... I have an American friend quarantined in China in a 14x25 foot sealed room for eight days. My suggestion is be grateful for the country that you’re in. Be grateful for that safety and security, because for many it’s not a given.”
Unable to see clients or travel for his teaching engagements, Ingle is still working over the internet. “I’m offering consultations, movement awareness practices and strategies online for clients to come out of pain,” he says. “The somatic teachings that I am trained in enables me to work very effectively, remotely without a hands-on treatment. I’m also preparing for an online Somatic Movement Summit to help people become more embodied, improve their wellbeing and learn tools to manage the anxiety and stress for the current Covid-19 challenges. My company Living Somatics and a US company called The Shift Network are collaborating together.”
Ingle has been in touch with the Irish consulate who he says have been very helpful and have put his name down for an emergency flight out of the country. He alternates between concern and a sense of calm, which he puts down to his practice of somatics and meditation. “Everything feels so immediate and so present. I’m so awake to the process, the experience of living, every morsel of food that I eat ... My sleep has gone a bit strange though and my dreams are intense. Sometimes I hit a wall, but it doesn’t last long. And then I just get on with it. What is my strategy for supplies? How can I maintain social interaction with family and friends online? How can I work? It feels like the days are very full. Life is a series of moments. How can I be present in each one of those moments? Everyone is losing everything - income, career, stocks. We are facing our mortality, the mortality of our elders. It’s a huge mental strain. What are we left with? Our authentic humanness and the question ‘How can I help? How can I contribute? How can I show up and be present, for myself and others? And how can I be kind?’”
The Department of Foreign Affairs, which since India banned scheduled international flights, on March 22nd, has been looking at the possibility of arranging flights back to Europe, says any Irish citizens who want to leave India urgently should email the Irish Embassy there, at firstname.lastname@example.org, with details of their situation.
“At this point in time, it is not possible to predict if and when such flights might become available,” it says. “However, we shall endeavour to keep you updated on the situation if you contact us.”
“We know this is very stressful for those abroad and their families here, but we are leaving no stone unturned in trying to get people home. Any Irish citizen who believes that an Embassy may not be aware of their presence should register online. Full advice can be found here.”