Mankind was soaring unrestrained in all fields of life for over a century. Scientists, researchers, astrophysicists, economists, businessmen have all been involved in improving the material quality of life on earth and also trying to build stations in space. Suddenly, with one stroke an infinitesimal, unseen particle appears on the horizon somewhere on earth and rapidly engulfs the entire globe forcing a checkmate! It appears that mankind has finally met god, its creator!
From pins to planes
About three billion years before my grandfather and your great grandfather existed, first forms of life arrived on earth according to most scientists. According to Wikipedia the number of Earth’s current species is estimated at one trillion and less than one percent have been clearly understood and described. Our planet’s earliest organisms were unicellular and over a period of time they evolved into complex multicellular organisms. It is not very clear to scientists whether the first protein of life – RNA or Ribonucleic acid – came from complex interaction of chemicals or they were blasted onto earth by some impact of a large meteor from elsewhere in the solar system.
Modern humans evolved from a lineage of upright-walking apes that has been traced back over six million years. Human beings evolved over millions of years, walked out of the forest, lighted a fire, cooked their meals, grew their grains, developed their machines, rode bicycles and finally flew in their aircraft across the globe. They never looked back as they invented communication technology, gene therapy and what not and they were set to conquer everything forever. The story looks too predictable, right?
After the industrial revolution around 180 years ago the humble farmer transformed into a big manufacturer of a variety of machines which could manufacture virtually anything from a tiny pin to huge machineries which created mass employment. By the beginning of the 20th century the Wright brothers created a flying machine which transported people across the globe and in another few decades the cellphone and internet was functional. Thus, a hungry trader sitting in a remote corner of Meghalaya can watch NASA putting out a satellite into space even as he struggles to push his handcart onto the unpaved mud path in his village.
Meanwhile the affluent class flaunted their wealth and kept globe-trotting without any care-in-the-world even as poorer sections struggled to feed and vaccinate their young ones. This arrogance among the masses gave rise to a generation of people who always expected that the earth could spin the way they decided.
Luxury and corruption
With money in their pockets and a mobile phone in their hand, the youth thought that the sky is their limit, especially with the older millionaires planning rides to space and the relatively less affluent planning trips after foreign trip on terra firma.
It was not long before greed overtook mankind and this also sprouted a generation of corrupt political leaders which spoiled the system of governance in our country. Corruption percolated from the ministers and high-ranking officials to the lowly chaprasi (peon) in government offices. Roads could be laid and metro rail networks could be built across cities with public funds but a share of the loot had to be apportioned to the official who sanctions the project, the party in power as well as the clerk who releases the final cheque!
Paid but not sprayed!
The public gradually learnt that in some cases there was no need to carry out work but just need to ensure that the paperwork is complete.
Government spends huge amounts to spray pesticides in trains but so long as the right persons are paid, there is no need to spray even a can of pesticide. So what if bugs bite passengers or children fall sick? Likewise, there is no need for the flood-affected destitute to get the financial compensation so long as middleman fudges the records accurately!
E-governance, a mockery
Have you tried to make a complaint on the citizen portal of any government or quasi-government department in India? It is very impressive.
The moment one files a complaint the system generates an automatic response and gives a complaint number. Surprise, surprise! Within a week the complainant receives an email that “the complaint has been resolved,” even while the dangerously dug up road remains uncovered or without proper barricades. If the complainant is persistent and repeats the complaint, he gets a message that he is complaining too much! This is not an exaggeration and the author is witness to this.
India is a vibrant democracy, they say. Elections are regularly held but no matter which when party comes to power the conditions on the ground level do not change. People are frustrated but no one really cares as bureaucrats are busy buying swanky cars with taxpayer’s money but the potholed roads remain as bad as the surface of the moon!
The poor were busy making both ends meet while the upper class profited even as they grumbled about poor economy etc. In the midst of such non-governance, government officials keep busy jet-setting across the globe on “study tours” and life is always hunky-dory for them.
Bang! Enter a new version of an old virus, as if straight out of a novel: The Novel Coronavirus-2! A mutant of the earlier SARS virus put on a new cap and has gone out for a kill bringing the entire world to a standstill. What is unbelievable is the scale of its havoc across continents as it spread through travelers from China to Iran, Italy and the United States all in a span of less than a few weeks.
We could never have imagined earlier that an entire nation, leave alone the whole world, could lock its people indoors and shut down all sorts of physical movement outside but allow birds and animals to roam free!
Yet, as I write this, billions of people across the planet are on an international lockdown and this is an unprecedented event in the history of mankind. A tiny bit of RNA has shaken the very core of our existence flattening out billionaires, educationists, scientists, doctors, teachers and everyone! Viruses are such tiny fragments which cannot reproduce on their own unless they find a host cell. Such a speck is probably “not even a life form” according to some scientists.
Now imagine how this tiny, invisible, lifeless crumb has been holding up every aircraft, space shuttle, president, prime minister, man, woman and child on earth, for weeks together and sending everyone scurrying for cover into their mansions or cubbyholes. What is even scarier is that it has just hit Indian shores and cases of suspected community spread are yet being analysed. If the pace of community spread increases, it will be a long and hard battle ahead for our country which is already struggling with so many known challenges.
Oh My Covid!
So what is this invisible force which we call coronavirus? It seems to have opened the eyes of leaders of developed and developing nations, forcing people across the globe to introspect on the wayward ways of mankind, at least temporarily.
As a country, Hindus believe that there were 33 crore gods catering to every sub-community and belief system. Only God could bring the entire world to a standstill and it appears as if, this time we have given God a new name: Covid-19!
Would this new God produce a change in our thinking? Would this global pandemic produce a change in attitude among the ordinary citizen to the highest ranking official the world over? Would there be a transformation among humans to love all flora and fauna as trustees of the planet and not just being owned by the two-footed animal in suit and ties? Would the persons involved in handling social infrastructure be more understanding of the needs of the man on the street? Would governments big and small stop bullying each other? Would the man on the street understand that no one owns this world but we all belong to it—together?
Everyone will agree that like Coronavirus, God too is invisible and people all over the world regard it as a supreme being which has power over nature and on human fortunes. It is a point worth pondering: has God taken on a new avatar to open the minds of homo sapiens who seem to have lost the way from the times of homo erectus or “upright man”?
If Covid-19 manages to make a sizeable change in our mindset from today itself, it would seem that God has appeared on the planet, in disguise. One hopes that the change happens in this generation’s lifetime.
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