2020 was a “dreaded” year… an unseen virus wreaked havoc, fear was seen in people’s eyes, which funnily was the only thing visible because of the masks, pictures of frontline workers sweating in PPE kits, unemployment, suicides, lockdowns and quarantines. As the year came to an end, the virus seemed like a thing of past. People flocked to various destinations and had extended stays or “staycations”. The virus was stomping its feet in Europe and USA, India was safe.

We bid an enthusiastic adieu to 2020. Well! The worst was over, economy was picking up, malls and markets were swamped with people, and people were enjoying their “sweet freedom”. It was time to pick up our lives again, organize religious activities, political rallies and grand weddings. We could all make plans to meet long-lost friends, organize dinners and go back to work.

Who knew? Who knew that it was the “peace before the storm”? The virus came out of hiding, in a new mutated form and caused a “tsunami” in India, which would be remembered for generations to come. The world was its playground, and the virus spread like “wildfire. From a few 100 cases a day, we jumped to tens of thousands, in Delhi alone.

Now we Indians have a very peculiar habit. For some reason, we think we are invincible as if the “calamity would always hit someone else, not me.” It’s evident in people not wearing helmets or seatbelts, in flouting of norms about fire or earthquake safety, in hanging from buses and autos and letting young children drive. And the same happened in this case. After the initial fear, when the virus was too new and sudden, we became used to it and the thinking – “oh! It won’t affect me” kicked in. Moreover, in spite of being a collectivistic society, we surprisingly lack empathy for fellow human beings. And thus, despite seeing the world struggle, we threw caution to the wind. People lost the fear, and the virus took advantage of it.

Similar phenomenon happened at the government and administrative levels. Everyone relaxed. In a country with one of the lowest GDP set out for healthcare – politics, religion and cricket rose up in hierarchy again.

And when the storm hit, none of us were prepared. Hospital systems are collapsing, frontline workers are becoming exhausted or falling ill themselves, we are begging and stealing the one thing we have always taken for granted – Oxygen. News channel are flooded with number pf positive cases, number of people dying due to illness and interrupted oxygen supplies. Doctors are forced to play “God” and its no pleasure to choose one life over another. Our worst nightmares are coming true as people are not even finding peace in death and crematoriums are running out of capacity. People have no time to grieve for the lost ones as they themselves or their other family members are still not safe. It’s a chaos or “shiv tandav” that we have heard of, but never witnessed in our living memory.  

As India becomes a political battlefield with all parties playing the game of “whodunnit”, both the good and ugly side of humanity has appeared. On one hand, help is coming from totally unexpected places, strangers are asking  after each other, people are delivering food packages to neighbors and others, and gurudwaras have come forward with “oxygen langars”. And on the other, there is black-marketing of medicines, oxygen and even beds. There are stories of sons giving up their beds for their fathers and instances of people hoarding -up, without caring for others.

Media is showing the ugly reality in parts – hiding some truths, while continuously focusing on the lacunas. One can argue that people should know the impact of the pandemic and therefore, harsh truths need to be shown, but what about “Hope”, “Positivity” and “courage”. Psychology says that human beings become immune to “negative information.” It’s like hitting a child to teach new behavior, after a point, the child doesn’t care. However, if we reinforce good behavior, that keeps the child encouraged. Therefore, It is equally important for media to balance the news; to share stories that can give hope or honor those who are showing courage and humanity.

It is believed in Hindu mythology that whenever the “path of righteousness” is threatened, God would be reborn on Earth to save us all. I don’t know about that; I don’t know whether a special God would come to save us. All I know is that humanity is threatened and each of us would need to become that superpower; embrace and spread hope and positivity, follow rules/”niyams” stringently; and show courage, solidarity, and empathy.