My name is Virus Corona, recently renamed Covid 19. I like the new name because it sets me apart from my many ancestors and the rest of my large family. Can you imagine, even the lowly common cold is caused by a corona virus. I now stand in splendid isolation, feared, dreaded. Even that most dominant and arrogant species, homo sapiens, is terrified of me and they tie themselves in knots, trying vainly to protect themselves from me.
I was born in that ancient and wise land, China. My parents were a bat and a pangolin. It was when I jumped audaciously into a human being that my reign of terror started. I have swept over Europe, crossed the Atlantic and put the fear of God into brash Americans, crossed over to Singapore and the countries of Asia and I am now in the warm and hospitable land of India which has seen, over several millennia, waves of invaders from other parts of the world, whose blood is now deeply intermingled with that of the natives, producing a rich culture that is resplendent in its diversity. Humans have been very obliging and they have carried me from place to place.
It is to you Indians that I speak. I am honoured to be amongst you and I promise you, I will make every effort to reach across to everyone of you, without exception. I know that even though some of your great leaders and your cricket players have made herculean efforts to forge a single nation with a proud identity of its own, you are now as divided as ever on grounds of religion and caste and region. I know your political masters strive to create yet more division in your society. Yet I shall transcend all such narrow divisions and shall not discriminate between you on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. You shall all be equal before me, as enjoined in Article 14 of the Constitution you made for yourselves but which you find irksome presently because it restricts your ability to rule through division.
I am a bit like the God of the scriptures because I have the capacity to overcome limitations and assume different forms. I am not a God, only a lowly virus, but I shall not be surprised if your enterprising gurus make me an object of worship and devise ingenious and expensive rituals to appease me. I shall not be surprised if your fake shamans make money selling useless antidotes to you. Your scientists and doctors will fight against me but they have no weapon and it will take years to develop a vaccine and to clinically test a medicine. Indeed, you have not been able to develop a vaccine even against my revered ancestors, SARS and MERS, even though they have been around in the world for many years now. I am new to this world and your bodies have not developed antibodies against me, although, in course of time, you shall, but by then, I would have had a field day, gorging myself on the cells of your lungs.
I am, in fact, your benefactor. Over the centuries, you have multiplied enormously, in the process crowding out other animal, bird and plant species and creating toxins everywhere. Now I shall remove a part of your population. I shall be fair. I will adhere to nature’s principle of survival of the fittest, discovered by one of your own scientist philosophers. I shall remove many of the aged, the infirm and the diseased among you, creating room for all the rest of you. I shall do this regardless of whether the persons I choose to destroy are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian…
I am also teaching you better habits. I am teaching you to keep your hands clean, both physically and figuratively. I am teaching you to lower the level of interaction between yourselves, to be less dependent on the company and approbation of others, to be less combative, less competitive, to be more comfortable and peaceful within yourselves.
Before coming to India, I have conquered many other countries. To conquer India is not difficult for me. In most parts of your country, you do not have a health care system worth the name. I had more trouble in China, where I had to fight with a very forceful government willing to come down with a heavy hand, regardless of popular perceptions. I had the advantage of time there. Before they woke to my potential to destroy and discovered my identity, I had ravaged the country. I do not have the advantage of time in India but I know I am dealing with a lesser enemy, a divided enemy. I conquered most of Europe despite their better organised health care systems. I had a great time in Italy and I am enjoying myself in Spain. France, surprisingly, has put up stiff resistance. Germany always fights hard, but I expect a good time in the United Kingdom. I have leapt across the Atlantic and invaded the United States. China, Europe and the United States have the best scientific arsenal. I look forward to my fight with them. Perhaps they will surprise me and abruptly stop my unrelenting march.
You Indians are people filled with hope and fatalism. You live in the vain hope that your hot summer will kill me. I do not live in the air, I live in your bodies. Your bodies are primed to retain the same temperature, around 98.4 degrees Fahrenheit, whatever the ambient temperature. I travel not on currents of air but through droplets when you cough or sneeze, through physical contact in any form. In an apartment complex or residential colony connected by faulty drainage pipes, I have even learnt techniques of jumping from house to house through the drainage system. I can even survive on surfaces for a few hours hence I have plenty of options. And you believe that all the safeguards needed to keep me at bay applies to all but you individually, which makes my sport that much easier.
I am curious to find out how you Indians deal with the consequences of my invasion. You have been in the throes of an economic slowdown induced by insufficient demand. Your economic managers read the situation from the wrong end and invested money in concessions to the producers rather than on encouraging consumption. Now that I have come into the picture, your service industries will be hit, incomes will fall and demand will go down further. When demand goes down, your production capacities will be utilised even less as there will be no buyers for the products that they produce. Remember, I have hit all the richest parts of the world and hence there will be no comfort even in foreign markets. Your producers will not be able to repay their loans in time. “Non-productive assets” in banks, with which you have been so obsessed in recent times, will proliferate. If your banks hit them hard, as they are now required to do, your businesses will fail even faster, creating still more unemployment and poverty. I shall not be surprised if you fall out of the frying pan of recession into the fire of depression.
Somehow, your policy makers have the quaint notion that increasing liquidity is the sole answer to all your economic problems. If you increase liquidity in an economy characterised by declining production, the result will be inflation, or as economists have termed it, stagflation. You are fixated also with your concept of fiscal deficit numbers. If you do not spend in this situation on measures to stimulate demand, rough seas are ahead of you. Will your economic managers be able to reinvent themselves? Will a Roosevelt rise from the ranks of your political chieftains?
I know that your Prime Minister has constituted a task force to deal with the economic consequences of my depredations. From my knowledge of what you have done during the last few months, I shall be more than surprised if you find the right answers, but I wish you well. It is not my purpose to impoverish you. That objective will be more skilfully accomplished by the managers of your economy. Maybe I have given them the opportunity to retrace their steps and do what is needed to pump prime the economy. If that happens, all of you would have gained from my presence in your midst.
I am curious also to learn whether you will learn to live with each other. Your great leader of the past, Mahatma Gandhi, dreamt of a united India and its people living together in happy harmony. Your ancient philosophers of Advaita, spoke of one undivided consciousness being perceived as many through the human prism. In the Avadhuta Gita, 1.34, the poet sings, “There are no Vedas[read ‘‘scriptures ], no people, no gods, no sacrificial rites, no classification of lives [Ashramas], neither castes nor creeds, neither smoky, unclear paths nor well-lit paths. There is only Brahman - the one Supreme Reality.” The Persian poet Rumi said,” Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.” This is the quintessence of your philosophy. I say this with knowledge and confidence because like all of you, all of everything, I am That. You have chosen to build prison walls around yourselves. Will you go back to your roots and to your own Constitution and emerge as an irresistible unified force?
I look forward to a happy time with you. I will be happier still if I can become an instrument for transformation in your nation’s psyche, your thought processes and your ways of living. For, believe me, you are a great nation.