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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 16 New Delhi, April 4, 2020

An Impudent molecule that paralyses the world

Saturday 4 April 2020, by Badri Raina

Those that have been used to having exclusive rights to the power and the glory of the world’s riches are chaffing at the bit.

Think how a mere invisible molecule defeats their further grandiloquent plans and purposes for mastery of the universe. Having quelled through armed muscle and money power the most determined challenges to their sway, imagine that an impudent nothing of a protein blob with a covering of fat should appear from nowhere to stymie intents and technologies of cutting-edge design, leaping from man to man, woman to woman, ,ministers to monarchs, priests to pedagogues, white to brown and black, menial staff to nurses and doctors, commoners to celebrities, dictatorial regimes and nations to democracies, east to west and north to south, unstoppable by all the arsenals that human “development” has garnered through millennia.

Even deities and gods seem helpless, and must for now stay in solitary contemplation behind closed doors in temples, mosques, churches, gurudwaras, as clueless as the least of their life-and-death devotees.

Only poets and painters yet not affected find free rein for their speculations, as bureaucracies, factories, satanic mills, digital wonders, shut down not to radical people’s revolutions but to the fear of the unsighted unknown.

When earthquakes happen, tsunamis hit, asteroids knock out parts of the earth, or great wars take place between contending sultans of modern day, or stocks and shares crash and banks declare bankruptcies, men and women still find a way to remedy the losses. But what is christened Covid-19 offers neither a tail nor a head that may be grabbed for possible liquidation.

Till a vaccine is found, which it will be, the world has experience of a unity brought about by a leveling catastrophe against which the mightiest are as helpless as the hoi polloi. It is another matter that the latter may die more from starvation than from the Corona, since the stocks of the world lie tucked away in the coffers of the rich.

So, is anything being learnt, more than how to forge a vaccine?

What may the post-covid world look like?

Will the sightless speck have brought home wisdoms that prophets and purveyors of power have failed to do? Will gumptions of supremacy embedded in wealth, race, caste, gender, religion, linguistic hegemonies yield to a new earth age—one in which all that walk on two legs, and perhaps even four, will find an equal share in the common labours of humanity, and a common ideal in returning the earth to a protected grand dame of all that may continue to exist in her lap?

Sadly, evolution shows us that where animals learn their lesson fast and surely, human beings do not, and the rich and the powerful almost never.

So, there is no telling how many Covids it might take either to bludgeon us into sense or to prepare for a new earth with a new species more amenable to a happily shared existence.

Badri Raina has taught at Delhi University.

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