Coronavirus | Opeds and editorials

Every man is a part of the main

In the Kannada novel, Samskara, by Jnanpith awardee U.R. Ananthamurthy, the upper caste Brahmins in a village deep in rural north Karnataka, who are caught in the grip of an epidemic face existential dilemmas. Their deeply held religious beliefs and rituals are on test. The chief priest of the village, Praneshacharya, a devout, austere Brahmin, has to provide the answers. His neighbour, Naranappa, an irreverent, rebellious Brahmin, who has a hedonistic lifestyle, and who mocks the Brahmins and their rituals and their superstitions, suddenly takes ill and dies.

Story of contrasts

There is no one to bury him even as the body begins to decompose inside his house in the ‘Agrahara’, the Brahmin quarters, because the Brahmins fear they may invite the wrath of the gods and worry about being excommunicated by the head priest of the mutt for cremating a renegade and heretic. They appeal to Praneshacharya to consult the scriptures and find an answer to the problem. Praneshacharya immerses himself in holy texts and prayers but no revelations come to him.

As time rolls by, rats in their thousands die and lie strewn all over the streets, while vultures begin hovering over Naranappa’s house. More people start dying in the village and the epidemic kills without discrimination. The village is under the deadly scourge of the plague. The Brahmins are hungry and are not allowed to eat till the cremation is completed. Chandri, Naranappa’s companion, is distraught as Dalits cannot enter the Agrahara and refuse to come to her aid. She offers all her jewellery to Praneshacharya and urges him to give it to the Brahmins to bury Naranappa. The Brahmins have by now eaten stealthily. A few relatives of Naranappa lay claim to the jewellery and lobby with Praneshacharya; if they get the jewellery, they will cremate Naranappa. They argue that there may be some provisions in the holy books whereby Naranappa can be cremated under the circumstances they find themselves in.

The scholarly Praneshacharya, who is steeped in iron-clad traditions, is aghast by the unscrupulous behaviour and the greed and does not give his consent till he finds an answer in the holy books. Unable to find any guidance he heads to a temple beyond the village across the woods, and seeks refuge in prayers in the temple. On his way back to the village well past midnight he meets Chandri in the forest who stops him and falls at his feet. He is soon swept away by her irresistible attraction. When he wakes up as the sun rises, he is overcome by shame and remorse, unable to face the Brahmins who are waiting for an answer. He leaves the village under the cover of darkness, devastated.

Chandri, who is desperate to get Naranappa buried at all costs before the body is devoured by rodents, gets a Muslim merchant, a friend, who commiserates with her helplessness, to cart away the rotting body with her help and cremate it.

This is a powerful story that shatters you and exposes the venality and hypocrisy and heartlessness of the upper castes and at the same time juxtaposes it and reveals the joyful, earthy humaneness and magnanimity of the peasants, Dalits and the robust, healthy cheerful outlook of a lone Muslim merchant of the town, who finds strength and common purpose in fraternity and solidarity rising above petty differences.

Many meanings

Then, there is another era and continent. In a different context, in Albert Camus’ The Plague. Here, in the city of Oran in Algeria, an epidemic of bubonic plague breaks out. As dead rats start piling on the streets and people start dying, the authorities, who are in denial and indifferent to the deaths, finally impose a quarantine. Overnight, the people of the city find themselves imprisoned. The total seclusion affects their daily lives and the impact on families suddenly separated from their loved ones throws the town into hysteria and panic. A priest uses the opportunity of the plague, and, invoking his god, preaches refuge in religion to overcome the deadly attack to advance his own standing in the town.

The Plague can be read at many levels. At one level it depicts the human condition when natural disasters sweep a city and affect everyone without discrimination and hold sway over the destiny of human beings caught in such a tragedy. It is also about sacrifice, love, friendship, generosity and connectedness while facing death collectively through stoic courage by confronting external forces beyond one’s control through fraternity and solidarity. And the story also speaks of the pettiness and the cowardice of those who flee from one’s responsibilities to the community. At another level it is an allegorical depiction of the French Resistance against Nazi occupation during the Second World War. The plague is a metaphor for Hitler and the invading German Army.


On the other hand when you are under siege (as it happened to the Jews under Hitler, and France and other countries of Europe which were under occupation by the Nazis Germans during the Second World War), or condemned to live under dictators who are an embodiment of evil (as in Stalinist Russia), when life and death were both uncertain or when you are caught in the inexorable vortex of events of history (such as the partition of India and Pakistan, or the Sikh massacres of Delhi in 1984, the Gujarat riots of 2002, the Syrian war or the recent riots in north-eastern Delhi), and when you have nowhere to run or hide, you realise you may be swept away in the tsunami of hate. You are fated to die, may be perchance to live and your house, shop, or factory may go up in flames depending on your caste, religion, belief and colour of your skin. In times of riots and sectarian clashes that may suddenly flare up or which are stoked by vile politicians and community leaders, and if it rages across regions, and if you happen to be a Jew in a Muslim neighbourhood, or if you are Black or coloured caught in a white supremacist area, or a Hindu in a Muslim-dominated mohalla, a Muslim in a Hindu-majority district or a Dalit in an upper caste locality or a Yazidi or a Christian in a territory invaded by the Islamic State, your destiny is not in your hands. It is determined by your race and religion and colour. It is decided by the vile things men do when their heart is ruled by hatred, bigotry, obscurantism, stupidity and fanaticism and a lust for power.

Only destruction

When a pandemic, a tsunami, an earthquake or a flood ravages mankind, it devours everyone — infants and the old, men and women, the sick and the healthy, all races of all religious and people irrespective of their ideological and political denominations. It is blind in its fury and swallows everything in its path, relentless and implacable as it marches on.

A communal or racial flare-up though may appear to the blinded zealot to be to his benefit or to his community’s advantage; in the end, the blazing fire of hate will engulf everyone. It will spare no one from both sides of the conflict. It is more destructive than the natural disaster wrought by the gods and is sure to annihilate all.

There is only one way. We must all band together to fight evil. Whether the evil is a scourge of pandemic such as the novel coronavirus outbreak or whether the evil deeds are perpetrated by a few who stoke the fire of hatred, in the end, let us not forget that it will devour us all.

As the poet, John Donne, poignantly said: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main, ... Any man’s death diminishes me, because I’m involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”


Captain G.R. Gopinath is a writer and founder of Air Deccan


This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 3:16:07 AM |

In This Package
Vaccine diplomacy that needs specific clarifications
On the trail of the second wave’s dynamics
How can India contain the second wave?
Lessons from the first wave
Examination priorities: On annual exams amid the pandemic
The secrecy around deaths after vaccination
Indian universities need immediate vaccination
Lessons from COVID-19
The second wave: On why new COVID-19 vaccines should be cleared
Weighing in on the saga of a vaccine
Rising poverty: On pandemic-induced disparities
A booster shot for India’s vaccination plan
Allaying concerns: On public trust and vaccination programmes
A moral test: On the vaccine divide
Efficacious too: On Covaxin
Sustaining the drive: On COVID-19 vaccination phase 2
Vaccine inequities: On need to vaccinate all above 45
Addressing vaccine reluctance and policy hesitancy
Redefining the exit plan for COVID-19
Boosting confidence: On need for efficient use of COVID-19 vaccine stocks
Opening up the vaccine market
Origin and spread: On the source of SARS-CoV-2
New questions: On COVID-19 infecting one-fifth of Indian population
A year on, mind the gaps in the pandemic response
Should Board exams be conducted in one go this year?
No to vaccine nationalism, yes to global cooperation
Tempered optimism: On India’s sliding COVID-19 graph
The best shot against COVID-19
More vaccines than takers
Managing the rollout: On addressing vaccine hesitancy
Injecting confidence: On India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive
Vaccine optimism and the scientific uncertainty link
Building trust in vaccines
The debilitating side-effect of a flawed vaccine trial
Gearing up: On vaccines and public trust
A hurried gamble: On vaccines and transparency
The second dose: On COVID-19 vaccine
A constant vigil: On the new coronavirus strain in India
Unmasked, reflections on the pandemic and life
Caution pays: On Centre’s COVID-19 surveillance guidelines
Towards an effective vaccination distribution policy
Essential dry run: On COVID-19 vaccination drive
COVID-19 and limits of political accountability
The purpose of a vaccine
Clear the fog, draw up a clear vaccination policy
Rein in the vaccine nationalism, the profiteering
In vaccine race last lap, the key steps for India
The storage tale of two vaccines
T-cell immunity and COVID-19
COVID-19, climate and carbon neutrality
Signs of easing: On India’s COVID-19 fight
Has India passed the COVID-19 peak?
Sooner, better: On indigenously developed COVID-19 test kits
The battered Puja economy
Outline of a pandemic fight, by and for citizens
Pandemics and the collective consciousness
Vaccines with a global common good guarantee
Saving lives under the long shadow of the pandemic
Until vaccine: On Unlock 5
The challenge of changing health behaviour
Weighing the costs: On COVID-19 vaccine
The slow and frustrating journey of recovering from COVID-19
Health worker safety deserves a second look
Unlocking campuses: On UGC’s revised academic calendar
Recovery from COVID-19 can be a struggle
Uniting to combat COVID-19
Coronavirus fears and preconception advice
An agriculture-led revival as flawed claim
A necessary pause: On the COVID-19 vaccine race
The uncertainties over COVID-19 numbers
The challenges in counting the dead
COVID-19 deaths may be higher than reported
The many challenges in estimating deaths
Alone at the top: On India’s COVID-19 numbers
The participants we need in Phase 3 trials
Differential impact of COVID-19 and the lockdown
More than a vaccine, it is about vaccination
COVID-19 and a country club India must leave
A quest for order amid cyber insecurity
Adopting a public systems approach to COVID-19
Milestone of a million: On India’s COVID-19 numbers
Testing times: On university exams
Predictions, pandemics and public health
It’s time to flatten the pandemic stereotyping
Viral outrage only spikes the data
Sending the right message
Needed: Clear testing data
The social contract needs to be rewritten
The pandemic is about eyes shut
Joblessness and opportunity in Tamil Nadu
Green-lighting ecological decimation amidst a pandemic
COVID-19 has no religion
A case for extension: On rural jobs scheme
Surely, even if slowly: On a COVID-19 vaccine
Bend it like Italy: On flattening the COVID-19 curve
Promise and delivery: On India’s first COVID-19 vaccine
States hold the key: On Unlock 2.0
PCR testing is a double-edged sword
Science vs nonsense: On Patanjali’s COVID-19 claim
Shut and open: On tennis during the pandemic
The perils of follow the leader syndrome
The many questions about Favipiravir
In new lockdown, a second chance for Tamil Nadu
United front in Delhi: On Kejriwal government-Centre camaraderie
A prescription of equitable and effective care
Multilateralism post COVID-19
Making public transport safe during COVID-19
A better rate: On COVID-19 recovery
Look back in relief: On the migrant labour crisis
Needed, a transfusion for public health care
Wrong priorities: On keeping religious places open during a pandemic
Crossing the line: On Delhi’s decision to limit health services
Profit, not profiteering: On regulation of COVID-19 testing charges
In Persian Gulf littoral, cooperative security is key
Paging the private sector in the COVID fight
Curves and recoveries: On India’s coronavirus numbers
India’s Parliament is missing in action
Axing the economy’s trunk
Scripting a new narrative for COVID control
Open with caution: On Unlock 1
It’s time for a universal basic income programme in India
The waning of subaltern solidarity for Hindutva
Export blocks: On India’s trade amid the pandemic
A moment to trust the teacher
The echo of migrant footfalls and the silence on policy
Enjoying the fruits of their labour
Helping supply chains recover
The heavy burden of social suffering
An effective lockdown
The lockdown has highlighted stark inequalities
Will sport be the same in empty stadia?
Cinema after COVID-19
The eternal longing for the distant home
Working safely: On workplaces during the pandemic
A hole in the whole: On health sector woes
China, better prepared for the post-COVID world
How public health boosts an economy
Keep it retrospective
Backing the ‘angels in white coats’
Standstill: On opening of stadia for training
Flawed stimulus is justice denied
We need social physicians
A callous response
Peaking: On India’s coronavirus tally
Farm gate in focus: On amending Essential Commodities Act
A question of quarantine: On migrant workers and other travellers
TASMAC tribulations: On Tamil Nadu liquor sale
The pandemic and the challenge of behaviour change
One for the poor: On Centre’s corona package
Lockdown syndrome: On virus-induced economic crisis
Are India’s labour laws too restrictive?
Stop the return to laissez-faire
States cannot be left to the Centre’s mercy
Local motif: On Modi’s call for self-reliance
Liquidity lifeline: On Nirmala’s MSME package
A plan to revive a broken economy
Provide income support, restore jobs
Perilous state: On State finances
COVID-19 and the path ahead
Reaffirm cooperative federalism
Riding roughshod over State governments
Tragedy on the tracks: On the killing of 16 migrant workers
Coming to terms: On India refusing to admit community transmission
The trends shaping the post-COVID-19 world
The epidemic and ensuring safety in courts
Responding to COVID-19 at the grassroots
The face of exploitation
Contempt for labour: On dilution of labour laws
Slower growth and a tighter fiscal
Back home: On return of Indian expatriates
Blame game: On Donald Trump’s anti-China rhetoric over COVID-19
Resuscitating multilateralism with India’s help
A war-like state and a bond to the rescue
Fear and loathing in the land of the free
Everyone wants a good stimulus
Rent control amidst pandemic
Slow release: On lockdown 3.0
No comfort in numbers: On Bengal’s coronavirus cases
Pandemics without borders, South Asia’s evolution
India’s disease surveillance system needs a reboot
No relief for the nowhere people
BRICS against COVID-19
Recovering early: On India’s COVID-19 patients
It’s about food, nutrition and livelihood security
Taiwan’s coronavirus protocol shows how it is done
Needed: a pandemic patent pool
Getty Images/iStockphoto
Plasma therapy is no silver bullet
Take care of yourself too, fellow journalists
Strategic shift: On home isolation of mild coronavirus cases
Coping with today, planning for tomorrow
No end in sight: On India’s coronavirus strategy
Vividly imagining the life of migrant workers
A task for South Asia
Privacy concerns during a pandemic
Unlocking justice in the lockdown
Safe return: On migrant worker distress
The outline of another pandemic combat strategy
Pandemic and panic: On Tamil Nadu’s five-city lockdown
Protecting the poor from becoming poorer
Did SARS-CoV-2 begin from a lab?
Protection for protectors: On safety of healthcare workers
Rapid failures: On antibody testing kits
The COVID-19 paradox in South Asia
Fishing in troubled waters during a pandemic
How will India emerge out of the lockdown?
Making doctors wash hands
Locked out of cities, homes and livelihoods
Script of unity: On coronavirus and social prejudices
Exploiting a pandemic: On Trump’s immigration policy
The village is still relevant
A time for planetary solidarity
There may be no going back
No transparency in West Bengal
Focus on the curve: On India’s COVID-19 numbers
Economy in lockdown: On India’s worst case scenario
A shot of hope with a game changing vaccine
Caught in the heightened arc of communal polemics
Singing the corona tune
Helping a lending hand: On RBI’s second lockdown stimulus
A season of change: On IMD forecast system
A virus, social democracy, and dividends for Kerala
Across the gulf: On stranded Indian workers
Virtual reality: On telemedicine
A blueprint to revive the economy
A case to use JEE-Main instead of JEE-Advanced this year
Will the aviation industry recover from the pandemic?
Data-driven reporting during COVID-19
Stress test: On revised lockdown guidelines
Disastrous decision: On Trump halting funds to WHO
Cease the distractions, seize the moment
Getting the containment strategy in India right
In India’s response, a communications failure
Harmonising with nature
End the harassment of farmers now
A narrowing window: On extension of lockdown
Corona bond: On Eurozone COVID-19 rescue package
Halting the march of rumours
Polls during a pandemic
The pandemic and the contours of a health response
Economic liberalisation and its faults
Invasive, alien, most fearsome
Trade in tatters: On the global slump
Wanted, a collective national endeavour
Disingenuous and no antidote
COVID-19 and the crumbling world order
Women’s safety during lockdown
Lives and livelihoods: On economy after lockdown
Stage fright: On denying community transmission
Team India and winning the pandemic battle
In time of need: On hydroxychloroquine export
Will COVID-19 affect the course of globalisation?
Finding a scapegoat in WHO
Curating news for children during pandemic
A time for extraordinary action
For better use: On MPLADS funds
Needed, greater decentralisation of power
A key arsenal in rural India’s pandemic fight
Preparing for exit: On lifting the lockdown
Sanctions and pandemic: On America’s Iran policy
‘A script of action, responsibility and compassion’: Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot writes on Rajasthan’s fight against COVID-19
Taking a long view of the pandemic fight
Ten questions posed by the virus
A different economic approach
Why healthcare workers above 60 should be ‘benched’
Enemy at the gates: On Kerala-Karnataka border row
Reducing farm distress during a pandemic
Why everyone should wear masks
The criticality of community engagement
A niggardliness that is economically unwarranted
The spectre of a post-COVID-19 world
Light and sound: On Narendra Modi’s 9-minute light ceremony
A million and counting: On global coronavirus spread
Safe forests, safe people: On diseases of animal origin
Quarantine and the law
Making the private sector care for public health
Looking east to contain COVID-19
Limits to rugged individualism
Uncritical endorsement: On exodus of migrant workers and the Supreme Court
Beyond the blame game: On the Tablighi Jamaat episode
A long road: On India’s 21-day coronavirus lockdown
The missing notes: On politics and the fight against COVID-19
China’s zero: On China’s lead in containing coronavirus
Unprecedented step: On Wuhan lockdown
The return of the expert
Lessons from Hubei
A pandemic in an unequal India
Faith can’t override public health
Devising a people-centric response to COVID-19
Karnataka CM writes on how the State is fighting the pandemic
Tamil Nadu CM writes on how the State is stopping the pandemic in its tracks
The hunt for a cure begins with telling the truth
COVID-19 and a city’s anatomy
Long live the nation-state
The COVID cycle
Coronavirus | The worst of times, the best of times
It’s also a fight against punitive measures
The age of the neoliberal virus
The deep void in global leadership
Thinking national, acting local
You are reading
Every man is a part of the main
Beyond social distancing to fight COVID-19
Next Story