COVID-19 Effects
Columns, COVID-19, In Black & White

COVID-19 Effects

April 4, 2020

Lights out, lamps on… and the plan?

We have another request from our Prime Minister. First we clapped for 5 minutes at 5 o’ clock, next we have to light lamps for 9 minutes at 9 o’ clock. What next? May be, chant for 10 minutes at 10 o’ clock… for positive energy?

Indeed, collective acts of gratefulness and lighting lamps for solidarity do help in unifying and galvanising the country in times of crisis, but that alone is not enough to instil confidence in people. 

There is angst and citizens would like to know where we are in this fight against the deadly virus. We want to know  if our healthcare workers or “Corona Warriors,” as the PM called them, have enough safety equipment? 

We want to know how our healthcare workers, for whom the PM made us clap, are being protected from brainwashed people who have been attacking them? We wanted to hear our PM warn these religious fanatics with dire consequences for endangering the lives of fellow citizens and assaulting healthcare workers. This would have built confidence in the Corona Warriors — from a Police Constable to a Nurse. 

In these social media-driven times of fake news we wanted clarity from our PM. We wanted to hear from our leader not from a fakir as Prasoon Joshi had called the PM. 

When the Opposition criticised the PM’s speech, General V.K. Singh, now Politician V.K Singh, said the Opposition has to “grow up” and “co-operate at such a time!” 

Well, may be unquestioned obedience works in the Army, but in a civilian democracy unquestioned obedience leads to a General leading a democracy instead of an elected Prime Minister. May be General V.K. Singh can have a quick peek to the West at our neighbour to get an idea. Of course, the General knows. He has dealt with them all his life. This is just blind defence!

We must support our Prime Minister and our Government in tragic times like these but what is wrong in asking our PM to tell us more? Would we have been so kind if Dr. Manmohan Singh had requested us to clap, then apologised for the problems and then asked us to light a lamp? Would we have not ripped the poor man apart by calling him names like “Mauna Mohan Singh,” a “Ventriloquist’s dummy” or “Madam’s puppet”? Yet when anyone questions the purpose of this weekly emotional atychaar we are asked to “grow up”!

We don’t want a Manmohan Singh version of Modi. We want a 2014 version of Modi. The articulate Modi. 

Interestingly, during the PM’s first address, the 8 o’ clock address, some people ran out to get their Rs. 2,000 notes changed to a lower denomination fearing another demonetisation. But this time some thought we were having a blackout on April 5 !

But more importantly should we be worried about this “lights off, lamps on” exercise? Because a report dated March 27 published in ‘Mint’ a credible and reputed business newspaper quoted a Government official saying, “We have been able to manage the grid despite a sudden drop of electricity demand because of the lockdown.”  

What he means is that since Industries, Agricultural activities and Businesses are shut, the power load has reduced by almost 70%! And when there is too much power and less usage, it leads to change in grid frequency that could lead to blackout. 

But we guess the Government is capable of handling this and if we ask about this we will be asked to “grow up”. So, for now let’s follow the PM and light a lamp but let’s pray that people don’t go overboard and gather around a huge cut-out of Coronavirus and set it on fire like they do Ravan Dahan during Dasara. 

Liberal Muslims speak up

Islam is being hijacked by fanatics. Most religions are. But most religions have self-critics. This is missing in Islam. 

The ignorance and arrogance of members of Tablighi Jamaat has not only put the lives of Indians in danger but also embarrassed 200 million Indian Muslims and the Muslim community has to deplore it loudly. 

Deflecting the issue saying, “What about crowds at certain Ram Navami celebrations?”, asking “What about people gathering in Vegetable Mandis?”  is dull and void, because as most liberals and Congressmen say, “Whataboutery is not an excuse.”

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In a post-CAA India where any negative news about Muslims is being exploited to vilify the whole community, it is time the liberal Muslims took their place in representing Islam in India. 

Just like how Hindus vehemently speak up against Hindu fanatics, Muslims need that liberal voice to be critical of its religion. In fact most articles critical of the BJP Government and most articles that are considered “anti-Hindu” are written by Hindus. From Historian Ramachandra Guha to Hindu Mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik. On the other hand where are the critical articles on Islam from Muslims or for that matter from “liberals”? 

Also it is time Muslims stop Hindu liberals from hijacking their voice and speak for themselves. It is time to bust the myth that Muslims are incapable of being self-critical. 

The liberal Muslim voices need to be heard now at a time when fanatics have ensnared the minds of poor Muslims into believing that prayers will cure Coronavirus and that doctors are devil’s hand-maidens. Muslims need to speak up in these times when there is an effort underway to portray them as a community that puts its religion above the nation and with this new Tablighi Jamaat mess, their religion even above life itself. 

The Muslim narrative needs to be snatched away from holy men just as Hindutva narrative needs to be saved from being hijacked by Hindutva propaganda. And before you say it, NO, BJP coming to power does not prove that Hindutva has already hijacked Hinduism, it proves, Congress has failed in its Secularism. 

Nehru inaugurating IIT Powai, Mumbai.

Nehru, Science and Religion 

This reminds me of a passage from the book, Discovery of India, written by our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru between 1942 – 1946 when he was in jail. He wrote, “Religion at its worst is divisive and at best irrelevant to the pressing economic and social problems confronting the Indian nation.” 

The first Prime Minister, who today is mocked by every other half-wit, ill-informed,  WhatsApp-educated, self-proclaimed patriot, who ignores the fact that this country today stands on the educational and industrial structure put in place by this man from IITs to ISRO, made this observation in his book, “We have to get rid of that narrowing religious outlook, that obsession with the supernatural and metaphysical speculations which come in the way of our understanding ourselves and the world. We have to come to grips with the present, this life, this world, and this nature which surrounds us in its infinite variety. 

Some Hindus talk of going back to the Vedas; some Muslims dream of an Islamic theocracy. Idle fantasies, for there is no going back to the past, there is no turning back even if this was thought desirable. There is only one way traffic in Time. Forward.” 

He then adds, “India must therefore lessen her religiosity and turn to Science. The religion of the orthodox Hindu is more concerned with what to eat and what not to eat, than with spiritual values. The Moslem has his own narrow codes and ceremonials which he religiously follows, forgetting the lesson of brotherhood which his religion taught him. His view of life is perhaps even more limited and sterile than the Hindu view.”

Well, nothing has changed since. Has it? As long as there is poverty, religion will be there to fill their minds with hope rather than their bellies with food. Unlike Corona that destroys our lungs, heart and liver, religion entraps our mind.  

 It seems, God gave us a brain and we have placed it at the foot of mere mortals, men of cloth who have created religion to justify their position as the middlemen between Man and God. 

While religion is, has and still is the bane of human existence, the concept of God may have a purpose. Here I mean, the God who is a cosmic mystery not the worldly law-giver. The idea and belief in God can be comforting when you have no answers. Guess, one could say while Science can cure us, God can heal us. 

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Now, in these trying times may be we must all live by the advise of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor:

“Live a good life, and if there is a God and he is just, then he will not care how devout you have been but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by.

If there is a God, but he is unjust, then you should not want to worship such a God. 

If there is no God, then, after you are gone… and if you had lived a noble life you will live on and on in the memories of your loved ones.” 


Speaking of being gone…

Most of us have received many forwards about how earth is cleansing itself as we, humans, are the real virus that is killing planet earth etc. This reminded me of an act by the famed Stand-Up Comedian and Author, George Carlin, which he performed in 1992. It was titled “Jamming in New York” and I thought I would share a small part of that act where Carlin speaks of earth and humans. Here it is: 

“The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, magnetic reversal of the poles … hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages…The planet isn’t going any where. WE are!

The planet will be here and we’ll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet will shake us off like a bad case of fleas.”

Well, it feels like the shaking has begun indeed. And shaken we are. 

Ignaz Semmelweis

A Handwash tragedy

As we continue our fight against Coronavirus, our day begins with hand-washing, continues with hourly hand-washing and ends with hand-washing. But the story of the man who discovered that hand-washing saves lives lost his life depressed as no one believed him. 

In 1847, an Austrian Obstetrician from Vienna named Ignaz Semmelweis, published evidence that when doctors washed their hands before examining or treating patients, the mortality rate for women in his Hospital’s birthing ward was greatly reduced.

Ignaz could not explain why hand-washing was effective — he didn’t know about germs. He just observed that it worked and that patients no longer caught fevers and other diseases. He then tried to spread the word to other doctors and Hospitals but no one listened and patients continued to die. 

Finally, in 1865, after 18 years of propagating hand-washing in Hospitals, Ignaz became clinically depressed as his work was not only rejected but also mocked at even though he proved, at least mathematically, that significantly less women and patients were dying in his Hospital compared to other Hospitals. 

People portrayed him as being a crazy doctor and one day he was lured into visiting a mental asylum where a few doctors had planned to have him locked up. 

Realising it was a trap, Ignaz tried to get out. He ran for his life and sanity. But he was caught, held down and beaten badly by the asylum guards. He was then placed in a straight jacket and locked up. He died two weeks later from injuries he suffered during the beating.

With crazy Ignaz gone, his Hospital was taken over by another Hospital and they ran it according to their old protocols. Soaps were gone. Hand-washing was no more mandatory. Soon enough, mortality rates increased by six fold within a few months, but nobody cared. If only they had just tried what Dr. Ignaz had suggested instead of calling him crazy, lives would have been saved. 

This Ignaz story reminds me of what Nobel Laureate and the Greatest Theoretical Physicist of our time, Stephen Hawking, said:

“The thing about smart people is that they seem like crazy people to dumb people.”

e-mail: [email protected]


  1. Strangeworld says:

    Well written article. Just a small correction: Professor Stephen Hawking was not a Noble Laureate. The Nobel Committee missed a good opportunity.
    Aside from your legitimate questions on healthcare and the healthcare workers, the suffering of the poor : there are tens of millions of them in India and their angst must be recognised. Not only religious fanatics, bur Modi fanatics abuse by posting vile and shameful posts from any one who questions Modi’s effective management in this crisis. The editor of this publication, which you are should put an end to them by blocking such vile people. These posts from so called readers, should not be allowed to tarnish the reputation of this publication, which is read by thousands of Mysoreans across the globe.
    “The first Prime Minister, who today is mocked by every other half-wit, ill-informed, WhatsApp-educated, self-proclaimed patriot, who ignores the fact that this country today stands on the educational and industrial structure put in place by this man from IITs to ISRO”
    You are spot on when discussing the first Prime Minister, who was such a towering personality and visionary in ensuring that India develops anchored on science and technology. It was my privilege to have met him along with my engineering college mates in 1961. You have quoted further from his book:”Discovery of India”, which is apt and timely. This book is largely forgotten today. Every Indian should read this book, which
    By far, the best article from you todate and congratulation for producing such a timely article.

  2. Strangeworld says:

    Correction: Should read: “Every Indian should read this book. By far, the best article from you todate and congratulation for producing such a timely article.

  3. Govind Pai says:

    I concur wholeheartedly with Strangeworld on his comments on Vikram Muthanna’s thoughtful article. I remember reading Nehru’s ” Discovery of India” in my late teens and being captivated by the breadth and depth and scholarship of the book. We were fortunate to have had visionaries like him and Mahatma Gandhi and Patel to guide us in those early years. We have done the right thing now by calling for a lockdown (my daughter is on the front line in a public hospital in Mumbai and I have a very personal stake in hoping our health care system can cope and am worried about my daughter) but we and the Government at the centre need to do much much more to give succour to the people at the margins who are in dire straits because of it. These PR stunts like banging pots and lighting lamps may be harmless, may even be useful, but the PM needs to do much more and tell us exactly what he is doing to solve the medical and human problems and then give us updates on what the progress in, rather than think we are all performing seals banging pots and lighting lamps at his say so.
    Strange world talking about his meeting with Nehru in 1961 reminds me of my mother-in-law telling us about how she and her college mates (from Calicut) met Nehru and Radhakrishnan (separately) in the late 1950s and how those luminaries showed them round their homes and chatted with them. Our current PM does not even give a press conference or give unscripted interviews or take questions. Only monologues on TV or radio from the great one that no one should dare question. Arrogance (or is it the insecurity of a one-dimensional cardboard man?) of the worst kind. Why doesn’t he have daily open press conferences where he gives updates and takes questions? Is he afraid of being knocked off his pedestal? Even his oily buddy Trump gives press conferences.
    Nice article, Vikram Muthanna. You ticked all the boxes.

  4. Strangeworld says:

    Hi Govind Pai
    Glad that you too is appreciative of the excellent editorial by Vikram Muthanna, arguably the best editorial that I have read among English-dailies in India. My message to Vikram is keep many such editorials coming, which should give food for thoughts for the readers.
    About Nehru’s “b Discovery of India” book. When there was intermediate course in Indian universities, this book was repeatedly , one of the texts in English subject. With the advent of the pre-university course, where the English as a subject was somewhat downgraded, there was no place for
    a detailed text of that calibre.
    Nehru met us: a group of budding electrical, mechanical and civil engineers, in his Teen Murti Bhavan lawn, and spoke to each ofus. We were 60 final year engineering degree students. His passion about building a modern India excelleing in science and technology pursuits was impressive.
    After his death, 3 years later, I wityh my colleagues led a group pf similar students to Teen Murti Bhavan, then a Nehru Museum. We could through the glass door of his study, read the Frost’s famous poem ( which was also the favourite of JFK), the four lines:””The wood are lovely dark and deep, but I have promises to keep..”, and the guide who served Nehru, explained that those were last words he wrote before going to bed, and he did not wake up there after.
    Nehru believed that India’s tryst with destiny was through the route of science and technology. Homi Bhabha, would have stayed at Cambridge University, had Nehru did not persuade him to return to India to develop research in nuclear physics that had practical constructive peaceful implications. Let us not forget that a more vilified person, VKK Menon, to whom every mistake in foreign and defence policies were attributed unjustly in my opinion, was responsible for developing defence research organisations-many of them dotted around India, and in one of them an young aeronautical engineer called Abdul Kalam was emerging as a bright star in rocket research.
    Nehru as well as Menon had to grapple with the geopolitical flux with strange groups of friend and foe nations that Soviet Union and US were carving out, in the aftermath of WWII. India was caught in this vortex as a newly independent nation. People judge these two great men with the benefits of hind sight. Steering a new nation in those turbulent years was an impossible task. Israel,which emerge d as a nation , just one year later was also in a similar situation. Its political leaders then were mainly from the Soviet Bloc , who migrated to the country of their own.
    I let readers to mull over these excellent lines you posted:
    “Our current PM does not even give a press conference or give unscripted interviews or take questions. Only monologues on TV or radio from the great one that no one should dare question. Arrogance (or is it the insecurity of a one-dimensional cardboard man?) of the worst kind. Why doesn’t he have daily open press conferences where he gives updates and takes questions? Is he afraid of being knocked off his pedestal? Even his oily buddy Trump gives press conferences”
    I just add this: Andrew Cuomo is an example, that PM Modi is worth emulating.

  5. Jalandhara says:

    I agree with the above posters, and congratulate Vikram for this superb article. He covered such important issues with such style!
    About Nehru, the architect of modern India was shaping up when he was writing his book:” Discovery of India”, in Ahmednagar Fort,said by my English professor then, in a seminar on it, as we too did not have this book as one of our texts. We had a subject called Social Science in our PUC curriculum, where aspects of this book were covered. To the credit of Nehru, it was said , even during his busy days days, he never declined an audience with engineering students. Those were the days, all engineering degree students, at least from S. Indian universities, had compulsory study tour of N.India visiting places of engineering interests.
    @ Govind Pai. Every leader here in the West,PM or President, gives daily press conferences, and takes questions from the press. That is the facet of a democracy. Modi does not like questions or scrutiny, loving instead a large congregation and receiving the chants of his name. His ” friend” Trump, is scared of the impending election, is uncomfortably poised to receive uncomfortable questions. Modi,who you correctly identify as an one dimensional man, is sitting safely in his disinfected bunker and dishing out words of wisdom, He thinks he is secure in his position for the next few years, as the main opposition party is in disarray and has no credible leader. That is the curse of Indian democracy today.
    I am sure, all the three of us-the posters here, can look forward to get showers of abuses from Modi admirers.!

  6. Kumar says:

    Have read Discovery of India and I am not sure why the author or the commenters are praising it. It is a Britishers/foreigners view of India and to call it History is a tragedy. Some of the comments eulogising Nehru and criticising MODI is foolishness. Praise is due where it is and comparing MODI to Nehru and others shows how shallow the education has been and what one has learnt and assimilated. On the point of taking Press Conference, what would someone get out of it, if some are thinking he is incapable of taking a press conference, there is a large section of the population like me who believe the press is not fit enough to ask questions or talk to him. It is this pessimistic and blind hatred by the press and the so called intellectual class that has failed India for the last many decades.
    On the current pandemic what needs to be done is being done, why would someone need details? Are they capable of understanding the details? I guess people will use it more to criticise than to learn. If someone needs details they will get it on google, for the rest who need emotional support Modi is providing it to them.People who feel emotional atyachar are those who are emotionally bankrupt. On COVID govt is executing a well thought out plan and is being executed with sincerity. 
    On what a democracy is lot of folks talking about it here are learning it from communists and their understanding is causing problems for The True democracy.
    The press is losing its credibility in a hurry and Ganapathy Sir’s talent is keeping SOM floating.A wise person told this to me long back….”Just because you know English, you need not be a Britisher”. Jai Hind.

  7. Hey Ram! says:

    One of the best articles I have read these days. We need a lot more of these. Mindless, cult-like sycophancy by Trump’s followers led to the current crisis in US, even though many state governors were doing their best. Now imagine India, Modi’s followers are just as cult-like sycophantic as that of Trump’s. But, the key difference is that US has pretty large number of Trump critics, they occupy more than half the space in the media. We don’t. The critics, especially at the regional level, are scared of openly criticising Modi. In addition, most of the state governments are BJP run, who are all again, Modi’s puppets (just like Florida in US). So India can get much worse than US (hope it does not, but just hope did not work in US). More and more people should begin to badger Modi and his administration with critical questions. It’s not the time for timidity, it’s a war, let’s ask the commander if he has got his priorities right.

    I am glad somebody tried to educate people about Nehru. When he became a PM, there were just 36 engineering institutions, 17 universities, 636 colleges teaching about 2.4 lakh students!!! A famine could have killed lakhs, epidemics used to wipe out villages, roads, rail-lines were almost nonexistent except in main cities, and 80-90% of people were illiterates. We are doing much better than Pakistan and numerous other African/Asian countries who all got independent in the same time period, is due to the initiatives taken up by Nehru and his equally brilliant team.

  8. Govind Pai says:

    Strangeworld and Jalandhara’s comments on Nehru’s passion for science, technology and the scientific method to lead us, as a country, out of antediluvian and superstitious thinking reminded me of my sister’s friend Damayanti Gupta (the mother of CNN chief medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta) in Florida. Damayanti Gupta’s family migrated from Sindh to Maharashtra during partition in 1947. As a young girl in the 1950s she attended a talk by Nehru where he told the young people that India needed engineers and scientists to take its people out of poverty and women should also take up the challenge. Inspired by this, Damayanti studied engineering (the only girl in her college). Later in the 1960s she emigrated to the US and applied for a job in Ford as an engineer. She was told they did not hire females as engineers. She told them she would like to be the first, persisted and became the first qualified female engineer in Ford!
    On a different note, I would like your insights and comments (and also of “What a culture!”) on a letter to the editor here titled “The rediscovery of India” by Col (Retd) CP Muthanna (I don’t know Col Muthanna, but his sister, Dr. Kavery Nambisan, the surgeon and well known writer is a friend. Their father was CM Poonacha, the first Chief Minister of Coorg and later a railway minister at the centre and a governor). Post independence, there was probably a necessity for a strong centre and political and economic thought at the time leaned towards centralization and purely technical fixes. Since the 60s there has been more interest in the old Gandhian ideas of decentralization and village republics. Karnataka took the lead in fashioning panchayati raj institutions under Abdul Nazir Sab and Ramakrishna Hegde. Should there be a rethinking of economic models more in line with Gandhi’s ideas? Would love your thoughts.

  9. Raj says:

    @Kumar – You are dealing with the Nehru Fan club. They say they are more democratic, but the first voice of descent , they brand you as Bhakth. call you all kind of names, say you are dump, dont have brain cells and to drive you away from discussion. Yes, Modi is not perfect, but he cant be a demon as portrayed by these scoundrels! Can somebody remind them who created the Kashmir issue? Nehru had the media under his belt, good writer and could say anything without scrutiny! Modi, unlike his congress predecessors who is loved by the Nehru fan club, he is clean, Honest and does not have a son or a daughter to pass the PM ship ! and has no Swiss or Italian bank accounts to hoard the wealth. His only guilty is he is a Hindu nationalist! being a Hindu, he is hated by the western media, Having won against the Gandhi clan who were ‘Taking care’ of all the elite groups and the Press core, he is abused on a daily basis. Since they day he was elected, all these groups portray as though he STOLE the election by some UNFAIR means!! So, the voice of the majority does not matter! He is compared to HITLER! They yell all parliamentary abuses at him at the top of their lungs and say their freedom of expression is taken away! Isn’t it Ironic?
    India has
    1. The Most Watched Government
    2. The Most Pathetic opposition
    3. World’s worst Media
    4. World’s most demanding Minority
    5. World’s most complacent Majority
    6. World’s most Venomous liberals
    7. World’s most deceitful intellectuals
    8.Most confused voters
    9. and the Best PM that even enemy countries admire his integrity and character
    Today UNHRC pulls India pulls India for CAA which is the internal matter for a sovereign nation, our opposition, these liberals and intellectual are cheering! They did not complain about emergency, Anti Sikh riots and massacre ,let by it! Doesn’t this show where these people stand? They want to destroy Modi at any cost, if it means destroying the nation and siding with the enemies!
    Now, some of these people are trying even to do politics of religion using the Corona infected people!! They somehow want to Prove that Hindus are racists, Modi is criminal and the Chidambarm’s version of Hindu terrorism!!
    Some of them are blaming Modi for requesting the people to light a lamp on April 5th!! Some even went to say, who followed Modi’s words were stupid!
    They are going up to the point of saying, Rahul Gandhi could have handled Corona crisis much better!! 21 nations and including WHO admired and appreciated MODI’s handling of Corona crisis, But for Nehru fans, truth should not matter!!


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