Musings on power of prayer and lighting of oil lamps !
Abracadabra By K. B. Ganapathy, Columns, COVID-19

Musings on power of prayer and lighting of oil lamps !

April 7, 2020

One of the reasons why some people continue to break rules with impunity in this country is because few of them are called out or held accountable.

This has to end now. Criminal, reckless, irresponsible acts that endanger peoples lives need to be not only condemned but those responsible for such acts must be held accountable, irrespective of their religious or political affiliations. —  Javed M. Ansari, Senior Journalist and Political Analyst, formerly of ‘India Today’ Group

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that he would like his countrymen to switch off electric lights in their houses and light oil lamps, candles, torches or mobile phone lights at their doors and balconies on 5th April, Sunday, at 9 pm for 9 minutes (and pray or meditate) for combating the Coronavirus, the anti-Modi brigade laughed, mocked and made derisive remarks against Modi. They even attributed personal motives of Modi and BJP for making this request to our countrymen at a time when the very existence of mankind is threatened by this pandemic.

In the annals of history of mankind there was no time when man looked so helpless to face a pandemic like this one. Yet, this invisible, most lethal enemy has to be challenged. But, how? Despite much advance in the field of medical science, no one in the world could find a drug or vaccine as a cure. Which is why doctors and medical scientists say for now Social Distancing and Lockdown are the only ways to escape from this disease, COVID-19.

It is most abhorrent, abominable and sinister that in the name of religion some sections of our society are ignoring these guidelines and warnings. As a consequence these fanatics, bigots, are making the life of health workers — Doctors, Paramedicals, Nurses, Ward boys and others — serving the sick more difficult. Action against these anti-mankind fanatics under the criminal law of the land alone cannot stop them from their mischief. Then what? Pray?

Well, probably it is for this reason that Modi, after announcing the Lockdown till April 14, 2020 earlier (which was not observed by many Modi-baiters under our SECULAR LIBERAL DEMOCRACY), now announced this novel idea of getting the 130 crore people of our country to Pray (Modi did not use that word lest it must sound non-Secular and superstitious or even Hindu) by lighting the traditional lamps at the risk of being despised by the “Left, liberal intellectuals.”

Poor Narendra Modi. No matter what he does, whether it is good for the people and                             the country or not good, either way he is damned. I am reminded of a short story by that famous Russian Author Anton Chekhov, very aptly, as if he knew that Modi in India would face this situation, titled “Oh! The Public.”

Let me give the gist of the story. Podtyagin was a Head Ticket Collector in the Russian  Railways. The travelling public used to criticise him for not doing his work properly due to his drinking habit.

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One day Podtyagin, realising his irresponsible and negligent conduct in his work, did some introspection and said to himself in a sort of soliloquy: “I am glad to get my salary, so I must do my work honestly, heartily, conscientiously, regardless of sleep or comfort. I should not take my work easy. Now I am taking salary for doing nothing. It is not right at all.”

Wisdom seemed to dawn upon him and he got down to doing his work. As required, he woke up his subordinate Ticket Collectors and went with them up and down the Railway carriages, inspecting tickets from the passengers.

He saw a second-class passenger, lean and scraggy-looking person wrapped up in the blanket.

Podtyagin, the ‘reformed’ Head Ticket Collector called out, “Ticket, please” but this passenger did not reply.

The Head Ticket Collector then touched him on the shoulder and repeated ‘Ticket please.’

The dirty-looking passenger was annoyed, he created a scene. Shouted loudly saying that he was sick and sleeping and yet, this Ticket Collector was harassing him etc.

He looked at the fellow passengers and said, “It is merciless, it is inhuman, it is cruel…”

Podtyagin was angry and told the passenger that he should stop shouting and stop                         disturbing the Public. Otherwise, he would remove him from the train and hand him over to the Police.

Here is the crux of the story. The “Public” reacted saying what Podtyagin was doing to that passenger was “revolting”, “inhuman”. He was “persecuting an invalid.” And advised the Head Ticket Collector to “have some consideration.” I thought of our “Lutyens’ Club members in Delhi !”

Among the Public was an engineer and a military officer. Knowing the passenger was a drug addict, they criticised the Head Ticket Collector and insisted that he should apologise to that passenger !

When the Station Master who was brought in said, “Drop it,” ordering not to take any action against that ticketless passenger, who openly said he had taken “a third dose of morphia,” poor Podtyagin gave up and walked out of the carriage in despair with the following words:

“Oh, the Public! There is no satisfying them. It is no use working and doing one’s best! …If you do nothing, they are angry; if you do your duty, they are angry too.”

Mercifully, in India today the real “Public”, I mean the majority of the silent people, of all religions and walks of life, are with Modi. It is only a frustrated Opposition and Religious Fundamentalists who are unhappy with Modi.

Now let me ruminate on Prime Minister Modi’s call to light lamps. What was that Tamasha, some pseudo-intellectuals and atheists rued. A prayer invocation to God to give us strength to overcome the COVID-19 or an idea to unite 130 crore people of this country, cutting across religious barrier, in a show of solidarity to fight this COVID-19 unitedly?

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I lighted an oil lamp with wick and held it in my hand for 9-10 minutes closing my eyes in mediation or prayer — I do not know. But my inner voice said, “God save India. God save the World.”

This indeed is our summer of discontent. When there are no medicines or cure for our present fatal COVID-19 disease, what is our next hope? Yes, Social Distancing. Lockdown. But how long? Here in comes the prayer.

But as Hamlet asks in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet: “But oh, what form of prayer can serve my turn?”

As for me, one form is what Modi asked us to do on 5th Sunday, April 2020, at night.

I guess, when everything fails our hope is in prayers. Again, which is why Hamlet exclaims:

“There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio than dreamt of in your philosophy.” 

The philosophy of Modi-baiters.

So saying, Hamlet concludes that human knowledge is limited. And so pray! After all, prayer is also a form of requesting of good things from God !!

God may grant the request or may not. However, one request He will never grant is saving one from Death !

Be that as it may, God seems compassionate, merciful, kind and condescending to our prayers. Ask the Mughal Emperor Babur. History records that Babur’s eldest son Humayun had been designated as his heir. Humayun was sent to Afghanistan on a military campaign. When he received the news about Babur’s failing health, he returned to India in 1529.

Surprisingly, Humayun suddenly fell seriously sick and appeared to die soon. Distraught, his father Babur sat in prayer by his son’s sick-bed and began to pray. He prayed that he would forfeit his own life for Humayun’s recovery. In fact he made a deal with God. Remember, that he made a similar deal with God, when he went to war with Rajputs at Khanua, that he would not drink alcohol and would kill Rajput infidels in the war he designated as Jihad. He had won the war.

Apparently, he knew the power of prayer. What was important was that once again Babur’s piety, prayer, was rewarded. Humayun came out of his death-bed, but Babur died.

It could be, Modi was inspired by Gandhiji who said life will persist in spite of death and light will persist despite darkness. So by lighting the lamps, Modi wants to dispel this COVID-19 darkness encompassing our country and the world.

Why not give him the benefit of doubt for his belief and to all those, like me, who believe in Modi’s harmless, no-cost idea about lighting a lamp.

Jai Hind.

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9 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Musings on power of prayer and lighting of oil lamps !”

  1. Hey Ram! says:

    1) If the PM asks us to sing the national anthem 10 times a day (it just takes less than 10 minutes in total) whenever we want, to honor all those who work to keep us safe, should we do it? On the paper, it looks good- it takes a minuscule amount of time and nearly no hassle or interruptions. Yet, we feel strongly that there is something inherently wrong about it, isn’t it? That exact feeling is what bothers me with such activities.

    2) They were not requests. They turned into orders/commands due to societal/peer pressure. Choosing not to do it was made equivalent to dishonoring the frontline workers. So there was no choice, it felt like living in a suffocating Soviet or Chinese communist regime.

    3) Such a public display of gratitude should not come with a face attached to it, especially a political face. It should be from a non-political source, a community-driven act, like how people get together and light candles during tragedies. Once we slap a face to it, it loses all its meaning and becomes an activity to celebrate the individual or to follow the individual.

    4) It’s puerile and juvenile. Just because Italians, English, New-Yorkers, Chinese… did something similar, does not mean we should do it too.

    There is a lack of good action plans, empathy, and even basic crisis management capability on the central govt side. But, even if they were very competent and had solid plans, the above points would still hold well.

  2. Strangeworld says:

    @Hey Ram!
    The Europeans and Americans are not asked to do what Modi mandated sitting in a bunker. The English are asked to thank their NHS workers: the NHS provides excellent free healthcare for all citizens from cradle to grave, only after the government has poured money into healthcare and has firm plan to tackle this nvisible killer. Every European leader and Trump appear in public , and take questions from journalists. These leaders ordered lockdown after establishing the required infrastructure to handle the difficulties arising from it, and have ensured that the poor and hourly-paid workers have been looked after.
    There is sense in lighting a lamp or a candle, as this represents hope and if many do it as in a church and temple, there is a sense of solidarity,. Lighting at a stated time has symbolic implications too. But this has to come after aplan to handle this crisis is clearly laid out and explained.
    Modi has not done this.
    Cardinal Newman ibn his excellent poem: ” Lead kindly light..” invokes guidance, wisdom and hope as a prayer, and the light in question is euphemistically Jesus Christ, as he was a devout Roman Catholic. The late Prof BM Sri ‘s translation of Cardinal Newman’s verse: ” Karunalu ba belake..” is pregnant with the symbolism of light guiding through wisdom and assuring hope. I would not dismiss simply the lighting of a candle or a lamp: one should only see the comforting feeling of people in a temple who do this. I have seen the effect of lighting a candle in the faces ofpeople in the Notre Dame Cathedral. But, it can only be an adjunct task from the people,when the government has done what it can with a firm and implemented plan. Modi should appear in public, like Trump, answer questions about how his government is handling this crisis. The absence of this approach leaves the lighting of a candle a hollow gesture.

  3. Strangeworld says:

    Apology for some typos which have crept in the above post.

  4. deeply troubled says:

    Lockdown of a country of 1.3 billion people more than half of us uneducated or poor with just 4 hrs notice was disastrous. Images of migrant workers walking barefoot carrying their meagre belongings on their heads trudging home was heartrending. Such images shown in foreign media was shameful to us. This was a man made crisis and cannot be alleviated by any amount of prayer or a billion diyas. No god will answer our prayers for the lack of compassion and consideration we did not show our poor.
    Other countries even though their death rates were high waited to impose lockdown. Japan has only today imposed emergency and not lockdown.
    This virus was brought to our country by affording air travellers but unknowingly. The poor migrant had no part in this.

  5. Past Mysorean says:

    First, I do not believe that the death rate in India is so small in number compared to population, given as you have said a large number of 1.3 billion Indians are very poor,and lack the hand washing awareness with scarcity of water supply and the expensive basic soap product to prevent the virus spreading. The nature is this is such that one infected person and can many numbers of others. Given all the above, such low infected figures and low percentage of deaths is not believable. India does not have free socialised healthcare where the poor can get medical help at the point of delivery. The truth is not told. The look of all this also suggests that the virus embedded in the communities has not begin to spread.
    Indian-related crises are all man made by the politicians in power in every generation. The monsoon floods kill thousands of Indians and very little effort thereto mitigate the danger.
    The poor have no proper homes. If these migrant workers have to walk from place to place in search of jobs, the responsibilities for providing them at least temporary homes, and food were on the central and state governments. There are vast number of spaces in Mysuru for example here tents can be pitched and families given shelter for the duration. This needs mammoth effort, and only after the problem of housing and feeding them is solved ( in every region of the country), the country was ready for lockdown.
    When Modi announced the lockdown copying what the Western countries did, the country,particularly the poor were left un-supported. One reads and Modi’s supporters claim, that large sums of money were provided, the modality of this money reaching the poor was unknown. Modi seems to be sitting some where and addressing his people, but still is shy of coming out to take questions, where the plight of the aforementioned people can be brought to his attention. The CMs of states, also are elusive, knowing fully well, these migrant workers who are struggling to to survive do not make effort to go to polling stations and vote! The massive number of poor Indians are neglected for decades by successive central and state governments. India has become the country for the middle class,the rich and very rich, and boasts the largest number of billionaires.
    Indian culture is a faith-based culture. The poor have only one recourse: prayer. Whether God listens or not is a deep philosophical question. But alleast prayer does not cost them.
    In other Western countries mentioned,, in particular Europe and US, the virus was brought in by infected Chinese visitors and residents,and hence the communities caught it early on. In India,it was the richwho burn their money through foreign visits who brought in the virus. They are not that large number compared to the millions of Chinese visitors who visited the Western countries, and which also has millions of legal Chinese residents. The effect has been disastrous.
    India has to find its own solution, in the aftermath of this diaster. The priority is social security benefits for the poor and universal free health care

  6. Hey, the truth! says:

    India’s population is so large and the percentage of poor is also so large that no PM today can solve its problems. The Virus needed isolation of its massive masses,fast to prevent further spreading, and quick lockdown was inevitable. The alternative is to countenance deaths in region of lakhs of unfortunate people. As for these numbers of migrants-the lopsided urban -based industrialisation, the failure of the farming sector: man made and nature-inflicted with droughts and flooding etc.. means the rural population has been resorting to migration. An underclass of migrants were born and their population and plight multiplying every year. The lockdown has made their plight stark/
    India ;s poverty is well known as well as India’s rich living in their own world is also well known. Nothing new here,when the newsclips here in the West shows the plight of the migrant population. No amount of boasting of Chandrayaan,IT sector etc.. etc.. can mask this truth.
    It is too late also to go back to Gandhian economic model,which was focused on the positive and potential aspects of the Indian villages then. More than 6 decades of urban industrialisation has made this irrelevant, but it still lies in the minds comfortable middle class retirees as a dream!
    Well, that sounds surrender,but given the size of the population of India and its mass of poor people, both increasing at an alarming rate,it will take decades to implement any sensible solution, if there was one.

  7. Hey Ram! says:

    @Past Mysorean
    Adding little clarifications on death rate and number of infected-
    Death rate (# of deaths/# of infected) is within the margin of error of the global average. The absolute numbers are, however, low, as of now. But, that does not matter, what matters is whether the number of infected is growing exponentially? The answer is yes. If you check the date vs number infected curves on either John Hopkins university’s tracker or on worldometer/statista, it can be clearly seen that it’s growing exponentially. According to NYT, India’s numbers are doubling every four days. So the numbers will blow up significantly soon. We have a 2-4 weeks of time lag compared to US, at this point, that’s all. The lockdown will hopefully bend the growth curve down near the end of April or early May.

  8. Hey Ram! says:

    @Strange World
    Ah, that’s how it began in UK. Italians I can understand, they will latch onto anything that involves mass celebration (in this case just physically separated). Nobody has to even nudge them 🙂

    I was thinking along the same lines. Even Trump is giving daily briefings, the guy who despises and hates the media’s guts more than any other living or dead human being on the planet. He is doing a terrible job at it, but at least, he is doing it. But in India, central govt even stopped ICMR from sharing daily updates and moved to SC to get a gag order against publishing facts on covid-19 that are not approved by the govt!!! That’s literally the definition of communism. I don’t see why many of Modi’s followers, who are otherwise rational, are very much anti-communism and pro-freedom, somehow ignore such huge red flags.

  9. Strangeworld says:

    @Hey Ram!
    Italians have the second elderly population in the world. The effect of Corona vurus is thus much higher.
    I am not sure whether youb have been to Italy. I go there every 3/4 months, and have friends there. If you have visited Italy, you know that visitors, these days Chinese visitors are plentiful, more visitors than to France-Paris : Rome Venice, Naples and Forence attract thousands of Chinese all the year round, and that has impacted the spread of the virus. Italy has an excellent integrated healthcare system, free at the pint of delivery to all Italians-not the medical insurance nonsense, and even their healthcare system could not help Italians, as thisVirus spreads very fast and cannot be containable. Safe distancing helps , but cannot guarantee the spread, as very little is known about the Virus. The major laboratories are sequencing this Virus, and the picture is very sketchy at present.
    For a start, I cannot believe the small number of people who are reported to be infected, given that the Virus is spreading among communities. Modi should emerge from his bunker, and answer questions so that people understand what he is doing and how long he expects this lockdown to last. Trump, whatever his follies are, is brave to face the press.
    Well, this Virus has stopped Modi leaving India very often to visit one country or other and smiling in selfies with leaders!!


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