Namaste and keep  distance please !
Columns, In Black & White

Namaste and keep distance please !

March 14, 2020

For the past few weeks having been told not to touch my face I have started behaving like cricketer Krishnamachari Srikkanth — contorting my face, as I am unable to scratch my eyes, nose or face when it itches. I also feel like putting a sticker ‘Keep distance’, like they have behind lorries as we Indians don’t understand personal space. Corona is here and yet we seem to have a very casual attitude towards it.

Corona has brought a few nations to its knees. Most of them are developed and powerful countries, countries with the latest and best medical facilities and systems in place. This reminds us of the famous dialogue by Nana Patekar from the movie Yeshwant — “Ek machhar sala aadmi ko hijda bana deta hai” (A single mosquito can emasculate a man). Our species, the Homo sapiens, may be the most advanced and dominant species on this planet. We may have nuclear warheads with hopes of colonising another planet. But a virus, a microscopic lifeless particle, has humbled us.

Speaking of being humbled, while a virus is attacking us, the first line of defence is a none other than the humble bar of soap. This reminds us of the old jingle from the 90s — “Tandurusti ki raksha karta hai Lifebuoy, Lifebuoy hai jahan tandurusti hai wahan” (Lifebuoy protects health, wherever there is Lifebuoy, there is health). Guess Lifebuoy was right. It is amazing that this humble soap, which was invented in 2800 BC, over 4,500 years ago, by the Babylonians is still the first line of defence for the health of our species!

So why does soap work so well to rid us of bacteria and most viruses including Corona? Because the virus is a “self-assembled nano-particle” and its weakest link is the lipid (fatty) bilayer which soap dissolves. When the fat membrane holding the virus breaks the virus falls apart.  But why the 20-30 second scrub rule?

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There is a glue-like interaction between the human skin and the virus which the fat-like substance known as ‘amphiphiles’ in a soap not only loosens this “glue” but also breaks the velcro-like interactions that hold the virus together. So one needs to do a little bit of rubbing to assist the amphiphiles to do their job well.

As mundane an activity as hand washing may be it is the most important activity in our daily life, yet we seldom do it. A report from 2012 stated that 4 out of 5 people don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom globally!

So after all these years of greeting with a handshake and gifting germs to each other, the Coronavirus has forced us to acknowledge that Namaste is the most hygienic from of greeting. Namaste may be India’s second greatest contribution to the world after zero — One significant in mathematics, the other in public health. No?

While rest of the world is preparing and in some cases panicking, we desis seem to be taking it easy. Even as CM yesterday declared a mild lock-down in the State, people seem to be gathering in closed spaces, even worse people are insensitive to “personal space.” 

One will experience violation of personal space if they stand in queue in India. We stand so close to each other that it feels like ‘spooning’. We don’t even realise that it’s impolite or a violation of another person’s space as we nudge people in front of us in a queue, peep into their phones or even use other people’s shoulders as head-rest while seated in public transport. But this will have to change and we have to practice ‘social distancing’ as Coronavirus makes its way into our lives.

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 “Social distancing” is a public health practice that aims to prevent sick people from coming in close contact with healthy people in order to reduce opportunities for disease transmission. This can include large-scale measures like cancelling group events or closing public spaces, as well as individual decisions to stay home and not stick to people behind when standing in line. The main goal of social distancing is to prevent surges in illness that could overwhelm health care systems. And this matters in India as we have a very high population density.

We in India seem to suffer from a ‘superman complex’, a culture of false bravado born from the belief that bad things happen only to others, not to us, until it does. And when it does, instead of blaming it on our own indifference we pass it off as “destiny” or God’s will.

We have a culture that has complete disregard for not only our safety but others’ as well — from getting up before a flight comes to a complete halt to jumping onto to a moving train; from disregarding building fire safety norms to not checking safety ratings of cars; Death Wish or a Superman Complex, it is time people took the Coronavirus epidemic seriously.

Yes, indeed there is no need to panic, but prevention it better than cure, and let us not forget there is no cure for Coronavirus yet; so all we have is preventive measure.

So stick to Namaste, keep your distance and don’t touch your face. If at all you have an itch on your face, try Krishnamachari facial yoga !

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