The Corona pandemic has opened up a Pandora’s Box of emotion among the population. Things which were not even in our back of the mind are now staring directly at our eyes. Life which looks so certain and predictable suddenly changes track and pushes us in the direction of uncertainty and unpredictability. We are most uncomfortable when things are uncertain and unpredictable. We are used to sitting on the steering wheel with everything under our control but when we feel we are on the back seat and destiny is driving then we start to panic.
Our generation has not seen anything like this. Even our father’s generation has not seen anything like this. So what is consigned to the history books is taking a re- birth. A few incidents from the last 100 years will be giving a better perspective.
The most notable one has been the Spanish flu of 1918-20 and originated from birds as H1N1 virus. It affected almost one third of the world’s population that is 500 million people and some estimates say that about 50 million died.
In 1957-58 there was the Asian flu from H2N2 virus again of avian origin. It started from Singapore then Hong Kong and spread till the United States. An expected 1.1 million people died due to this.
The next one came in 1968 and was the H3N2 virus. It was first found in the United States and it caused death to approximately 1 million people.
Then in 2009 came the H1NIpdm09 virus which was a variant of the H1N1 virus. This caused the death of around 0.3 million people in the first year itself.
So these were some of the major Pandemic in the last 100 years. For most of us we were either not born or we were not in the epicenter of these pandemics.
Then comes the man made killings. The first being the first World War from 1914-19. This lead to the deaths of an estimated 40 million including, both military personnel and civilians. The Second World War 1939-45 saw a death of an estimated 75 million people, both combatant and non combatant. The Korean war 1950-53 saw an estimated death of 5 million people. The Vietnam war 1955-75 death as per average estimate is around 3 million. The Cambodian genocide (Khmer Rouge) from 1975 to 1979 lead to the death of about 2.5 million people.
The list is not limited to this only but there are other ones like the Russian Civil war 1917-1922, Irish war of Independence 1919-1921, Irish Civil war 1922-1923, Kenya emergency 1952-1960, Malayan emergency 1948-1960, the Falkland war, the Gulf wars, the Bosnian war, the Kosovo war, the Afghan war, the war on terrorism and I may have missed out some more. The total death estimates of death in all these are estimated to be 187 million.
Other than these there have been famines, drought, floods, tsunami, volcano, nuclear failures like Chernobyl and Fukushima and many such incidents. From the above data it is clear that people have killed each other many times more than any type of virus or bacteria or germs.
Think of the people who have been at the epicenter of such events, the feeling of utter desperation and the inability to do anything except blame it on God and destiny. The effect of these incidents has been so great that individual value of life seems too trivial to matter- young and old, near ones or someone unknown. So should we be ‘happy’ that we are in the midst of a ‘virus attack’ than a ‘human attack’? The virus is expected to kill ‘lesser’ number of people than humans.
It is in such times that we realize that life doesn’t come with a guarantee card attached to it. The social scale of life expectancy is only for the record in better times, but ultimately it is just a figure on a piece of paper. Though a natural death in old age is what we all desire but when the tides turn and we face one such situation we should be ready to accept the inevitable, because after a certain point we do not control our destiny. The worst part is that even God as we call it is not controlling the destiny but it is someone in a position of power is the one who is controlling it- another human being.
Luckily we have not faced anything dramatic like this ever before. Our interaction with death is mostly limited to something within our close relatives and may be witness to some road accident. But now the fear is apparent and within the reach of everyone. Our mind is not ready for such an experience firsthand. So we are a worried lot.
Adding to the virus itself and its ability to kill is the failure of the government machinery to handle the load. In a populous and economically backward country like India, the specter of death is more real because there is a shortage of beds, medicine, ventilators and oxygen for critical patients. The healthcare system is collapsing. Though most such cases go unreported but it is a reality that people have died and dying every day for lack of proper treatment. Seeing such cases on TV is worrisome but when it becomes a reality for me or my immediate family member, it turns to fear, desperation and distress.
From last year there were talks of a second wave but by Oct- Nov 2020 things started to look better and life was on track again. The vaccine would come by 2021 first half and then we would have won over this virus. But no one expected that the virus will return as a particularly lethal mutated form just as the vaccination was starting. Also even vaccinated people are getting infected again. So now everyone knows that vaccine is not going to ensure complete protection. In April 2021 we are in a worse stage than April 2020.
From time to time nature gives its signal to know our limits. Nature being the boss creates extinction level events once in a few million years. We have created and named the Anthropocene extinction era, an era were we are the cause of extinction of hundreds of species. Though it is an over exaggeration but we are only a single species on this earth and when we are at the receiving end of things in a smaller way even, we find it hard to digest it.