India oxygen mask covid
A patient, wearing an oxygen mask, sits outside Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital (LNJP), one of India's largest facilities for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients only, in New Delhi, India Image Credit: Reuters

Who is a good human being? If you ask an adult, you will either get a thoughtful pause or a profound answer. Chances are if you ask a child, the answer will be instant and simple- someone kind and honest. Is that all it really takes? In the words of Confucius, “life is very simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”


If this crisis has shown us one thing, it is that the ordinary people are the ones who are special. Despite their personal grief and our collective loss — from the rickshaw puller to the young unemployed, man, it has been a homecoming to share stories, to console and to feed. These unassuming folks are the real Pied Pipers while leaders have remained burrowed in their holes.

When a young woman in a COVID ward played the song ‘love you zindagi’, we all prayed for her. She died, leaving behind a young child and our emotions in tatters. Another son, far away from his dying mother in the hospital requested for a few minutes and then proceeded to sing ‘tera mujhse hai pehle ka nata koi’ in his last call to his mother. The doctor on duty says that those moments have changed the meaning of the song for her forever. For us too.

Last year during the migrant crisis, civil society came out in large numbers to help the needy. This year, the scale of the tragedy needed more. And, people came through, with compassion.

A young man led the way. Srinivas B V showed us that if a youth leader could be the hope for a billion prayers, seasoned politicians with their resources and intent could have made us the real superpower, not just in words.

He wasn’t the only one, good Samaritans like Tehseen Poonawala, Sanjay Raina and countless others worked every connection through long nights helping with plasma, oxygen and body bags. Actor Sonu Sood of course remains indefatigable.

But when it comes to community work, it is hard to emulate the Sikhs. Takht Hazoor Sahib in Maharashtra’s Nanded — one of the five Takhts of Sikhism will be using all the gold collected in the last 50 years to build hospitals and medical colleges.

Free oxygen langars — based on the concept of free food to the needy, a gurdwara offering drive-by oxygen, the 400-bed hospital at Rakab Ganj Sahib Gurudwara with no billing counters are also a sample of how once again, the community teaches us so effortlessly that sewa is the real dharma. For so many shrines with their coffers full, it is now or never.


Yet, if there is one thing, we have learnt in this pandemic it is that being good is both easy and Herculean.

In the last few days, I have often tried to make sense of how citizens become mercenaries at a time when their actions are the difference between life and that last gasp?

Black markets are flourishing as drugs like Remdesivir are going 10 times the normal price, ambulances are an irony — ferrying sick patients while sucking their life savings and people have been caught stealing clothes from dead bodies at crematoriums — it could be desperation or depravation.

The fake medicine racket has been flourishing — five nursing staff from private hospitals and a doctor have also been caught giving a deeper cut to humanity already clutching at fairy dust and magic. When every minute counts, searching for genuine drugs is another, race against time.

A man who owns several restaurants and high-end optical stores in the capital’s prime real estate has been arrested for allegedly hoarding oxygen concentrators and selling them at inflated prices. Where does avarice stop?

I have often felt- and call that enlightenment or elementary- but sometimes those with money are either misers or have an unsatiable greed. But if death is a business, it is pointless putting any money on them.


An elderly man passed away recently while his wife was on the bed next to him in the COVID ward. In front of her eyes the staff bundled her husband’s body up and then left it on the bed. The entire night the wife was alone with her husband beside her and yet gone. The next day, the hospital staff said they had forgotten. Who do we blame?

And yet, as an over stretched health care in its exhaustion neglects the dead in the hospitals while battling to keep the living, work on a project of vanity continues. This is no subtle message for the loyal middle class — it is dispensable as concrete and not humans are essential.

Labourers at the Central Vista site are exposed to COVID daily at a time that Delhi has struggled to treat the overflow. They don’t count.

The outrage over spending Rs20,000 crores had an impact — not the desired one, but the expected one — photography has been barred at the construction site. See no evil.

Sitting on the ruins of humanity the Central Vista project — aesthetically unpleasing and financially morbid — continues as though soon it will be spring. But the summer is long and dug roads on either side of Rajpath could just as well be graves for the floating bodies washing ashore. A petition is in the court seeking to stay the construction.

As the virus travels inward, creating havoc in our hinterland, the project that looks to revamp 86 acres of India’s history and historical buildings continues as though the mass pyres can simply be whitewashed — a foundation of smokes and mirrors in the midst of Black Fungus and deaths. The mirror though never lies.

There will be a new PMO and residence, a new Parliament building among others, but paint and image are both superficial, it is history that decides if it will be kind.

Remember the Roman Emperor Claudius Caesar Augustus. You may have studied him as Nero.