Living the Life of Pi

Surasri Chaudhuri

The novel coronavirus reminds me of Richard Parker, the tiger with whom the young man Pi spent several days in a boat sailing in the ocean. That was fiction. Brought into life with spectacular visuals in the movie “Life of Pi” in which Irrfan Khan played the lead role. Right now, we find ourselves in a similar scenario. But this is stark reality. Presumably the COVID-19 disease will stay with the human race. After these initial ravaging pandemic waves, it will become an endemic like many other infectious diseases. There was an official statement from WHO regarding this, asking nations to be prepared to deal with it, considering it a long haul. Instead of wedging a ‘war’ against the virus, why don’t we learn to live with it, as Pi did with the tiger? After all, we already live with thousands of known pathogens, without worrying much about them.

Our body and mind respond instinctively to anything unknown that threatens our well-being, by switching on to an ‘alert mode’. We try to comprehend the unknown, at different levels.  The more we know, the more equipped we are to deal with it. Rapidly unfolding knowledge of the nature of the new virus (which seems to be very tricky in its ways of getting into the body of hosts, particularly by asymptomatic transmission) has already given us various ways to avoid it. We can mark our areas in the boat, as Pi did, and sail on. And then, after a long and arduous episode, when our Richard Parker chooses to leave us with an enigmatic stare, we will find ourselves on a new plane, brighter and healthier.

This is no wishful thought. History reveals that great epidemics and pandemics, in the long run, have always been instrumental in enriching human life, at all levels. The rich realized that their well-being depends on the health and well-being of the poor. The spirit of ‘UBUNTU’* prevailed. Even in India, under British rule at the time of Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918, the recorded number of deaths per thousand from the lower caste Hindu communities were about eight times higher than Europeans in Mumbai. But living conditions improved afterwards, as a result of mass movements and campaigns that followed.

[*There is a Zulu proverb called Ubuntu that says: “I am a person through other people. My humanity is tied to yours.” UBUNTU is essentially about togetherness, and how all of our actions have an impact on others and on society.]

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May 28, 2020

Surasri Chaudhuri

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