The COVID classroom
Using exemplary instances of altruism, Jamuna Rangachari shows that we can create a better world for ourselves if we approach adversities as opportunities to learn and grow in all areas of life—synergistically.
Last month, we lost my husband’s sister, 61-year-old Shanti, a teacher, to the pandemic. Shanti was a pillar of support and strength to everyone in our family. Family events would have Shanti in the midst of all the activities. Earlier, we could not meet very often due to being in different places. But even after coming to Bangalore where we both lived, we did not meet as often as we should have.
So the news of she contracting COVID came as a shock to us.
During the period she was in hospital, we tried to do as much as we could for her family but missed her terribly as we were not allowed into the ICU.
After she passed away, I experienced the emptiness which was caused by her demise. I was reminded of the uncertainty of life and how we so often take it for granted.
I vowed to myself that we would never neglect meeting our family as far as possible. Now, we ensure that we meet physically and virtually as often as we can. This has made us much closer to each other, and we all remember Shanti often in the process.
The tragedy taught me the important lesson of not losing touch with my family members, because of being busy or occupied with other matters.
It is said that people who don’t learn readily, need a pinch, often given through a crisis. Has COVID come to teach us something? We see people coming together, helping each other, and respecting the planet now, more than ever before. This is indeed a new era when people are changing their perspectives.
While on the one hand, media was replete with stories of humanity sinking to horrible lows as the pandemic struck its deadly blow on the people of India, there were equal if not more number of people going out of their way to help the struggling and the suffering.
This thought made me research on this topic and I discovered many Good Samaritans who lit the lamp of goodness during very difficult times and other innovative works which have happened during this period.
Bridging the divide between humans
One of the most important things that have happened as a result of the pademic is that it made people kinder and more helpful to others. Stories abound of how neighbours and even strangers came forward to lend a helping hand to others during their times of distress.
In my apartment block, our security guard and his family contracted COVID. Immediately, everyone came together and got them an oximeter and basic medicines. We connected with spiritual organisations that provided food for COVID patients keeping nutrition in mind. People prayed, counselled, and guided them. After two weeks, when they recovered, the whole building celebrated collectively. I wonder if this would have been possible without people wanting to help one another.
Shobha Raghavan, a retired bank employee from Bangalore, shares, “We have a domestic help who is a migrant. She comes in on a daily basis and helps us with the domestic chores. There is little or no interaction between us because of the language barrier. Despite the lockdown, seeing me struggle with old parents and trying to do all the work, she offered to come in early and clean the compound and water the plants. The arrangement was very convenient. She would finish and reach back home before the lockdown started.” She continues, “It was then that I understood that language need not be a mode of communication. It was the mindset to help.”
Being kind and caring, Shobha felt it was time to reciprocate in someone’s hour of need. She was quite good at tailoring, and thought of putting it to good use. She started making masks from bits of pieces the tailor nearby would discard. She then donated them to an orphanage nearby. With all this, she definitely feels she has become a better person through the pandemic.
Shobha also shares how she has become much closer to her husband now. She learnt many life lessons in this period. Above all, it is seeing the good in the other person, which she says she had not bothered to do all these years. Another lesson she shares is that with so many of her friends, near and dear, passing away one after another without a note or warning, one realises that nothing is eternal. She also says that not going out, not dressing up for occasions, not eating out, not spending money on shopping and lavish food, but living in constant fear about the safety of family, friends, and relatives has made her realise that money is not everything in life. It is only love, hope, and faith in each other and bonding with one’s family that is certain and concrete.
In Delhi, a family came closer as a result of the pandemic. Lakshmi Ramaswami, a 67-year-old from Delhi, went to South India on a personal visit. When she returned, she found that many in her colony had been afflicted with COVID. She and her family went for a COVID test and found that all of them (her sister, mother-in-law, and husband) were COVID positive. They were not that close in all matters earlier, but this changed radically.
She immediately consulted her friends who were doctors, and with their guidance, all of them were completely normal within one week. Having become completely well, she asks everyone to not succumb to fear but work on themselves to become completely alright. She follows a proper diet and fitness routine and recommends it to others as well. After the COVID attack, she learnt to be conscious of others around her more than ever before.
Some people face a problem and then forget about it once it is resolved. Others, like thirty-nine-year-old Ameen Mudassar, are different. An entrepreneur who provides career guidance, he tested COVID-19 positive in July 10, 2020, in the first wave in Bangalore. Even at that time, there was a lot of confusion in the city. He got admitted to Shifa Hospital. Once there, he started reflecting on many things and resolved that he did not want anyone to suffer for logistical or financial reasons. He started working on a plan, after which things started falling in place. He created a website to provide relevant information to those affected by the pandemic.
The idea was shared on a WhatsApp group emergency response team (Bangalore), of which he was a member. It was liked by a few members and friends, and the next day, Sunday, July 12, 2020, the domain www.covidhelplinebangalore.com was registered. Immediately, a team was created for content sourcing, content curation, design, and development of the website. In just five days, www.covidhelplinebangalore.com was set up, and it went live on Friday, July 17, 2020. It’s a team effort involving his friends and staff, and a selection of concerned individuals and IT Professionals who belong to different NGOs and groups in Bangalore.
Ameen has also been recognised by the Karnataka government. In a video they released for COVID awareness, they put a link to his site in August 2020, for he ensures his website remains current mentioning all the steps one needs to take. When the second wave struck, more details regarding free oxygen cylinders, free medical consultation, ambulance services, burial services, government notification, and so on were updated and published.
Ameen says, “Let’s remember that we should do what we can, from where we are, and with what we have.”
Supriya DeCosta, a dance and yoga teacher, who got divorced recently was a direct beneficiary of Ameen’s website. She was distraught not knowing where to go when her mother was diagnosed with COVID in May 2021. She did not have money or friends who could help her; as at that time the fear of COVID was at its peak in Karnataka. It was then that her friend from Mumbai guided her to contact Ameen. Apart from arranging for a hospital, his team counselled a distraught Supriya too, and ensured that she never felt alone. They took over the entire situation, and she cannot thank them enough for their help. People ranging from the underprivileged to the privileged speak highly of their work all the time.
We keep complaining about others, especially the government, instead of thinking about what we can do. People like Ameen show us how we can truly be a part of the solution and not the problem in the journey of life.
In Chennai, Ramaa Parthasarathy, 61, started doing seva for COVID patients. She says,“With the lockdown in place and with the hotels shut down, many people were suffering without food.” She decided to supply homely meals to COVID patients.
“When people called us up to say that their family members were happy to eat the home food I cook, it gave me immense satisfaction and fulfilled the purpose of living at my age of 60 plus. Though I have been cooking since I was 10 and love doing it, the comments from COVID patients gave me wings. I refined my skills and got the right consistency every day.” She also minimised the use of spices as spicy food is hard to digest for COVID patients.
All this made her not only a better cook but also a better person and has brought about the understanding that consistency and health are very important. At another level, we know of gurudwaras in Delhi providing oxygen langars (free community service) and COVID-19 care centres, medicines, ambulance services, and food to patients. These gurudwaras are working round-the-clock to alleviate the sufferings of people.
Well-being and immunity
Health and immunity often get ignored in our pursuit of things we consider important like money, pleasure and taste.
We take too many things, including ourselves, for granted. This pandemic has resulted in a change of perspective, with people following a routine and trying to keep themselves healthy. High immunity is the only thing that is keeping people safe in this pandemic. But who has high immunity? Most people in the world do not have even 50 per cent of their natural immunity available to maintain high energy levels, and fight harmful microorganisms, because their immune systems are overwhelmed just managing the bad choices they make. This concerns both the food and the routine that our body needs.
Darryl D’Souza from Goa, a wellness professional, has become even busier now conducting workshops and guiding people all the time. He suggests the following health routine:
• Have dinner at 8 p.m., so that you can go to bed by 10 p.m. and wake up without an alarm at 6 a.m. when all of nature wakes up too. These are the rhythms for optimal health.
• At 7 a.m., do the following exercises (in 3 point below) for building lung strength and heart strength, and raising the level of oxygen in the blood. If you have a cough or cold, this exercise routine will make it disappear within 5–7 days if you do it twice a day. If you have a sore throat in the morning, do warm sea salt water gargling.
• Do 10–15 chest push-ups against the edge of a table, bed, or veranda railing. Next, sit down on a chair and keep your eyes closed. Do 20 in and out breaths, only through your nose, with good force and full lung capacity. Next, while keeping your eyes still closed, roll a spiked acupressure ball for one minute on both hands, especially over the points for the liver, lungs, and thymus. If you don’t have the ball, see an acupressure hand chart and press these points with the pointed tip of your thumb or index finger. Do two more sets of these three exercises. After a week, if they make you feel more energised, you can increase the count for push-ups and breaths. Avoid these exercises if you experience breathlessness or your oxygen saturation level on the oximeter is below 93 per cent or if you’re a weak heart patient.
• At 7.30 a.m., sunbathe for 20 minutes on the front side of your body, standing up, barefoot, with minimal clothing. After 20 minutes, turn around and let the sun rays fall on your back. You may do sun gazing, tai chi, or chakra meditation during this time. Then, come indoors, cool down for 10 minutes, have a tulsi, lemongrass, or ginger tea or a traditional kahwah (herbal concoction) and then have a bath if you feel like it.
• Walk barefoot on earth to get its negative ions into your body and bloodstream; they reduce internal inflammation and increase body immunity. Or have your breakfast and evening tea on a table in your garden and keep your bare feet on earth for 20 minutes at a time.
• Have a good quantity of a seasonal fruit for breakfast. Keep changing the fruit daily or after three days at least. If you feel hungry, have a small breakfast one hour later of whole millet grain with a cooked vegetable. (Always soak the millets overnight in water and throw the water out, then cook.)
• An hour before lunch, have a 200 ml green smoothie which could be a blend of cucumber, tomato, carrot, capsicum, avocado, leaves of mint or parsley or curry leaves, celery, spinach, bok choy, or coriander. You can use rock salt, ginger, clove, or organic jaggery to add some taste. Avoid this green smoothie if you have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or are underweight. For lunch, you could have semi-polished rice with a curry and cooked vegetables. Half an hour after lunch, have a probiotic.
• Have a tulsi, ginger, lemongrass, or traditional kahwah tea in the evening with a handful of nuts. You may repeat the morning lung exercise if you like before the tea. If you feel tired during the day, drink a glass of Electral (electrolytes) or tender coconut water.
• Have a light dinner. If you suffer from insomnia, don’t have a raw salad or smoothie for dinner.
• Avoid animal’s milk and all its products like cheese, paneer (Indian cottage cheese), ice cream, softies, smoothies, cheesecake, curd, lassi, milk sweets, chocolates, biscuits containing milk solids, pizzas with cheese, etc. because they cause chronic cough and cold, sinusitis, a tendency towards asthma, pneumonia and bronchitis, acidity, arthritis, obesity, diabetes, hormonal imbalance, polycystic ovarian disease (PCOD), fibroids, bulky uterus, infertility, cataract, glaucoma, and more. Have nut milk instead; cheeses, cakes, and ice creams can be made from them as well.
• Do not have cold drinks, sour foods, foods that have too much vinegar and sour pickles, as they cause coughs and colds and sicken the lungs. Avoid an air-conditioned draught on your face and chest when sleeping at night. Have 10 tulsi extract concentrate drops first thing in the morning and last thing before sleeping at night if you have a cough, cold, or lung congestion.
• Do not have soft drinks, and do not eat things that have refined sugar in them. Keep fried food to a minimum. Bake, boil, roast, or steam food instead. Do not eat food that has been cooked or warmed in a microwave.
• During the day, when in a public place, do not touch your face or allow anyone else to touch it. Step away from someone who is sneezing. Wash your hands with soap when you come home or when you reach your workplace after travelling.
• When you get home in the evening, do steam inhalation with eucalyptus, mint leaves, or ajwain (carom seeds) oil if it makes your breathing better. If your sinuses get clogged during the day, do it once again in the daytime. Do warm sea salt water gargling before going to bed at night. S
leep on your chest for a while doing deep breathing, as it helps fill the lungs with more air than usual and oxygen levels in the blood go up.
• Do herbal cleanses for the kidney, liver, stomach, intestine, and colon because they knock out the toxins and rejuvenate these organs to give you better immunity and younger looks as well.
• Have a herbal multivitamin; herbal zinc, Vitamin C, iodine, and magnesium supplements; and Vitamin D supplements if you’re not sunbathing. Check your Vitamin B12 level, and if it is low, take a supplement for it.
Sunita Sohel, a Sujok practitioner from Delhi, also recommends making our immunity and mind strong. She suggests stimulating some Sujok points (Diagram 1 below) for warding off fear as the first step and for immunity and strengthening the lungs.
Sujok points on the left hand for alleviating fear
Stimulating certain correspondence points related to the respiratory system on the thumbs and the area immediately below the thumb (Diagram 2 below) by massaging with the thumb of the other hand or by applying seeds to the most painful points with a paper tape could help.
Correspondences of the respiratory system on the hands
Similarly, the correspondence points of the medulla oblongata and hypothalamus gland on all the fingers and toes (Diagram 3 below) need to be stimulated.
Correspondence points of the medulla oblongata and hypothalamus
What everyone needs to always keep in mind is that we cannot afford to live a mindless life as we might have been doing in the pre-COVID-19 period.
Sunita’s lesson from the COVID pandemic is that we need to develop and maintain a careful mental outlook about ourselves and our surroundings without letting ourselves be afflicted with fear. We should stay connected with family and friends to remain cheerful.
Innovation using technology
People from all areas of life are trying to do their best to help tackle the pandemic. Engineers have been working seriously on how to handle the situation in a better way. For instance, Prof. Nachiketa Tiwari, Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Kanpur, and Prof. Devendra Gupta, in-charge, COVID-19 ICU, Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences (SGPGI), have developed a working prototype of a Positive Pressure Respirator System (PPRS), which addresses the problem of the acute global scarcity of N95 respirators, a critical component of PPE Kits. It is a safer alternative to the N95 respirator as it provides uncontaminated air and protects health professionals from exposure to the virus.
Most of the existing approaches to the individual disinfection process focus on exposing human touch surfaces, like fingers and hands, to soap-based solutions and covering faces with masks to prevent the spreading of droplets. However, residual germs reside on clothes, sleeves, masks, etc., which are not eliminated by this process. To address this, IIT Kanpur, under the guidance of Profs. Manindra Agrawal and Deepu Philip, has successfully implemented a low-cost rapid disinfecting process for outsiders coming to their campus. The process aims to achieve a high rate of personnel disinfection within two minutes. This proposal focuses on innovatively combining two common disinfection approaches followed across the world to achieve a new and cost-effective disinfection process that is safe for human beings.
Another example of technology-based innovation is ambulances fitted with devices to aid respiration.
Post-COVID, engineers and doctors have learnt to work in tandem, and this, for sure, is one of the many lessons learnt. Everyone has now realised the interconnectedness of life.
Climate change, ecosystems, and COVID
In recent years, conversations about climate change have become increasingly urgent as governments and organisations around the world have gained a deeper understanding of the significant and irreversible negative impact that human activity is having on the planet. In Thrissur, India, River Research Center (RRC), views the river basin as the basic geographic, cultural, social, and ecological unit for any development. “The chapters on rivers in our textbooks and study material in schools are sadly incomplete and one-dimensional. Everything stops at the idea of building dams across rivers and using them as a source of energy generation,” said an environmentalist and coordinator of the Schools for River. Involving school children in conservational activities like riparian planting, which invariably lead to overall ecological conservation, the Schools for River project conducts workshops and awareness sessions for kids to help them understand the importance of free-flowing rivers and the utter necessity to safeguard them. The students are also taken on guided river walks and field trips to ecologically sensitive areas with scientists, researchers, and environmentalists.
This applies to all areas all over the world, for we must understand we have only one planet. Bhargavi S Rao, the director of Centre for Financial Accountability and a trustee of the Environment Support Group in Bangalore, agrees this is definitely a wake-up call. She shares, “We have not learnt from the plague of 1894, which pushed Bengaluru to redesign itself. Post-independence, the expansion of the city, horizontally and vertically, has ghettoised communities and made even high-end enclaves set up for disasters, with enclosed spaces for the virus to prance and proliferate. We are at a turning point now to reorganise our cities, towns, and villages. According to estimates, about 70 per cent of the global population will be in cities by 2050, and this is certainly not the last pandemic. All efforts must start with steps to first cater to the most vulnerable.”
We can see that we can grow in all areas as a result of the pandemic. Let us, therefore, aim to make the creator proud of his creation through the steps we take. More than anything else, we need to understand we do have the power to bring in positive changes, both for ourselves and the planet. Ultimately, it is only love for ourselves, others, and the planet that keeps the world going.
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