If a palmist were to read a common man’s hand today, he’d be baffled.

We have rubbed out the lines on our palms through the constant hand washing and sanitised our future of any trace of filth. As it stands, for a change, it’s the palmist who’s been made to feel insecure and desperate. With no lines to read and no customer who’ll rest their palm into a stranger’s hand, the palmist and his pet parrot are worried about their own future.

In fact, we are all worried about the future.
The pandemic has changed us fundamentally. Remember our sheer nonchalance towards basic hygiene? Well, as hygiene conscious we have become lately, we’ve virtually become ( hygienically speaking) indistinguishable from who we used to be.

Let’s take a trip back to those carefree days of our childhood.

We are the kids who’ve unfailingly danced in the rain every monsoon. Did we ever pay heed to mother’s shouting through the sibilant rain shower, asking us to get back home?
And today, we fret to set foot out in the open during a drizzle. We fear we’ll catch that dreaded cold. Alas, every little sneeze has now become questionable.

We are the kids who used to run behind the fogger that fumigated the whole neighbourhood with plumes of DDT. We’ve lived our dream of being a Bollywood superstar on a smoke-infused stage on those fumigant-clouded streets.
But in the past few months, some of us have had to sit in quarantine rooms, as health workers sprinkled disinfectant all around the house to contain an outbreak.

We are the ones who used to fall sick once a year from the irresistible indulgence in golgappas. We used to drink that mint and tamarind infused paani to relieve an ailing stomach. (as if secretly seeking the pleasure of golgappas in instalments)
And how soon did we head to the golgappe wale bhaiya again, once we felt fit!
The mother’s hand nourished us, and the bhaiya’s hand, just on that odd occasion, made us sick to our stomach.

We assumed the tangy paani to be a herbal sanitizer that effaced every trace of bacteria from those hands that have strummed at every questionable place.
That placebo only failed us once every year, and that, we’d all agree, is not a bad record after all!

Can we imagine having golgappas on the street today? Even the bhaiya is back in his village in U.P. anyway!

We are the kids who have trawled for chunks of clay in the sand. Our fingers did squeeze a few funky objections now and then, but we had the heart to condone it in search of a greater pleasure.

Today, we can’t imagine sending children out to play the same way.

We are the kids who have, once in life, run naked on the streets. We are the kids who made a mockery of the five-second rule for determining the edibility of a fallen piece of food. Remember dropping a paratha on the classroom floor and asking your friend, ‘Raam ya Bhoot‘?

A swarm of flies has never deterred us from downing a glassful of sugarcane juice.
Remember how we used to casually ingest that chemical-laden ice gola sherbet?
How, we mocked each other with pop-coloured tongues, as the food colour dyed the entire alimentary canal in a similar hue.

We are the generation that used to drink tap water from every tap there was in the locality. As they would say in earlier times, we have tasted ghaat ghaat ka paani.

I remember once while staying at a hostel in Bangkok, I’d casually gulped a glassful of water from the kitchen tap to the horror of my traveller friends. The water was only suitable for washing needs in their eyes. They’d predicted I’d be running laps between my bed and the toilet the following morning.

Just for the record, I bicycled a 100 kilometres every day for the next seven days. The only explanation my traveller friends had for this miracle was,

‘Well, he’s Indian!’

What could explain the Indian immunity?

Nonchalance for basic hygiene has kept us in good stead until now. But apart from our habit of enduring questionable hygiene practices on the streets since birth, there could be a positive reason as well.

Think of the Indian Kitchen, where each spice used, each condiment pairing, has a logical culinary significance. The simplest of examples being the simplest of dishes, Aloo Jeera. While it is a delicious food pairing, there’s some science behind it too. The generous use of Jeera (cumin) relieves us from the flatulence inducing Aloo (potatoes).
Ginger ignites the digestive fire, lemon adds a dash of immunity boosters, and turmeric with its anti-bacterial properties finds a place in almost every Indian curry. We’ve never stepped out of the house for seasonal illnesses.
The spice shelf is our medicine cabinet.

Remember that painful needle prick we had in childhood? That dreaded booster vaccine. That moment when the first existential enquiry entered your head –

‘Why would someone willingly inflict pain?’

I wonder if the vaccine was named ‘booster’ because it only boosted the congenital immunity conferred to us by the virtue of our Indian-ness.
(Apart from the legitimate medical reasons of course!)

Being a nation founded on faith, it doesn’t come as a surprise that faith healing and quackery still flourish in the country. What else could explain that Himalayan Jadi-Booti waalah’s tent, the white-bearded Hakim, and the peacock feather waving tantrics who even claim to be capable of scaring spirits away!

We’re innocent, optimistic people who take the problem of population density as an opportunity to ensure herd immunity. And given the allowance of casual, affectionate touch in our culture, we spread pathogens with alarming frequency. Our body learns to become a well-prepared army that is well-stocked with arms and immunitions.

And with the diversity of healing methods available in India, the country seems to be in good health.
Apart from chronic constipation and premature ejaculation of course, something that we blatantly advertise without a trace of cultural self-consciousness. Take a train ride to North India, peep outside the window, and the writing on the wall is bright, loud, and clear.

But it’s one thing to be cocksure about our own immunity and another when the government leaves us to the strength of our internal mechanisms to fight deadly diseases.

The magnitude of the tragedy grows in proportion to the callousness of the state. How else did we achieve pan-India malnourishment, a worrisome infant mortality rate, the anaemic state of women in the India beyond the reach of traditional media?

We boast of the most polluted cities in the world, of drains for rivers and a haze for what should be a clear blue sky.

While we’ve been genetically endowed by good immunity, we might just be pushing our limits here.

Even with the confidence in our immunity, the healthy spices in our food, the presence of a wide array of schools of medicine, and our long-practised herd immunity, we are, for the first time worried about falling sick.

The pandemic has scared us into a habit of hygiene. That is one positive change that has arisen out of the current state of emergency. Has it woken up the ailing governance system to regain its health?

We are a nation that believes in taqdeer, fate, destiny.
For how long could we be locked inside our houses? We will undoubtedly step out of the house soon, wearing our taqdeer on our forehead, a mask on our face, ready to face anything on the way. We need to help the economy back on the rails too after all. And given our acumen for jugaad, we will find a way to live with, and hopefully, win over the pandemic while we conduct business while minding healthy precautions.

Hopefully soon, life will limp back to normalcy and we will be able to stroll in the park again.  And as we walk past that familiar crossroad, we might find two tents of the Himalayan Jadi-Booti wallahs instead of one.

Both tents might already have a Himalayan immunity booster advertised on a chalkboard.

And I bet, one of the tents is run by the enterprising, out of job palmist!