Tarak Mehta, Mahabharat’s Jayadratha & India’s 2nd COVID-19 Wave

“Tarak Mehta Ka Oolta Chashma” or TMKOC, the decade long popular sitcom in India is a reflection of the “diverse” behavioral patterns in the Indian society. More importantly, I have always admired the way TMKOC, very subtly, exposes the behavioral fault lines in our society. A patent scene in the show is that whenever someone asks the society members something, all of them start speaking at the same time which leads to a great irritating chaos and then the person shuts them up and asks them to speak one by one.

In episode 2800 of TMKOC, while playing Holi (festival of colors), the main character Jethalal (Dilip Joshi) puts permanent color on scientist Iyer’s face. Iyer is irritated since due to the color on his face, his plans for air travel to attend a conference on the next day are in trouble. The society members as always gather together and try various ways to get the color off Mr. Iyer’s face.

Every time they come with an idea, they are jubilant and celebrate as if the problem is solved. They try gram flour, curd, cucumber paste and what not on Iyer’s face to remove the color and every-time they celebrate even before trying out the idea and land back in despair when the idea has failed.

Iyer distraught that he will miss attending his conference due to permanent color on his face.

Map this to our behavior between December 2020 and January 2021. Covishield vaccine production began in India and first doses were shipped under the glare of media. The first wave was ebbing and the Prime Minister was announcing victory in Davos Conference and India was to become the “Pharmacy Of The World”. Across India, marriage ceremonies, birthday celebrations and travel was making a roaring comeback.

PREMATURE CELEBRATIONS : Similar to TMKOC, we were celebrating even before the situation had resolved, confident that the vaccine will get us out. Adar Poonawala the CEO of Serum Institute responsible for manufacturing Covishield was the man of the hour, and the government okayed million plus congregation of Kumbh Mela, Election rallies in Bengal. Bollywood, India’s film industry was back shooting for movies, actresses were having bold and beautiful beach shoots in Maldives and general public was back to mocking people with masks. The mood had moved from Social Distancing to Economic Recovery. Without a vision and no insight into the workings of the virus, today in hindsight, one word describes this “PREMATURE”

Election rallies conducted across West Bengal in April 2021, as scores of Indian states saw spikes in COVID-19 infections (Creative Commons Flickr)

HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF? The Indian Epic, Mahabharata has an interesting tale. There are two sides waging a war over the kingdom of Hastinapur, each terming the other, a villain. The incumbents, Kauravas, corner a promising young prince Abhimanyu, son of the great warrior Arjun. They mercilessly kill him through deceit ignoring all the rules of the war. Arjun, the prime warrior on the Pandava’s side is furious at his sons murder and declares that the protagonist, Jayadratha will be killed the next day before sunset. In an emotional state he also declares that he will give up his life if he fails to exact revenge, effectively signaling a defeat for the Pandava’s if the vow is not met.

Things are simple for Kaurava’s, they need to put all the energy in saving Jayadrath for a day and ensure that Arjun is forced to take his own life. The battle is progressing in the Kaurava’s favor and Krishna, the charioteer for Arjun, creates an apparition where by the sun is covered and darkness descends. Kauravas and primarily Jayadrath are elated at the sunset and declare vistory and come out of the army formation to protect Jayadrath. The apparition wears off, the sun is back in the sky, Krishna guides Arjun with “There’s the sun, and here is Jayadrath”. Arjun not wasting anymore time, with one arrow beheads Jayadrath. PREMATURE Mr Jayadrath.

Jayadratha killed by Arjun as he drops the guard and prematurely celebrates the sunset, an apparition created by Krishna

I believe we Indian’s, like Jayadrath, CELEBRATED PREMATURELY. We allowed the virus the right opportune moment to strike back. The lethality of the double mutation and the utter collapse of the health system is like the fallen Jayadrath who was not the only person killed in that encounter.

Jayadratha’s head is taken with the arrow far from the battlefield, finally landing on the lap of his father, Vridhakshatra. His father, being a sage had granted him a boon that whosoever will be responsible for his son’s severed head to fall onto the ground will have his head burst into 100 pieces. Therefore, when his father, horrified at having his son’s head in his lap, hurriedly got up, the severed head fell to the ground, killing Vridhakshatra at the same moment. The father in our case is the central, regional and local political establishment which has got utterly exposed with citizens gasping for Oxygen, paying crazy amounts for Remdesivir and the horrified government dropping the ball, the repercussions of which will be felt in due course of time.

Net-net, phrases like “no one could have guessed the enormity of the second wave” logic does not cut it. Point is that we were not prepared, were over confident and prematurely declaring victory like Jayadratha in the timeless epic of Mahabharat and the contemporary storytelling of TMKOC. We dropped the guard far too early with no defense lines and talked about RIGHTS (Vaccine rights, Election Rights, Kumbha Mela congregation Rights).

We could have done this differently. The answer also lies in TMKOC, in every situation the members of the society all come together and solve problems with the collective looking out for each other. Indian culture is heavily influenced not by RIGHTS (which are for the self), but DUTIES (human responsibility for others). The word is “DHARMA”, duties for the other. Lets see a number line in the below table to understand this more easily. Anything with rights for self, a self serving territorial behavior which animals exhibit is a negative (on the left) while duties for the other is a positive, exhibit of “human” consciousness (on the right).

My choice, right on whether to wear a mask or notSocial Appropriate BehaviorMy responsibility to not infect myself nor others by wearing a mask
My grand wedding, My important birthdaySocial DistancingSimple registered marriage, Digital wishes for birthdays
Events for the MAJORITY allowed
Event by the MINORTY frowned upon
Religious occassionNo celebrations until everyone is vaccinated
2nd Wave, 3rd Wave – CoronavirusCOVID-19Bye Bye India – Coronavirus

Nevertheless, since Jayadratha has repeated.. err sorry, history has repeated itself, hopefully we learn the “collective” over the “self” analogy sooner.

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