Anti-viral mattress, anyone?

Tractors, cow dung, volcanic ash… there is no dearth of colourful cures for Covid-19

Anjuly2 Illustrations by Job P.K.

My parents have always gone for a passive-aggressive style of parenting. If you asked them for something, they would not deny it. Rather, they would wait for you to outgrow your desire. They used the same strategy with Covid-19. To prevent getting infected, they went on an ‘offensive defence’, trying out everything available in the market, which included zinc and hydroxychloroquine tablets, and an alphabet soup of vitamins. They tried to outmanoeuvre the manoeuvrer. But to their detriment, they realised that the virus had a funny bone, because it got the last laugh. Both my parents tested positive for Covid-19 in early September. The devoted parents that they are, they gave it to me, too.

As they are doctors, you cannot really blame them for trying to combat the virus with experimental drugs. After all, the US president himself fought it with an experimental cocktail of antibodies, including the plasma of a recovered Covid patient and of mice bred with a ‘human’ immune system. Also, a generic version of the heartburn treatment Pepcid, which is being studied as a potential Covid cure. But perhaps, what our researchers need to focus on is not heartburn but rather, mind burn. Because, in the case of many, instead of the heart, the virus has gone for the brain, bringing down their IQ levels by several notches.

Take some of our world leaders. According to the Belarus president, Alexander Lukashenka, the best way to prevent Covid-19 is to go out and work in the fields, preferably on a tractor. “You just have to work, especially now, in a village,” he said. “In the countryside, people are working in the fields, on tractors, and no one is talking about the virus. There, the tractor will heal everyoneì.” He also advised his ministers to go for a steamy sauna, because the virus dies at 60 degrees Celsius.

The Americans, being rather more devious than the Europeans, have another solution: death by whitewash. President Trump came up with the ingenious idea of bleaching the virus with disinfectant. “And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute,” he said. “One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?”

But it is we Indians who have the most creative, and malodorous, solution of all. If you cannot sweat it out or bleach it, then blast it with cow dung. No virus, the reasoning goes, can survive the stench of our desi gobar gas. “A person who chants Om Namah Shivay and applies cow dung on the body will be saved,” said Hindu Mahasabha president, Swami Chakrapani Maharaj. “A special yagna ritual will soon be performed to kill coronavirus.” India and China might be feuding over our boundaries, but it seems we are on the same page when it comes to our bovines. The Chinese government is recommending the Peaceful Palace Bovine Pill to fight the virus, a traditional Chinese medicine made with buffalo horn and the gallstones of cattle.

It is not just our netas who seem to have lost it. Take the spiritualists. Of both kinds—the ones that believe in holy water and the others that believe in Johnnie Walker. In Russia, clerics are going around the city sprinkling holy water on cars and drivers alike. In India, infamous tippler Kulwant Singh went viral after posting a video on social media claiming that drinking holy water, the kind with 40 per cent alcohol, is the right treatment for Covid-19. This proves that you believe in the cures that you want to believe in. Corona remedies are subject to your likes and dislikes. If you are in the Army, for example, you will probably end up believing that shooting an isolated sample of the virus with an AK-47 will kill it. If you are a stripper, you will believe thatì well, you get the drift.

The best conspiracy theories about the virus, however, are the ones that are hatched on social media. That is because Facebook has a revenue model that cashes in on idiocy. (If you don’t believe me, ask Hillary Clinton.) There was the post that went viral about volcanic ash from the Taal volcano in the Philippines having disinfectant properties. Or the hashtag #nomeat-nocoronavirus that trended on Twitter, claiming that vegetarianism was the cure to Covid-19. Everything from anti-coronavirus mattresses to Sri Lankan herbal drinks are being sold online as Covid remedies. Eleven people in Andhra Pradesh were hospitalised after eating the fruit of the Datura plant; a TikTok video had said that the fruit can kill coronavirus.

My parents and I became virus-free a few weeks ago. During this trying time, I learnt an important lesson: Doctors make the worst patients. My parents became scared and needy like little children. I finally had the opportunity to try out their strategy of passive-aggression on them. That is when I realised why there were so many superstitions and unscientific cures to Covid-19 floating around. It is because people are scared. In reality, it is not superstition that markets these products. It is fear. There is a huge, untapped business opportunity here. Perhaps canny businessmen have already started realising this. We hear that the next Patanjali product might be an under-eye night cream called ‘Darr-onil’.

Fun with puns

Comedians are mining gold from the pandemic, and nowhere was it more evident than at this year’s virtual Emmys, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. He performed to an audience consisting of celebrity cardboard cutouts. “Well, hello and welcome to the Pandemmys! Thank you for risking everything to be here. Thank me for risking everything to be here… You know what they say: You can’t have a virus without a host,” he quipped. Answering the question on everyone’s minds, about how the winners were actually going to get the awards, Kimmel said: “Here’s how this is gonna happen—if you win, a guy will drive to your house and chuck the Emmy through your window.” The comedian killed it, despite his audience being rather… er, stiff!