CORONA DIARIES 11: In Unusual Battle, Many Shades Of Heroism

What can a person forced to stay at home possibly do? With going to office suddenly turning passé and stepping out becoming hazardous to health, those trying to break the coronavirus chain through social distancing could well revive the old tradition of writing on their diaries. In our special series, Corona Diaries, New Delhi-based senior journalist Akshaya Mishra captures the subtleties of life and the times we are in.

What turns an ordinary Joe or Jane into a superhero? Circumstance. And that critical decision to stand up and be counted. Grit and gumption get aligned in due course. Add to it the readiness to sacrifice self for the greater good.

Such superheroes don’t come in fancy capes or colourful latex suits like in the comic books. None of them has a gift at shape-shifting or time-travelling. None was bitten by an irradiated spider or overexposed to gamma rays or born in an alien planet like Krypton. They cannot crawl up walls, turn green and devastatingly muscular when caught in intense emotions or fly in the air like a bird or a plane. They are nondescript people, one hardly distinguishable from the other in a crowd, from everyday life. You miss them even when you are among a sea of them. They are ants in ant colonies, too similar, too unassuming and too self-effacing to attract interest.

However, watch them transform in times of crises, you realise ordinary is extraordinary too. When a battle rages, they are convinced, giving up as an option is simply off the table. Deep into a war with the Covid-19 pandemic, the world has millions of superheroes on the frontline. They compel us to revise our calcified mental construct of a hero.


The iron gates stay shut all day, reducing the entire apartment complex into some kind of a prison. They open a crack only occasionally to allow human activity categorised as emergencies. No outsider is allowed in, no consignment from courier guys pass through lest the corona virus gets a ride to homes.

Two men at the gates keep the apartment cut off from the world outside. One is an old man- the wear, the tear and the fatigue of a long life etched deep in his unsmiling face-who should be enjoying a retired life with grandchildren; the other a young man in his late 20s, reasonably educated and perhaps should be in a better station in life. Both have been on gate duty for about a fortnight doing 24×7 shifts. Their replacements are stuck in villages across Delhi’s borders or in some red zone in the city.

You meet them early in the morning, in the day if you are moving beyond the gate and at times late in the night if you are in the mood for a stroll within the compound. They greet you with tired eyes, handkerchiefs covering the rest of the face, from the mandated distance. “Why don’t you take a break?” You ask the duo. They need one because as the only human interface between those within the gates and those outside and receiver of goods supposed to be home delivered, they stand considerable chance of contacting the rogue virus. Plus, overwork can render them weak.

“We would love to. Haven’t met family for a long time. But who will take care of things here?” The oldman replies. “If we demand then our agency may send in other guards, but they will take time to get used to the place. It may inconvenience the residents. Poor fellows. Have to stay inside homes the whole day. It’s better we carry on,” he adds.

Simple and uncomplaining. Heroism does not always need dramatic words.


Angels present themselves in several shapes during a crisis. Come health emergency, we have nurses, the caring, humble, affable busy bees in healthcare institutions, a lot which usually stays invisible on people’s radar in everyday life. We acknowledge their existence only when hospialised or attending someone else. Even then we tend to forget the healing power of their smile, their touch, their ability to give you a patient hearing and their soothing words.

In the world’s fight against the deadly novel corona virus, they are our frontline warriors. Their biggest weapon: compassion. Thousands of them fall sick everyday. Attending to the affected is a risk they run despite the knowledge that they may contact the virus at some point and get indisposed. Death as a possibility is not remote. None of this has deterred them though. After the Covid-19 runs its course and the world becomes a normal place again, showering the angels with gratitude will be in order.

Heroism can come packaged in selflessness and tenderness too.


They are feared. They are reviled. They are usually a subject of mockery, referred to as ‘thullas’, ‘pandus’ and several vernacular variations of these terms. Yet when a crisis, any crisis, emerges they are expected to be the society’s bulwark and do the impossible. The weapon in their hands commands reverence, but hardly so the people wielding them. It is time the world learnt to treat the constabulary with respect. No service is as underrated as that of constables.

As lockdown continues, they are again in a job that makes them unpopular: making people obey rules. Their instrument of authority, the lathi, is in free use. They have to deal with crowds who are supposed to stay home and play a role in tracing the Covid-19 affected who refuse to report themselves before the authorities. The distance of the lathi is no guarantee against infection. They have to bear the brunt of public ire too. At some point, the selfless service of these lot in a thankless job needs appreciation too.

Heroism is not always feelgood, a hero needs to have the guts to be unfriendly too.


We have fielded an army of ordinary people against an extraordinary adversary. With no ammunition to blast off the virus yet, the real challenge is to stop it from throwing life into disarray. Our victory is in letting life be normal. So far the rag-tag army of vegetable vendors, grocers, milkmen, delivery boys and people in similar professions has performed with aplomb. Hats off to them.

To end, a quote from Batman which appears apt: “A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple as putting a coat around a little boy’s shoulders to let him know the world hadn’t ended.”

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