(A Quarterly International Peer-reviewed Refereed e-Journal
Devoted to English Language and Literature)
The COVID-19 has dominated the present scenario and created destruction by making the heap of graves all around the world. But, man who never accepts defeat fights back. He gains strength through reading empathetic literature. Swami Vivekanada’s “The Plague Manifesto” is relevant as it has all the clues which are necessary to fight against the monster Corona. If man follows it, he will be free from the fear and gain balance of mind. Modi’s Saptapadi is in tune with Vivekananda’s “The Plague Manifesto” which mirrors man’s past as well as directs him by showing the future how he can bounce back and regain his former glory.
Keywords: COVID-19, Saptapadi, Arogya Setu App., Emotional support, Empathy, Fearlessness
“But, man is not made for defeat,” he said, “A man can be destroyed but not defeated” (103). This is the most powerful excerpt from Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. It strikes and makes man aware of the inner self. Man gains strength with time and fights back. The COVID-19 has made him realise the uselessness of the materialistic approach to life. He has learnt to be more humanitarian in spirit and approach towards life than ever. No doubt, the COVID-19 has dominated the present scenario but it is the man who will get victory over the unseen Coronavirus.
The present day scenario is painted with despair and desolation. Rays of hope are darkened by the black clouds of COVID-19. This situation is not the new one to man who has seen various pandemics in life and with his inner strength he has fought and got victory. Swami Vivekananda, the enlightened soul faces the epidemic in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1898. He issues the Plague Manifesto to combat the adverse situation. “The Plague Manifesto” of Swami Vivekananda is more relevant in the present day world and highly recommended to the people. The people should follow its each and every word if they wish to come out of this disappointing situation. The feelings of frustration, loneliness and destruction have badly affected the mind of the people. Soumya Das writes:
As the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic about 121 years ago when another pandemic plague broke out in Kolkata and other parts of India, Swami Vivekananda wrote a unique advisory for the Kolkata residents called the Plague Mainifesto. The booklet was written in 1898 soon plague broke out in Kolkata.
The plague takes Calcutta in its embrace in May 1898 and creates mass hysteria. Vivekananda, with his disciples and Sister Nivedita, helps the afflicted and attempts to create a genuine atmosphere of help, support, sympathy and cooperation among the masses. The relief operation becomes the source of relief to the people. Vivekananda’s “The Plague Manifesto” proves to be the sun which makes the people aware and thus removes the darkness created by the clouds of plague. This manifesto is the need of the hour in present scenario. This manifesto is the sun which will make the dark clouds of COVID-19 disappear resulting in the light of the sun, i.e. the light of hope.
“The Plague Manifesto” begins with “Om Salutations to Bhagavan Shri Ramakrishna” and addresses the people with “Brothers of Calcutta.” No doubt, the address is to brothers of Calcutta but it has universal appeal for all the people of the world. This is true in case of all the people around the world as they suffer from the fear of COVID-19. The COVID-19 is the monster. This monster is approaching to devour the people. Only faith, trust, self-help and determination will save the humanity from this monster.
“The Plague Manifesto” has the seven points. These seven points remind the people Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s seven steps—Saptapadi which he gave to the people to save from the evil effects of COVID-19. The seven steps—“looking after the elderly people, covering the face with mask and following social distancing, providing help to the needy and vulnerable, having empathic attitude towards the workers, respecting the Corona warriors, boosting immunity according to the tips given by AYUSH ministry, and downloading the Arogya Setu Application” have somewhere connection to Swami Vivekananda’s Plague Manifesto.
Now, all the seven points of “The Plague Manifesto” are being discussed here. The Plague Manifesto begins with:
We feel happy when you are happy, and we suffer when you suffer. Therefore, during these days of extreme adversity, we are striving and ceaselessly praying for your welfare and an easy way to save you from disease and the fear of an epidemic. (2636)
Its beginning reveals Vivekananda’s empathic approach. What the people need is empathy, not sympathy. The words “We feel happy when you are happy, and we suffer when you suffer” connect directly to the hearts of the people. Vivekananda reveals his protecting and caring attitude towards the people and associates himself with them. In their happiness lies his happiness. In their suffering lies his suffering. No doubt, the days that the people of Calcutta are passing through are full of adversity but Vivekananda, with his disciples, prays for them and tries to find out the way to face the epidemic. In the present scenario, people also need empathy, not sympathy. This very empathetic attitude will give them a will power and make them realise the feeling of togetherness in adversity. Prayer is the way to save from the fear of the disease. Tennyson emphasises the importance of prayer when he says: “More things are wrought by prayers / Than this world dreams of” (116). For Vivekananda, the masses are the embodiment of God. He does not mind if he, with his disciples, dies while serving and nursing them. Service to the common man is the Narayan seva. He asks the people not to be panic. This fear is without any foundation. What they need is to depend on God. If they remain calm, they will certainly find out a way to solve the problem.
Vivekananda asks the people not to have any kind of fear because this fear is without any foundation. He assures them that the government authorities are doing their work to help the people. Hence, their fear is baseless. He exhorts them to “give up this false fear”, asks them to have “faith in the infinite compassion of God” and inspires them to “gird loins and enter the field of action” (2636). What is important at this time is that the people should live “pure and clean lives” and if they do so, disease will disappear. When he says that “disease, fear of an epidemic, etc., will vanish into thin air by His grace”, he gives them the message of the fusion of Karma and Bhakti.
Further, Vivekananda offers some pieces of advice and asks the people to follow them. Cleanliness is essential. He asks them to keep the house and its premises neat and clean. The people should avoid eating stale, spoiled food. Nutritious diet will boost their immune system and give them strength to fight the disease. He knows that “a weak body is more susceptible to disease” (2636). He makes them mentally prepared saying that a man comes on this earth and dies after performing the allotted task. When a man is to die, why should he live in fear? Cowards die every moment. Fear is not outside. Fear lies within—within the mind. The need is to make the mind strong with positive thoughts. He says: “Always keep the mind cheerful. Everyone will die once. Cowards suffer the pangs of death again and again, solely due to the fear in their own minds” (2636). He traces the cause of fear and finds that the man who leads an unethical life and earns his livelihood unethically always lives in fear. Such unethical behaviour should be avoided. He asks the people to avoid the two enemies—anger and lust. Every man should abstain from the two great enemies. He advises: “During the period of epidemic, abstain from anger and from lust — even if you are householders” (2636). The Bhagavad Gita is Vivekananda’s guide. In Chapter 16, Verse 21, Krishna tells Arjuna:
tri-vidhaṁ narakasyedaṁ dvāraṁ nāśhanam ātmanaḥ
kāmaḥ krodhas tathā lobhas tasmād etat trayaṁ tyajet (16.21)
There are three gates leading to this hell—lust, anger, and greed. Every sane man should give these up, for they lead to the degradation of the soul. (676)
Thus, he asks everyone to be away from lust and anger. Further, he asks the people not to pay any attention to the rumours. He assures them that the government will vaccinate only those who wish to be vaccinated. He understands the pain and suffering of the poor people. So, he will do his best in treating the afflicted patients. The Mother of the Universe is with them.
What Vivekananda writes in the point six (which has eight sub-points) of the Plague Manifesto is truly applicable in the present scenario. To fight against COVID-19, cleanliness is mandatory. Washing hands, wearing masks, eating the nutritious food to increase immunity, keeping the positive attitude, removing fear from the mind, earning the livelihood ethically, abstaining from anger and from lust, paying no attention to rumour, helping attitude of the government authorities or Corona warriors, and treating the Corona patients irrespective of caste, colour and religion etc. are some measures which are quite applicable in the present day situation to fight against the Corona monster.
Vivekananda clearly mentions the address and asks the people to apply if they do not find any help. He also assures them to offer even the monetary help. The same is quite true to the Indian government. The authorities have issued the numbers and addresses on which the people may apply if they are hungry or sick or have any kind of problem. Faith is the thing that will become the rock. Faith comes out of religious faith. Vivekananda asks the people to sing Nama Sankirtanam every evening everywhere. This chanting of the Nama Sankirtanam will remove the fear of epidemic from the mind of the people. He knows the importance of prayer which makes man humble and strong enough to fight against any adverse circumstances in life. Prayer creates faith. Faith is what a man needs today. He needs faith—faith in himself and faith in God. Hence, a man needs to have faith in order to be strong within.
Man is a man. He has faced many challenges and got victory. He has some transcendental qualities. The need is to make him aware of these divine qualities. The lockdown period has given him enough time to ponder over his situation. This period has given him challenges which he has turned into opportunities. He has learnt not to disturb the balance of nature. The man needs to have the qualities which are mentioned in the Verses from 1 to 3 of Chapter 6 of the Bhagavad-Gita. Here are the three verses:
abhayaḿ sattva-saḿśuddhir jñāna-yoga-vyavasthitiḥ
dānaḿ damaś ca yajñaś ca svādhyāyas tapa ārjavam (Chapter 16. Text 1)
ahiḿsā satyam akrodhas tyāgaḥ śāntir apaiśunam
dayā bhūteṣv aloluptvaḿ mārdavaḿ hrīr acāpalam (Chapter 16. Text 2)
tejaḥ kṣamā dhṛtiḥ śaucam adroho nāti-mānitā
bhavanti sampadaḿ daivīm abhijātasya bhārata (Chapter 16.3 Text)
The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: Fearlessness; purification of one’s existence; cultivation of spiritual knowledge; charity; self-control; performance of sacrifice; study of the Vedas; austerity; simplicity; nonviolence; truthfulness; freedom from anger; renunciation; tranquillity; aversion to faultfinding; compassion for all living entities; freedom from covetousness; gentleness; modesty; steady determination; vigor; forgiveness; fortitude; cleanliness; and freedom from envy and from the passion for honor—these transcendental qualities, O son of Bharata, belong to godly men endowed with divine nature. (655-56)
COVID-19 has come to the man as thesis. It has created despair and hopelessness among the people. There is no vaccine now but, in future, he will make. But, right now, people are panic and feel frustrated. The stage is the stage of antithesis. This virus is not going to disappear soon. It will remain for some more time as the report says. Man is on the path of learning how to cope with this virus. He will certainly reach the stage of synthesis and soon find the solution of this pandemic created by the COVID-19.
Vivekananda wrote “The Plague Manifesto” in Bengali first. It gave the emotionally support to the people of Calcutta to fight against the plague. The Plague Manifesto, which is written in simple, effective and persuasive and touching way, is quite applicable in the present time. It has proved its relevance through its emotional touch and the promises that it fulfils in the adverse circumstance. It supports them mentally, physically and monetary. The Indian government, with the official authorities, is on the path of providing help and support to all the people—rich or poor. What a man needs in the present circumstances is balance of mind. He has to conquer the mind. If he does so, he will certainly conquer the fear. Self-help is the foundation which makes him strong enough to know his strength within. He has to acquire knowledge—knowledge of increasing immunity, knowledge of coping with the disease, knowledge of avoiding the disease by washing hands, wearing mask and maintaining social distance, knowledge of online working from home and knowledge of working in the virtual world. He must remember that he is a man and “man”, in the words of Ernest Hemingway, “is not made for defeat” (103).
In a real sense, Vivekananda’s “The Plague Manifesto” provides an emotional support to the people and hence its applicability to the present COVID-19 scenario is acknowledged. Some men like doctors and soldiers who are in the battle ground to face Corona are putting their lives at risk. These warriors do not care for themselves but care for the common people. They do not mind if they die while serving the people. Swami Vivekananda writes in the Plague Manifesto saying “even we perish while serving and nursing you, we will consider ourselves fortunate.” 2636). It is really tragic that today the Corona warriors are being beaten or stoned. For whom are they risking their lives? If the people contribute nothing, it is better for them to remain silent and join their hands with those who are fighting against Corona for their welfare. Mark Vivekananda’s words which are quite relevant for every man:
We humbly pray to you—please do not panic due to unfounded fear. Depend upon God and calmly try to find the best means to solve the problem. Otherwise, join hands with those who are doing that very thing. (2636)
“The Plague Manifesto” is the mirror in which the common man can peep into the past and learn how the people faced the challenges and how they slapped the face of the plague. This is the mirror for them to see their future. If they do not follow the guidelines, no one will save them. They must remember that they are human being first. Let them come together and join hands to fight against COVID-19 and slap the monster Corona forcefully otherwise it will slap them. This is the time to take action. The only situation which remains for everyman is: do or die. But, man will not accept death. He will not accept his defeat easily. He will act. He knows that action is the only way that will take him towards victory over COVID-19.
Bhaktivedanta, Swami Prabhupada. Bhagavad-Gita As It is. Bombay: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1972, rpt. 1986.
Das, Soumya. “121 Years before COVID-19 Swami Vivekananda Suggested Ways to Fight Plague.” Deccan Herald. April 22, 2020.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1952.
Tennyson, Alfred. The Collected Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Poetry Library, 1994.
Vivekananda, Swami. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda.
About the Author:
Dakshta Arora is a Gold Medalist Postgraduate in English. After graduating with Honours in Electronics and Communication Engineering, she has switched over to Humanities because of her keen interest in literature. She has got her scholarly papers and book reviews published in reputed journals. She resides at B-72, Deendayal Nagar, Phase II, Near Sai Temple, Moradabad, U.P. She can be contacted at email@example.com.