Before you unthinkingly pop those two Ashwagandha pills from the bottle you plucked off the neighbouring chemist’s front desk at the last minute, along with your zinc-fortified B-complex, consider the macro picture again. Never before has medical science been so beset by a life-upending situation; never did it have to expend all its wiles in rallying so vigorously from the baseline. Of the entire landmass on our big blue planet, only a handful of Pacific islands, we’re told, have been Covid-free so far. The rest, like surfers, are still trying to stay upright while navigating the crests and troughs of the pandemic. Yet, unlike that helpless situation we were in a year ago, an immune response is only two vaccine doses away. Can that stop transmission? Nobody’s yet pressed the button on that buzzer round poser. Nevertheless, that’s a crucial one: will immunity passports be the next gate passes to a safer world?
Therein lies an elusive piece in the entire Covid jigsaw puzzle, and a term that’s everywhere—immunity. It crops up in most attempts to explain the greys that cover the canvas. For the moment, all that tends to subsume into the main battle tank against Covid—the vaccine. Plenty of vaccine platforms still in investigation, potentially improved ones, all trying various routes, besides the 10 or so already market-ready. India’s pharmaceutical heft places it smack in the middle of all this. But what about that other front back home that Covid has spurred into activity: the arcane realm of traditional medicine? Especially Ayurveda? A name that swims into soft focus for most Indians, swaddled in images of grandma remedies, ideas of a pure past and pure being, and the secret magic of nature—brought on by seventies TV advertisements for herbal toothpaste, if nothing else? Why’s there suddenly so much foam and lather around that name in Covid season?