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Table of Contents
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 23  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 538-539
A parable of the mask: Stay calm, be a hummingbird

Department of Anesthesia and Intensive Care, Narayana Institute of Cardiac Sciences, Narayana Health City, Bangalore, Karnataka, India

Click here for correspondence address and email

Date of Submission07-Aug-2020
Date of Acceptance18-Aug-2020
Date of Web Publication19-Oct-2020

How to cite this article:
Nair HC. A parable of the mask: Stay calm, be a hummingbird. Ann Card Anaesth 2020;23:538-9

How to cite this URL:
Nair HC. A parable of the mask: Stay calm, be a hummingbird. Ann Card Anaesth [serial online] 2020 [cited 2021 Jul 29];23:538-9. Available from:

To the Editor,

We are all living now, in the dark cloud of viral contagion. Our world has changed, our routines are distorted, and we have felt fear or seen tragedy from a close quarter. We are beginning to understand that it may worsen before we go back to anything resembling the normalcy of last year. After the rigors of lockdown, some are trying to get back to normal life, disregarding the fact that the world is as yet, far away from being normal. Some choose to bury their heads deep in the sand and hope it will all blow away by the time they resurface. This is not entirely their fault – it's a feature of the remarkable human capability for adaptation. Given time, we can adapt to anything. Large communities live and thrive on the banks of a sewer in a big city. Couples can live together for years with not a civil word exchanged. The heart once considered the most important organ has been pushed off the pedestal by the lungs, and the pulmonologists are taking the limelight. But the heart will keep on beating and will take center stage again when these dark clouds blow over.

This is adaptation—we have adapted to partial work, less money, more time, and face masks.

The mask—never before, has a single relatively worthless object, had such an important role to play in the unfolding drama of a pandemic. From fancy respirators to the humble cloth mask recycled from your mother's bedsheets, they are the unsung, unworn heroes of this pandemic. Worn well, it fits tight on the face, and covers both the nose and the mouth. But every so often, we reduce it to a joke—wear it around our necks; or just below our nose—so we can breathe easy. We pull them down to speak to someone so they can hear us clearly. But have we really stopped to consider why we are wearing them, if we do not allow it to do its job?

Let us think about this virus for a minute—the mighty Corona—that has brought the world to its knees. Corona is nothing without its host. Without us, it is just an inanimate object—a microscopic dust. It needs us—a host—to survive, replicate, and wreak havoc. If we don't allow it entry into our body, it will die and disappear. But we're generous people who believe in 'Athithi Devo Bhava' (Sanskrit for—We treat our guests as divinity).[1] When the virus lies there suspended in the air from the breath of an infected person, a kind soul will come by without a mask, breathe in the Corona virus, and give it a new lease of life.

Of course, there are messages and government advisories everywhere. Why then, do we still go about without a mask, or wear it inappropriately, so that it's useless?

Because it is human nature—adaptability. We adapt to a new situation while figuring out the easiest way to do so. Just like taking the short-cut to our destination and wearing our masks round our necks and chins. For those of us, struggling to take a decent breath with a properly worn mask, standing across from people with mouth or nose exposed, is an annoyance. The stark reality is that the masks prevent viruses from exit more efficiently than they prevent entry. By wearing a mask, we protect others more effectively than we protect ourselves. So, if you find yourself within a few meters of a person whose mouth and nose you can see, you ought to tell them to cover it, because it puts you at risk.

Around this time, the lockdown had eased, and I heard African folklore about a hummingbird.[2] Once, when a forest fire was raging, all the animals stood by watching the destruction helplessly, while the hummingbird tirelessly flew back and forth from a nearby lake, carrying little drops of water in its beak, to pour into the fire. The elephants, chimps and other animals who could carry much more water, stood by helplessly and told the hummingbird, that what it did scarcely mattered because the fire was too big. The hummingbird continued saying, “I am doing the best I can”.

I decided to be the hummingbird and get people around me to wear the mask properly.

Every day on my way to work at the hospital, I would admonish the maskless people I came across. I would question, threaten, cajole them and if need be, pull rank on them to make them wear a mask. There were many such people around – in the streets, shops, even buses. I would get indignant and upset at seeing people with their faces on display.

Becoming a hummingbird, I learned, made little difference, but it was messing with my peace. Then one day, on radio, I came upon a talk show on mythology and spirituality and the message I took away from the long discourse was summed up in its last sentence— “Calm down! You are not going to change the world.”

So now, blending the two together, I had the perfect philosophy to follow – I still tell every unmasked person I encounter, to put on their masks. I do it now, with a kind word or a single gesture, and then, I move on.

I have decided to stay calm and be the hummingbird.

Our world needs more hummingbirds just now, and although it may seem like just a drop of water into the forest fire, it can still make a difference.

Because after all, drops do make an ocean.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

   References Top

The Taittiriya Upanishad: With the Commentaries of Sri Sankaracarya, Sri Suresvaracarya and Sri Vidyaranya (An old and rare book). [cited 18 Aug 2020]. Available from:  Back to cited text no. 1
Wangari Maathai – “I will be a hummingbird”. The Kid Should See This. 2014 [cited 18 Aug 2020]. Available from:  Back to cited text no. 2

Correspondence Address:
Hema C Nair
Department of Anesthesia and Intensive Care, Narayana Institute of Cardiac Sciences, #258/A, Bommasandra Industrial Area, Anekal Taluk, Bangalore - 560 099, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/aca.ACA_196_20

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