We are witnessing a raging pandemic, with resurgent spikes of Covid-19 in several countries. It is not possible to predict what shape this pandemic will take in the coming months, or when a viable vaccine will be made available. Therefore, we need to observe strict compliance of social distancing, wearing of masks in public, basic hygiene including handwashing, and open-windows ventilation as the basic preventive measures to avoid infection from the virus, SARS-CoV-2. No doubt, the vast majority of people are observing these restrictions meticulously, even if under local government impositions. However, we also notice defiance by some people who either have “response fatigue” or are nonchalant about wearing masks or observing social distancing norms. Such defaulters can become super-spreaders. Apart from imposing the rules, we also need to cajole and convince these people to become compliant by involving social crusaders who know the local conditions and whose words carry conviction. Is national pride, China tension behind India’s coronavirus vaccine push? I recall the strict social distancing imposed by Biji, my mother, at our home for a full two years after my father, whom I called Taaya, contracted tuberculosis. It was only relaxed on April 19, 1961 when he died at age 43, shrinking our small family of three to just the two. I was 14 years old. Taaya, who worked as an accountant in our small town Khanna in Punjab, India , lost his job in 1954 because he refused to make tax-evading manipulations for his employer. He found other jobs, but would soon get sacked due to his reputation of being far too honest. Biji would pester him to earn some money. In desperation, he would spend hours at a nearby tea-shop, where he would also smoke a cigarette or two. Dejected at not being able to run his small family, he would spend months at an ashram called Ved Mandir at Amargarh, his place of birth, where he would learn traditional medicine and meditate. During all this, Taaya started losing his appetite and his weight dropped to just 37kg. He would also have bouts of coughing. Medical tests confirmed in early 1959 that he had TB. I believe he contracted it not so much from the smoking but because of malnutrition during prolonged periods of joblessness. Already living with an uneasy sense of foreboding, Biji stoically geared up as a carer. Apart from getting Taaya treated with the drug streptomycin, Biji also had to make sure that she protected herself and me from the infection, using the only three weapons available – keeping distance from Taaya, covering the face while interacting with him, and maintaining good hygiene and sanitation. We had just moved to a small dwelling – a room and a kitchen received as a gift from my maternal grandmother, to ameliorate our financial burdens. Biji shifted Taaya’s bed to the small kitchen and sealed the connecting door, doing the cooking either outside or in our room. Strict instructions were given to me not to go close to Taaya, and vice versa. As a young boy, I would see an undercurrent of tension, distress, and a sense of urgency in Biji’s attitude, to avoid either of us contracting the TB infection. I was precious to her, after having lost all four of my siblings already to malnutrition and infant mortality. Biji would cook Taaya’s meals and deliver the plate to him after covering her face with her chunni (long cloth), and minimising the period of contact. The utensils he used were kept in his room only, and were sterilised by boiling. Taaya was asked not to spit openly in public, and to cover his mouth when coughing or sneezing. Biji also asked the members of our extended family next door to avoid contact with Taaya, except from a distance. Surfaces in our small single-room house were regularly wiped clean. To a present-day reader, all this reminds of the current precautions taken against the spread of Covid-19. Among the infectious diseases, TB still kills a lot of people – 1.5 million deaths in 2018, according to the World Health Organisation. But unlike Covid-19, TB can be treated with antibiotics, and we have a vaccine, BCG (Bacillus Calmette – Guérin), a single shot of which during infancy results in lifelong protection. Until we have a vaccine for Covid-19, social distancing, hand washing, contact tracing, testing and self-isolation are the only precautions which can save us from being infected by the coronavirus. I often imagine Biji, with her gritty countenance, asking total strangers why they are not wearing a mask. Taaya would go for long walks outdoors. One day, a boy from the neighbourhood came running to tell us that Taaya was sitting under a tree spitting up blood. Guessing that his end was nearing, Biji instructed that Taaya’s own cot be brought from his room to be used as a stretcher. To avoid the spread of infection, she ensured it was placed in the open, a small distance from our dwelling. He was conscious and looking at us, but by the time a doctor arrived, he was dead. Biji became a widow at age 36. The death of my father was a traumatic experience for me, but I studied hard to earn government scholarships and graduated in physics. I joined the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai in 1966, retiring formally in 2010 after occupying several senior positions as a scientist. During the current Covid-19 pandemic, I often imagine Biji, with her gritty countenance, asking total strangers why they are not wearing a mask, or reprimanding a group of people for not maintaining a minimum social distance. I had already seen her tackling several difficult situations. But how did she get to a position where she could extract compliance and discipline from people around her? The odds were heavily loaded against Biji for most of her wedded life. She lost four children to infant mortality. When Taaya lost his job, she struggled to run our home by stitching clothes or knitting cane chairs. One day in 1956, we had no vegetables, lentils, potatoes or cooking oil left at home. She gave me a one-anna coin to go and buy 200 grams of raw tomatoes, sprinkled salt on them, and we ate them with chapattis (Indian bread). Alone, she braved deprivation but rarely succumbed to hopelessness. Each hardship only made her more determined to face life in a bold, liberated and result-oriented manner. After Taaya’s death, the first thing Biji did was to clear her long-pending middle-school exams to become eligible to join a year-long Gram Sevika (rural social worker) orientation course. Armed with her determination, good general knowledge and high IQ, she finished it successfully and joined the Punjab government service. She enjoyed her Gram Sevika job, under which she would be given charge of three neighbouring villages with a directive to conduct a nursery school for young children; interact with housewives to introduce them to improved sanitation methods; train them to make pickles at home; and help them install a government subsidised smokeless hearth (a chulha). Her job also included encouraging the village folk to have more airy and ventilated homes by making inexpensive alterations. Another health care task accomplished by her was to ensure vaccinations of newborns in her villages, to protect them lifelong from infectious diseases. Lastly, she would help farmers procure government subsidised steel silos to store their grains, so they could avoid gunny bags which were prone to pilferage by rats. She would be transferred every three years to take charge of another set of three villages. In all, at least 25 villages benefited from her social crusades. She was popular with rural folk due to her practical approach and useful suggestions. During her long years of service, she refused promotions, saying she liked what she was doing and did not wish to handle senior jobs. Some years after her retirement, a detailed medical check-up showed that both her lungs were infected with cancer. It was detected at a late stage and chemo- or radiation-therapy would not have been of much help. Prudently, she spent her last four months with our extended family, in peace, breathing her last on April 21, 1997, at age 74. All through my childhood and adolescence, Biji was worried to the point of paranoia that I would catch some disease and may succumb to it, and she would lose her only remaining child. The credit for saving me from TB, of course, goes to her. Until a vaccine to protect against Covid-19 becomes freely available, the world needs social crusaders like Biji who can communicate and convince all people in their respective regions to cooperate and observe every measure suggested to prevent the spread of infection by coronavirus.