Since March 2020, Covid-19 has killed more than five million people around the world. But on the walls of Mumbai, the lethal coronavirus has mutated into a cutesy moppet, easily spritzed into oblivion if only citizens would wear masks and wash their hands regularly.

That became evident with the lifting of lockdown as I pedalled through Mumbai in a futile attempt to tame the flab on my belly. Though I’d used a bicycle to run chores around my extended neighbourhood for much of my life, the thickening traffic forced me off the road some years ago. But when my friend Rajesh generously gave me his spare bike, I began to rediscover the pleasures of getting lost in bylanes I’d never seen before.

Suddenly, I began to see them everywhere: murals extolling the masked heroism of the doctors and police staffers who had worked tireless through the pandemic – and with public-health messages exhorting citizens to follow Covid-appropriate behaviour.

These will disappear when the pandemic abates so, for a lark, I decided to shoot them with my phone.

Soon, my jaunts assumed purpose. My tummy wasn’t getting any trimmer but I was now crisscrossing the city, staring as keenly at the walls as at the potholes on the road.

In Wadala, I found a purposeful canister of sanitiser closing in on a fleeing virus.

Wadala. Credit: Naresh Fernandes

In Byculla, Kate Winslet and Leonardo di Caprio, appropriately masked and socially distanced, seemed to be warning that the planet was doomed, just like the boat they were on.

Just past Bandra bazaar, Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, was toying with the virus like a football.

Bandra. Credit: Naresh Fernandes

In October, after the monsoon rain washed Mumbai’s walls, I flipped through my phone, glad that I had assembled this eccentric album of Covid murals that had vanished but relieved that the pandemic was receding. It was time to find a new obsession.

And then, just like that, Omicron reared its head. The artists were back with new work. Fresh restrictions on gatherings were imminent. It’s unrelenting and enervating.

Byculla. Credit: Naresh Fernandes

Alongside the pictures of anthromorphic viruses on my phone, though, is another set of images that offer some solace.

These are pictures I’ve shot of Mumbai’s “plague crosses”, most of them erected between 1896 and 1900. As the bubonic plague laid waste to the city, these crosses were implorations in stone for protection from the disease. In those four years, the plague left 55,460 people dead in the city and prompted hundreds of thousands to move away.

Plague cross, Bandra. Credit: Naresh Fernandes

When the plague was eventually quelled with the help of a vaccine developed by a Russian bacteriologist named Waldemar Haffkine, a new set of crosses came up around the city – this time to express gratitude at having been spared.

They are a reminder that this too shall pass.

Bandra. Credit: Naresh Fernandes

Read all the articles in the Comfort zone series here.