In the third week of February, as the covid-19 epidemic was still flaring in China, I arrived in Kolkata, India. I woke up to a sweltering morning—the black kites outside my hotel room were circling upward, lifted by the warming currents of air—and I went to visit a shrine to the goddess Shitala. Her name means “the cool one”; as the myth has it, she arose from the cold ashes of a sacrificial fire. The heat that she is supposed to diffuse is not just the fury of summer that hits the city in mid-June but also the inner heat of inflammation. She is meant to protect children from smallpox, heal the pain of those who contract it, and dampen the fury of a pox epidemic.