I know I had said I would post poems in the month of May. But I posted one and stopped. It seemed insensitive of me to continue posting poems in the light of everything that was happening around. If I am to post poems, I must first share my thoughts on the current situation in India. What I know is based on newspaper reports, WhatsApp messages and calls from friends. I find the news on television disconcerting.
While the number of Covid cases are still high in Maharashtra, the number of new cases in Mumbai have gone down. This could be because of the curfew that was implemented on the 5th of April, followed by a mini-lockdown that started from the 15th of April. Its not as strict as the lockdown we had last year because this time the government has not stopped domestic help from coming to work. Shops selling essential items are also open from 7.00 a.m. to 11.00 a.m. Vegetable and fruits vendors too are allowed to sell their produce until 11.00 a.m. Malls however have been closed. They shouldn’t have been because I don’t think they were the cause of the spread. But somehow malls seem to be the first to be closed down. It’s a way of saying ‘We are under a lockdown,’ I suppose.
Today, after three weeks of being locked indoors, we finally stepped down to go for a walk around the building. There were others walking too- most of them with masks on. There were still however walking around without a mask- well-educated folk. Such irresponsible behavior may have frustrated me a year ago. But it does not anymore. After one year of this dreaded virus, I have realized that there is no point in getting frustrated or blaming the government, the people or the system for the rise in cases. The onus lies with the individual first. Each person must take care of themselves. As a citizen, it is simply each one’s duty to do so. We are after-all in a state of war where the enemy attacks but is not visible. It is a war in which we cannot retaliate. All we can do is save ourselves by not adding more pressure on the already crumbling healthcare system. It sounds simple and doable and yet over the last few months we’ve proved incapable of doing it.
Everybody inside and outside the country has one question – From October 2020 to March 2021, we were doing ok with a handful of cases in a country of 135 million people. Come April and its like we had an explosion of sorts. The cases started rocketing, younger people started contracting Covid, there was a shortage of hospital beds and oxygen in hospitals. People died because of the lack of treatment. One month later and the nightmare continues in some States in India. So what happened? When everything seemed to be going alright, what suddenly changed?
I suppose the answers lie somewhere in the following questions-
a) What was the need to have the elections and campaigning in the midst of Covid? The images of leaders standing on the dias with their masks pulled below their nose and the public packed like ants at the venue was shocking. One would think that Covid was a joke or it did not exist. In states that had the elections like West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam the cases were double the number prior to the elections.
b) What was the need to have the Kumbh Mela? – ‘Mela’ means carnival and this one was very much like one. It was supposed to be an auspicious moment that comes once in eleven years. So, they threw caution to the wind and seers and disciples from all across India made their way to Haridwar to take a dip in the Holy Ganges. When some very important seers were tested positive with some even losing their lives, the mela was called off. But by that time, the damage had been done. However, believers may argue that the cases were on the rise in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Haryana, Delhi and Gujarat and it had nothing to do with the Kumbh which was held in Uttarakhand. So why blame it? I have no answer to that except that the fact many who attended tested positive means it cannot be negated.
c) Was the IPL not prone to Covid?
After a few players tested positive, the IPL was called off. Why it was even conducted fails me.
d) Why were we not prepared for a surge when Covid struck us a year ago and we did have the US and Italy as examples?
Because we refuse to learn from the experience of others. We believe in making the mistakes ourselves. A lack of preparedness has resulted in a number of deaths on account of lack of hospital beds and shortage of oxygen. It’s disturbing. The Allahabad High Court says deaths due to lack of oxygen tantamount to genocide. But who is to blame for it? The Central government or the State governments or the hospitals where doctors who do not know how to use the facilities turn critical patients away (there have been cases of this in hospitals in small towns in Maharashtra) – the ventilators lie in boxes in the hospitals rusting.
e) As a layman I understand the absence of central taskforce that takes all decisions keeping the current situation in mind and a nationwide plan that undertakes the task of coordinating with each of the States is what’s caused it. We are divided in our handling of the situation with each State doing its own thing. The end result being that despite the increase in cases, some States like Kerala have proved to be better at handling it. No patient has died due to the shortage in beds or oxygen while other cities like Delhi have messed it up. Rich or poor, people have lost their lives because of the lack of facilities.
f) How difficult is it for IT companies to create a central database system that enables a person to check the bed availability in a hospital close to them? Why does one have to go knocking from hospital to hospital looking for a bed. I say this because today’s papers spoke about a lady who lost her 45 year old husband to Covid in Bangalore- the Silicon valley of India. When she was turned down by ten hospitals because of the absence of a bed for the patient, she requested the Chief Minister’s Office. After some delay, an ambulance was called with their help but the patient died on his way to the hospital. Its dreadful that a State that produces some of the best doctors and engineers was unable to provide a bed for someone who was in dire need of one. It definitely calls for introspection.
g) Why are oxygen concentrators and ventilators lying unused in warehouses? There was a recent article in the newspaper where a 25 year old Doctor who was working in a hospital 100kms from Mumbai said the hospital rejected critical patients on account of no beds being available because the senior doctors did not know how to handle oxygen concentrators. Its appalling, I know. But its the truth. Why can’t basic training be provided to those in the medical profession in rural areas, so they can perform better?
These questions have become a topic of every phone call I have received over the last fortnight. While we wait for answers, I suggest we wear masks, maintain social distancing and continue our sanitizing routine.
Lastly to all those who know India and don’t, before we criticize the country let’s remember for a better understanding of the situation that the population of the UAE is a little less than 10 million while the population of Mumbai city alone is two times more than that! The population of India is hundred and thirty times more (1366 million as of 2020) than that of the UAE. The UK’s population in contrast is around 67 million and the US is around 330 million. This of-course is no excuse as China’s population is 1420 million approximately. But our systems of government are different which maybe a reason for the bad handling of the pandemic here.
Food for thought: UAE for example is a monarchy where decisions are taken by a single authority and if a person fails to follow it, they are simply deported to their homeland or fined a ridiculously large amount of money. People obey because they are scared- not of Covid but of losing their right to stay in the country. India on the other hand is a democracy. Unfortunately, like everything else in life, democracy has its cons too. It is difficult if not impossible to use the stick approach here. There is no place we can send people who do not wear a mask except to jail. Fines cannot be implemented as majority are below the poverty line. So, comparing the UAE to India would be like comparing a home garden to a forest. China, on the other hand, is a communist country with one party ruling it, unlike India where every state has its own way of dealing – that’s simply how a democracy works.
While we continue to battle it out here, I request you’ll to please pray for India. A goof-up by our politicians, leaders who probably never in their wildest dreams thought that it would spread like wild fire has required us to pay the price. Everyday we hear of people losing their life to Covid and it is distressing. Its easy for those of us living here to fall into despair because that’s all we hear of- people dying.
What we need most now is prayers and actual help in the form of oxygen concentrators and vaccines which is in short supply. And please spread the positivity around when you talk to your friends and families in India and of-course listen to those who need an ear. It might help them unload their troubles. This goes to my friends in India too- We cannot control what is happening around but we can help spread positivity around and do our bit by taking extra care of ourselves and our families.
I hope we can wake up to a day when the number of Covid cases are minimum and nobody dies of Covid but until then let’s take care, stay safe and have faith.