I write this column less than a week after my wife and I were detected Covid-19 positive. I, too, have the apprehensions of tens of millions of Indians who live in dread of this latter-day disease. Some of them have succumbed to it, while others have survived it. A large majority of the people have no clue whether they would fall prey to it.
On Wednesday last, the country reported over 4, 12,000 new Covid-19 cases, its highest number yet. Half of all cases of Covid-19 recorded around the world are in India, up from one in 25 at the start of March. The number of Covid-19 deaths tripled in March, and then in April leapt by a factor of 10.
I am sure there are many more patients, who are not included in the government register. With a quarter of all tests returning a positive result, up five-fold in the past month, it is clear that India’s monster second wave has yet to reach its peak. Already, 2.5 lakh Indians have died of Covid.
That raises another question, what has the government done to fight Covid-19? Yesterday, my son asked me whether anyone from the health department contacted me.
While saying “no”, I remembered how a relative at Thumpamon in Pathanamthitta district in Kerala, who was quarantined at home, would receive three or four official calls every day, including one from the District Collector’s office, inquiring about her welfare.
My friend and kidney-donor Sakhi John had told me how the police came to his house at Thiruvalla, not with an arrest warrant but packets of food for him and his family when he reached there, driving all the way from New Delhi.
No, I am not at all disappointed with the Central government. Rather, I was very happy to read in the Indian Express (May 7) that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious and pet Central Vista construction project has been going apace. Corona has proved ineffective against it!
Trenches have been dug on both sides of Rajpath, called the King’s Path by the British, from where millions of people had watched with pride the Republic Day down the decades. By the way, who does not want to build a house of his own? Roti, Kapada and Makkan (food, cloth and house) are, after all, the symbols of happiness in India!
Modi is not just building a new house for the Prime Minister. He is building one for the Vice-President as well.
Not only that, the MPs will have no space constraints in the new Parliament House to serve what Gandhi called the Daridra Naryanans of this country. We should not grudge Modi for what he is doing because he wants to bequeath to the nation a new vista like the one an emperor built near Devagiri-Daulatabad, somewhere near Madurai.
It is a question of priorities. Modi has his priorities and every world leader like him has his own. We all saw what happened in the US when Modi’s bosom buddy Donald Trump was President plenipotentiary.
Many of us had ridiculed the world’s mightiest nation when its citizens were dying like flies. Some of us even patted on our own back for the vision Modi showed in tackling the Covid-19 crisis be it by imposing a countrywide lockdown with just four hours of notice, by asking people to clang vessels to create a cacophony the world had never seen and switch off all electric lights for nine minutes and nine seconds, as advised by his astrological gurus.
Also, flower petals were showered on hospitals and India’s war ships, equipped with nuclear-tipped missiles, were ordered to beam neon lights as a mark of respect to the Covid-19 warriors!
If there is an award for honesty, it should go to Dr KV Vijay Raghavan. You may wonder who this gentleman is. He is the Scientific Advisor to the PM. He confessed that he could not foresee the current Covid-19 ferocity.
However, he is certain about the third wave in the foreseeable future!
This gentleman should have stepped down and set an example for his master! That would have been a great service to this nation!
Now, let’s turn to the US, which was the butt of ridicule for its Covid-19 mismanagement. Let me quote a New York Times report, “After weeks of Coronavirus patients flooding emergency rooms in Michigan, the worst Covid-19 hot spot in the US, hospitalisations are finally falling.”
“On some recent days, entire states, including Wisconsin and West Virginia, have reported zero new Coronavirus deaths — a brief but promising respite from the onslaught of the past year”.
While the US and many other countries were putting their act together, Modi was not idling away his time. He and his second lieutenant were doing everything possible to make a Gujarat of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
It was in the public interest that the Kumbh Mela, which was due only in 2022, was advanced to 2021 so that the energy it created among the millions who thronged Haridwar to take a dip in the Ganga could be directed against fighting the deadly virus. Today, Uttar Pradesh is one of the worst affected states.
No, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has not been sitting idle. He has ordered immediate installation of Oximeters and thermal scanners at all the state-run gaushalas (cowsheds). He has also ordered setting up of help desks in all the districts to take care of the cows. All the animal husbandry staff have been ordered to follow the Covid-19 protocol while handling cows.
As I said earlier, it is all a question of priorities. The cow, in whose body resides all Hindu gods and goddesses, is certainly more important than human beings as the Yogi has always been highlighting. In his perception, man can fend for himself, while the cow has to be taken care of. That is, perhaps, why he took birth on planet Earth.
The Modi government has been on the retreat. The last one heard about the Union Health Minister, who should have been in his war-room fighting the menace, was that he was busy promoting Baba Ramdev’s sure-shot medicine against Covid-19. The people could have been spared the bother of getting vaccinated, if Baba’s medicine was purchased by the Centre and distributed free to the people.
No, my intention is not to write about the negativity I find all around. In any case, when did the Modi government care about the poor people? It builds eight-lane roads so that those who own BMWs and Mercs can cruise at 240 kmph and provides bullet trains so that the businessmen of Gujarat do not have to waste their time at the airport.
We all saw how much concern the government had for the millions of migrant labourers who trekked hundreds of kilometres from cities like New Delhi and Mumbai to reach their villages in UP, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.
As the same philosophy guides the government, there are innumerable stories of grit, love and care emanating from various parts of the country. In Delhi, where a decent burial or cremation has become a thing of the past, the Sikh community has set a new example.
They have proved that they can not only feed thousands of people at their gurdwaras but can also organise an oxygen langar. Oxygen which is, otherwise, freely available in nature, is the most sought-after thing in the Capital. For once Modi taught the nation how valuable O2 is without which life is not possible.
Anyone who goes to their centre is assured of oxygen, no matter how difficult it is for them to procure oxygen cylinders and concentrators. Today, many are alive because of them. Come to think of it, they were called “Khalistanis” when farmers camped at the UP-Delhi and Haryana-Delhi borders to protest against the three agricultural laws Modi got enacted as quickly as the karsevaks demolished the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya.
No, they did not remember such epithets when they pooled all their resources to provide virtually free medicines and oxygen to the needy people. On April 28 came the good news that the Ramakrishna Mission has turned their main centre — Belur Math — into a Covid-19 hospital.
The Archbishop of Goa, Phillip Neri Fera, showed similar enthusiasm when he used his spiritual renewal centre to set up a Covid-19 care facility. What he said is very meaningful, “What for do we need a centre if there are no people around?. We owe a duty to meet their needs”. Needless to say, hospitals run by the Church like the Holy Family Hospital in Delhi have been the most sought-after in these days of scarcity of hospital beds.
I have a friend who is a successful businessman. He told me how busy he and his wife were cooking food for the fellow residents of his society, suffering from Covid-19. His problem was heightened by the fact that his domestic worker could not reach their home because of lockdown.
Another friend — an Army veteran — has been running from pillar to post. No, it is not to seek a favour but to provide Plasma. The Colonel is disappointed that he will have to wait for some more days before he can donate Plasma! I was reminded of a Nair girl who came out crying from the editor’s office because he did not send her to Surat when people in thousands were leaving the city because of plague!
A report in the Indian Express from Muzaffarnagar in UP has this descriptive caption: “Here, nurses are doctors, ward boys are nurses, families are ward boys”. The concept of barefoot doctors, tried and tested in China, has suddenly become a reality with everybody knowing something to fight the disease while the professional medical practitioner is still clueless about how the virus enters human body and wrecks it from within.
One of the most exciting stories I read was about an auto-rickshaw-owner who has fitted his vehicle with an oxygen cylinder. He is willing to take any Covid patient to any hospital in his town and that too free of cost. The Economist of London wrote about an anonymous person distributing food in Delhi to whoever he thinks has not eaten food and is starving.
Reports have come of mosques at Green Park and Okhla in Delhi and Thrisoor in Kerala becoming Covid-19 centres. I have also read about an young man, who is educated and only 23, helping people dispose of the bodies of their relatives who died of Covid-19.
Persons like Advocate Deepa Manoj of New Delhi have been using the power of WhatsApp to help people fight Covid, the same motive that drives Justice Kurian Joseph and his team. We need such exemplars in thousands in every part of the country as we have to get ready to fight the next surge.
The third surge — whenever it happens — is likely to be the worst. The government does not seem to be bothered. The people will have to rise up as one nation to fight the disease. There have been umpteen instances in history when the people joined hands to fight disasters, both man-made and natural.
The Great Flood in Kerala in 2018 saw the common people risking their lives to save people marooned by flood waters. The fishermen of Kerala were not seeking any laurels when they took their catamarans and boats to save people who had taken shelter on the roof of crumbling houses or had climbed trees to save themselves from the flood fury.
In the absence of governmental assistance, the people will have to fight Covid-19 in the same spirit of love and camaraderie and they will certainly be able to defeat the virus. Let’s all join hands and fight Coronavirus!