Other than its aesthetic appeal, history is also a teacher. A profound and a practical teacher. But to teach effectively its progeny needs to be receptive. India with all her treasures steeped in centuries of traditions, has remained a poor student of history.
In a country that rightfully boasts of a superior infrastructure of information technology, where mobile apps are born every week, there is no dearth of opportunity to know how the 1918 pandemic had panned out. How the second wave of the flu virus decimated one third of an Indian population. Even worse, and only a year ago, how the United States, riding on a murmur of complacency, under a grossly shortsighted President, had failed to follow the fundamentals and perished in thousands.
India was aware of all these. Yet she kept a firm, ignoring eye to all that was common knowledge and commonsense. The country opened up financial facilities, flung opened the doors of restaurants and movie theatres, and allowed cricket to be played in front of stadiums half filled with men, women, and children baying for more entertainment.
Worse followed in early April, when thousands gathered in the city of Haridwar to dip in the sacred Ganges on the spiritual occasion of an annual Kumbh Mela. The fact that hundreds got the virus soon after the event was a foregone conclusion.
And just when one would smell the nadir, things got lower. Elections made their way in two of the most populated states of the country. Wrapped in an inexplicable nonchalance, political rallies, protests, and killings hit the country like a storm. Eerily reminiscent of the times of Trump, supporters gathered with no care to social distancing or wearing masks.
Science was comprehensively sacrificed in the hands of politics.
When I landed at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport in mid-March, the imminent danger could be smelled. An uncomfortable and an ominous silence spoke the inevitable language. Soon, in a dam bursting drama, thousands got infected with the virus, now triple mutant and still raging.
Predictably, the country is short of the essential drugs. Remdesivir, considered the cornerstone of inpatient treatment is nowhere to be found. The nation as a whole does not have enough oxygen tanks. Hospitals are flooded. People are dying on the streets. Smokes from cremation sites cloud the sky. An almost pathetic display of an undercover fragility.
Things are sketchier when it comes to vaccines. Home-bred Covaxin, rolled out before full completion of its trial has an efficacy that ranges anywhere from 60 to 81%. Although Oxford based Covishield promises higher efficacy and vaccines from Russia and the United States are set to be imported, the real culprit lay elsewhere. Riding on a much flaunted ‘vaccine diplomacy’, India has exported millions of doses of its vaccine to countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, completely oblivious of her own backyard exploding with a population that is next only to China. Couple this with the country’s no restriction policy and one would smell the insanity.
All these, despite meaningful scientists and physicians crying hoarse against such appalling attitudes. The skeletal understanding that this RNA virus mutates ferociously, and that to ease restrictions before substantial vaccination will be suicidal, bore no effect on the power corridors of the government.
On the contrary, caught in between honor, and helplessness, federal and state governments issued statements of hope and valor that would have put Fidel Castro to shame.
To an extent, the situation represents the very culture of the subcontinent. An ambience, where warmth, luxury, comfort walk hand in hand with cold, poverty, and starvation. Where the deepest and the most profound philosophies, lie hand in hand with the most inexpressible and meaningless rituals.
Yet, this country harbors an overarching quality that justifies her profound status. Her ability to turn around, and hurl defiance when pushed to the corner. Her insatiable hunger to grow when her very growth is challenged. This legacy is the country’s real hope.
Aggressive return to the basics of medicine, be it hand washing, social distancing, compulsory wearing of masks, along with lockdown, and mass vaccination must hold center stage. Only an unequivocal submission to the demands of science can restore her status. And save thousands of lives.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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