India celebrates her 63rd Independence Day today. Apart from the obvious cheers the holiday brings, the another reason to wait for this day is that the whole country clad in the tricolor to celebrate the freedom we got at the strokes of midnight on 15th August, 1947 after a long struggle. Not to forget the patriotic songs – sung by various singers, from Lata Mangeshkar to A R Rehman. But the mood is gloomy on this vary day of 2009. The reasons: The fear of impending drought the country is facing in the wake of less rain received this monsoon and the resultant soaring prices of food items, the scare of swine flu which has got everyone panicked etc.
There seems to be paranoia about swine flu. The health minister of the country should also consider taking chair of chief mathematician at some prestigious university – he didn’t help the country when he derived the math of one third of the country contracting the swine flu in coming months. Spread the panic, Mr. Minister; leave the awareness to the lesser humans! On my way to watch Kaminey (more about it some other time), I see a man on a bike covering his face with a mask to protect himself from the deadly swine flu virus. Nothing wrong in that, but what really gets my head spinning is that he has wrapped just a handkerchief on his head and he is actually driving without wearing a helmet! Anyone who knows a bit about probability would agree that his chance of dying contracting swine flu is much lesser than chance of dying by meeting with an accident, given that he is more exposed to driving in his everyday life and swine flu will be like any other flu as we develop some immunity against it over the time (Remember the farce that was SARS – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome?). What makes this gentleman so confident about his driving skills, and more so about the fellow drivers on the road? And we are not even thinking about fatal results bad luck can bring to a man without anybody’s fault!
This is not to say that we should not take precautions against swine flu; we should do whatever we can. Personal hygiene and care have no substitutes. There would be people who would die of it, not because they did not take care, but because they could not get the proper healthcare. With tumbling public healthcare system, we cannot save many people. We do not even have sufficient testing facilities to diagnose the swine flu, forget about curing people in time. There are not many good hospitals, those which are good have not enough beds and the list goes on. Even if somebody finds a good hospital, he may die on the way because the good roads are still a luxury and a few better roads are always blocked by ever-increasing traffic, evoking images of Hanuman’s tail in Ramayana which kept growing and finally burnt the whole Lanka. Probably the man on the bike still needs that mask, not for swine flu but as a safeguard against pollution. Scientists would nod in agreement that Carbon Dioxide is more dangerous than the virus.
There lie our problems - not in the swine flu, but in our crumbling infrastructure. We are not well-equipped and prepared to face the calamities, be it natural or man-made. Why there were no schools shut in other parts of the world? Did people stop going to malls and theatres? This particular Independence Day gives us that chance to introspect and prepare the blueprint of the secure future, at least secure from within. We Indians work better under crisis. George Orwell did not miss the mark when he said, “When it comes to the pinch, human beings are heroic.” They say everything in India is by default, not by design. We need paranoia, indeed, but use it to improve our systems. Surely we will see better things in future. I am positive not because of my being hopelessly hopeful, but because we do have a knack of coming back, strongly and reassuringly. This will take time, we are not speed-frenzy – the mango trees take time to bear the juicy fruits, but it’s worth waiting for, isn’t it? And guess what? The mango is our national fruit!