Lockdowns are back…

Opinion on Covid second wave in India..

I am writing this article amidst the new lockdowns imposed by the govt in my state. Its been an year since we had seen the lockdowns before, and here now, we are witnessing this again. Looking at the past one year and how Covid has evolved with new waves, and changing the way of living, many of us fear now that this might be the permanent way of life here onwards.

Even though lockdowns might be one of the weapons to ‘break the chain’ of covid wave, but no one can deny the fact that lockdowns are simply brutal. Shutting down the entire state or country has tremendous consequences. We all have seen it firsthand last year. The business cannot sustain, workers lose their jobs, shopkeepers have to close their shops, tech crowd has to work from home for long hours, staying at home results in increased psychological stress, anxiety about the future, kids and college students get affected as their exams are either canceled or postponed, health care warriors have to fight everyday against this virus by often risking their life, which results in enormous physical and mental stress on them as well. Besides law enforcement has to work day and night to administer the lockdown measures, which involves a lot of efforts on their side. All this has fundamentally disrupted our way of life.

But whats the solution? Is it like we have to accept this is going to be the way of living until all get vaccinated in the world, or herd immunity sets in? This might take years. Currently whatever alternatives we are applying are temporary. Like work from home can never be a permanent solution. Because it is evident that not all can work from home, except the tech jobs. Even for them, this is becoming more and more stressful and boring. Work needs physical interaction, social exposure and real life experience. Not all professions involve coding which do not need any pre-requisites, except coding knowledge. But what about sales? or Aviation pilot? or even field technician? Can they work from home permanently? The answer is obvious No!

Sometimes, I find myself fortunate just like my colleagues who can work from home as our work demands a laptop, internet connection ( ofcourse, stable and fast..) and a working brain..thats it. Be it my tech job or my writing passion, I can manage things from home. But I feel incredibly bad for those who can earn their bread and butter only by selling stuff everyday, or whether in transportation business. I cannot imagine how they must be making both ends meet.

While on the other side, for some rich and influential groups, it is business as usual. The govt in my state is busy involved in looting , as they call ‘vasooli’ from the people. The stock market has crossed 50k mark and those with the money and power, are reaping the profits out of this bloated market. The IPL games are about to begin and even covid second wave cant stop them playing, rather entertaining as I hardly regard IPL matches as professional cricket matches. They are more or less like the assembly of rich businessmen and women who own the teams, the advertisers, the cheer leaders and the multi-crore earning mercenary players. Even film industry continues with their entertainment as usual even though Covid has done that job better. The YouTube is filled with newly educated pundits making videos with their precious commentary on politics, economics and scandals. Even elections are in full swing in five states in India, and the rallys are conducted in such a massive way as if to wonder if the people there are living in an iron curtain, with no knowledge of covid precuations. The leaders are busy bashing each other, asserting their Hindu religion and chanting name of Ram and Durga Mata. For all of such businessmen, politicians, cricketers, stock Guru’s, filmstars, covid is something which stays away from their closely guarded citadel. For them, covid is something which just affects the poor and the middle class, as if they deserve them…

As lockdowns are back and so are all the adjustments and compromises we( the common masses) have to do, I reminisce Ghalib’s famous shayari..

गुजर जायेगा ये दौर भी, जरा सा इतमिनान तो रख,

जब खुशियाँ ही नहीं ठहरी, तो गम कि क्या औकात है !

Translation:

This time will also pass, have some patience

When happy days did not last for long, how can sad days endure forever…..

© Abhishek Karadkar and abhiknotes.com, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Abhishek Karadkar and abhiknotes.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Copyright © 2021 AbhikNotes – Powered by WordPress.com

Debunking Covid myths!

This post illustrates some of the debunked myths for the past one year about Covid in India

Constitutional Validity of Lockdown Order by the Central Government -  iPleaders
Credits

The 23rd, March 2021 marks the first anniversary of the Covid-19 lockdowns in India. Initially, they were laid out only for 21 days, with the intention to defeat the virus, but soon it was realized that India was not isolated or even prepared enough to end the detrimental effects of the pandemic any sooner, which the world then was already suffering with. Hence, the lockdowns got extended for several weeks and even months in many parts of the country as we know. 2020 turned out to be very much an odd year in most of our lives, something my generation will not forget for years to come. A lot has been written and discussed, and hence, I won’t get into how it affected our life, environment, jobs, economy, politics, pretty much everything as we know, hardly leaving anything untouched.

Now, as its been an year since the lockdown started, and even though India is not having nationwide lockdown, unlike few countries like UK and Brazil, but the worrying fact is that the coronavirus is spreading again. Many are calling it as second wave, or even third wave, many of us do not agree which wave it really is. But the fact that inspite of the lockdowns, and even after vaccines are available, its quite worrying that the virus is not in control yet, in many parts in India, especially in Maharashtra, which is one of the worst affected states.

Having observed the pandemic and its effects over the year, there are many questions and even myths which were brought up and even circulated using the ubiquitous social media. During the initial few days after March 23, 2020, when the number of covid cases were comparatively less in India, people willingly played the role of self-declared experts and pundits, and tried to explain the low number of cases due to a myriad reasons. Some of which include, ( with my personal experience)

  • Its because of our beloved PM Narendra Modi and the nationwide lockdowns which he laid down quite early in India.
  • Because India has a hot and dry climate unlike the cold and brutal winters in USA and Europe
  • Maybe, because our Indian food is the best in the world! We don’t eat meat, we eat cooked (overly-cooked) food, add spicy masala’s, avoid burgers, coke, or pizza unlike Americans who live on such foods, and hence, our immunity is high due to the healthy food consumption.
  • Someone even said that because India is a spiritual land, and hence, the mystic powers of meditating monks and all religious practices are protecting us from the virus.
  • Because India is not very clean country, with polluted air, unclean water and dirty roads, hence, Indians have developed the immunity after living for decades in such relatively unclean surroundings, as compared to America or Europe.
  • I even heard that India got saved because we have been practicing social distancing naturally for years, with our habits like doing ‘namaskar’ instead of shaking hands, avoiding touching, hugging, kissing or being close to each other consistently unlike western culture etc. I found this to be hilarious!
  • And finally, India had a milder form of covid virus, as compared to the extremely mutated and fatal ones in America, UK and other countries.

Looking at some of the above reasons, I am sure many of us might have thought them to be ludicrous. Because the fact that even if they were true, still India has the world’s third largest number of covid deaths, after USA and Brazil. Let us debunk some of the above myths or so called explanations given last year.

  • First of all, PM Narendra Modi and his government did take a pro-active and brave decision to lockdown the country much before the number of cases were detected. This was thought to be quite a prescient move. And it did pave off for sometime, as India did not see any rise in the number of cases for the next 2 months, after lockdowns started. But the irony is that as soon as lockdowns were lifted, the cases escalated. On one side, the Modi praisers had lauded PM’s decision to lockdown the nation, while later the opposition and Modi critics started mocking him and the government for having shown the world how a failed lockdown looks like! Well, the rise in number of cases later were inevitable considering the number of people flying back to India from abroad, high population, dense cities, and that lives of millions of Indians depend on jobs for which they cannot work from home. Also, the poor medical infrastructure in rural areas led to surge in the number of cases, which happened when the lockdown was harshly imposed over night, which led to the exodus of millions of workers and labourers from cities to villages ( walking all the way..), thereby carrying the virus to the remote areas. Many experts agree today that the way the lockdowns were imposed could have been better managed and coordinated.
  • Hot and Dry climate: This turned out to be a myth as we see many countries all over the world including those in hot and dry areas have covid infections. How can we explain Brazil to be the second worst affected country in the world, if it has the most hot and humid climate with the vast Amazon forest? Infact, in India, the worst affected states are Maharashtra and Kerala, which are faraway from cold winters of the north!
  • Indian food: Well, even though the food intake is quite different than western countries, with Indian food having a lot of varieties and being more healthy, yet none of the evidence suggests any relation between food and virus. Our food might increase the immunity, but that will be too generic reason to elucidate. Also, over the last few years, the way Indians eat food has changed a lot, especially due to the american influence.
  • India as a spiritual land: This is one of the most uncanny reasoning I had ever heard. Also, its very Indian in a way. Because often we Indians like to relate everything that happens in the world to some kind of astrology, mysticism and supernatural powers. However, it is true that India is a holy land, having millions of ardent religious followers, and monks living in the mountains. The family culture is exceptionally strong and Indians are very religious at heart. But that doesn’t mean that this good karma will save the nation. If it was really there, then how can some of the most horrifying cases of rapes, murders, caste based violence and corruption happen in this holy land. Metaphorically, I like to relate this to the holy Ganga which is pure where it originates (Gangotri), however it gets polluted when it reaches the ghats of Varanasi and Bengal. Why? Because the people pollute this sacred river! This habit to surrender ourselves by praying to God, sadhus and remembering ancient history, has led to the degradation of science and rationalism in this country today.
  • Inbuilt immunity: Well, I do agree to some extent that this might have made us stronger when it comes to immunity. Having lived in USA and India, I can relate both the worlds. I saw how safe and isolated Americans live, staying indoors, with centralized ventilation system, visiting doctor for every small illness, consistently taking medicines and pills, eating frozen & raw foods, breathing only filtered air etc. While on the other side, Indians are used to eating outside food which is never frozen, but always fresh. We are used to polluted airs and water, very few air conditioners in our houses, and avoiding visiting doctors by home treatment of minor illness using ayurveda and herbs.
  • Natural Social distancing: I find this to be untrue. Because even though, we usually avoid direct touching or hugging others as western culture exhibits, but considering the number of people living together in India, like joint families, and even traveling in local trains, buses and public places, its difficult to avoid contact with other people. But its a miracle that some of the worst crowded places in India, like Dharavi slum in Mumbai, for which many feared that it will be terribly affected, actually turned out to be covid-free, or less affected by covid. Hence, its hard to say, if any naturally social distancing helped India. But as per guidelines, social distancing is a must to follow, inspite of any local conditions.
  • Finally, India having a milder form of virus is debatable. Even though it is proved that UK and other countries have much deadlier mutant of virus, and India did a good job in shielding itself from those deadly mutants. But still the danger of those mutants entering India has not subsided yet.

Hence, looking back at one year, and having read, talked about some of the above questions and myths, this post briefly summarizes what Covid has taught us and even debunked some of the myths. But the virus has not gone yet. As per universal recommendations, we have to wash our hands, practice social distancing, avoid crowded places, get vaccinated as soon as possible, and stay at home to avoid the spread of virus.

I hope things get better soon, and lets be rational and open-minded regarding any myths and reasoning based on the local situations.

© Abhishek Karadkar and abhiknotes.com, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Abhishek Karadkar and abhiknotes.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Copyright © 2021 AbhikNotes – Powered by WordPress.com

Stay at home, folks!

Recently, I happened to travel from Pune, Maharashtra to Vadodara/Baroda, Gujarat by bus to look at some urgent family affairs. Though I was afraid to travel out during this corona times, but the urgency of the situation urged me to go out and visit my family. Based on the experience I had during travel to and fro, I decided to write a post to request people to #StayAtHome. Please!

During lockdown, we all were compelled to stay at home. The fear and uncertainity along with enormous escalation of infections and deaths in some of the most advanced countries like USA, Italy and Spain had convinced us to stay safe indoors. But as soon as the lockdown was lifted, and in India, where the unlocking phase began, we started moving out of our homes. Ofcourse, people eventually got bored staying inside home, and for a developing economy like India, where the WFH culture is not yet accepted, and not even feasible, it was inevitable for us to move out for work or daily necessities. Also, looking at the rising number of new Covid infections inspite of the lockdown, it looks like the lockdown did not work, and on the other side, severely hampered the developing economy. Hence, nowadays, when the media or medical experts advise us to stay at home, we somehow ignore them.

So, I decided to travel inspite of the new zenith gained everyday looking at the number of Covid infections and deaths. I booked the bus – Gujarat travels from Pune to Vadodara, with return ticket as well. My journey from Pune to Vadodara was overnight travel, in a sleeper coach. With a naive intention to save some money ( as we all are in that saving mode nowadays due to the possible fear of upcoming recession), I booked the Non-AC bus. This turned out to be a colossal mistake as I would realize later. Luckily, I booked the return from Vadodara to Pune an Air Conditioned one, but it was a day travel, and it had its own version of problems as I would experience soon.

Thus, I packed my bags, and boarded the bus. The booking was done through RedBus, and it was told that the bus operator will allow only the passengers who had worn mask. The thermal checks will be done before boarding, and everyone will be given hand sanitizer. Besides, social distancing (6 ft) will be maintained inside the bus. But when I boarded the bus, neither was I checked for mask, nor was the thermal check conducted. Even hand sanitizer was not provided. But I had worn mask, and carried enough hand sanitizer with me. This was just the beginning of the violation of Covid rules by the bus operators.

Then, I saw that the compartments were just separated by a thin curtain, and the distance between each compartment was surely less than 6 ft. They should have made alternate seating, but they did not. I was still safe because I had booked the single compartment with one bed on the left isle. But on the right isle of the bus, there were a large compartment with two beds near to each other. I assumed this must be reserved only for the family. But it was not. They had allowed anyone to sit near each other. This was really a gross violation of the social distancing rules.

Then, the bus conductor took the Aadhar details from everyone, and worst, was that he had worn mask beneath the nose. Afterall, the mask is meant to be put on the nose and mouth to cover. Why would anyone on the earth wear mask below the nose and mouth? I had no answer for this. He had not worn any hand gloves, and the pen and paper used to write the details, were common. In India, when the government boasts of the “Digital revolution” brought about, but the bus operators were still using the traditional way of pen and paper. Rather, they should have taken the pics of Aadhar card for verification, or the RedBus should have allowed the passengers to provide these details in the app itself. How would the pen and paper which was shared with all the passengers be more safe and better during a pandemic than the app? This showed the lack of seriousness in the bus authorities.

As I mentioned about my mistake to book a non-AC bus, so I suffered from lack of ventilation, and due to small compartments, closed by curtains, I had to open the window during the night to allow some fresh air. But being an overnight journey, coupled with monsoon rains and traffic jam in the Mumbai area, I must have inhaled more pollutants than fresh air. Also, I feared for the sneezing and coughing from any passengers, which would make the closed, non-ventilated environment inside the bus an ideal breeding ground for Covid infection. Due to all this, I could not sleep much and thus, the night journey turned out to be quite a disaster.

Finally, after the hustle and bustle, I reached Vadodara. After visiting my relatives, and spending a good weekend with them, I started my journey back to Pune. I was comforted with the thought that this journey might be a lot better than the previous one due to the availability of AC as well as an upper deck. But barely did I knew at that time what experiences would soon lay before me!

First of all, the bus got excruciatingly delayed by more than 2 hours. I was assuming I will board the bus around 7:45 AM, and reach my home by 8 PM. But with this delay, I boarded the bus at 10:20 AM. I did the math again, and now, I would reach home by atleast 10:30 PM. But I had no option but to bite the bullet. The waiting at the bus stop was an awful experience. It was early morning time, and so I happened to be the only passenger at the stop. Also, the Gujarat travels authorities seemed to lack the most basic sense of civility in every possible way. They not only displayed the behavior potraying of the complete lack of responsibility, but also did not seemed to convey any information about this delay. I remembered my days in U.S, when any delay in flight or bus, would be conveyed immediately with sincere apologies by the responsible authorities. I compared both, and could not deny the fact that however India might have progressed as an IT giant, and risen under the strong leadership of PM Modi, but its gonna take a long way to go as the basic mannerism and civility are yet to be imbibed in the common Indian masses. Ofcourse, it would be ridiculous to extrapolate one experience or incidence to all the Indians, but as we know, every small thing matters, and after all, nations are made by people!

Soon, my bus came, and I immediately boarded the bus with a desperation to leave that bus stop ASAP. Again, I saw the same environment inside the bus as I had seen while traveling from my home. No thermal checks were conducted, and no social distancing. But the bus was more comfortable due to AC, and having secured an upper deck, I felt to be on the top of the world!

After few hours, I witnessed an amazing experience. It was afternoon, and the bus had reached the Gujarat-Maharashtra border. The bus stopped at a local restaurant. We all stepped down for restroom, and to sip some tea. But after sometime, the bus operator told the passengers on the right isle ( which had two seats adjacent to each other) to step down, and get into the car. I was on the left isle with a single seat, so I did not step down. Around 10-12 people from the right isle stepped down. It didn’t take me long to realize what the real matter was. The bus operators had clandestinely allowed 34-36 passengers to board the bus, when only 24 were allowed ( 12 on the left isle and 12 on the right isle). Hence, now at the border to enter Maharashtra, police officials were going to check, and so to hide this, they let go the extra passengers into another car.

Then, we crossed the border, and the police checked that the total number of passengers in the bus. After looking at the excellent observation of social distancing rules (??) inside the bus, they let us go. Ofcourse the police were not naive, and they did know things were staged. But then the bus operators also knew how to handle them, and so, things went smoothly.

Then after entering Maharashtra, the bus stopped after some time, and those 10-12 passengers boarded back again. I was stunned and no wonder why Covid cases are rising in India. When on one side, the govt is unlocking everything, and on the other side, the Covid virus is also getting unlocked. Adding fuel to the fire are incidences like this, when the utter disgusting actions by the bus authorities to earn more money has made things go out of hand. For them it is always business as usual, even amidst the pandemic. The pressure to stay in business, and make money becomes more important than the fear of getting infected, and even death. For them, the losses incurred during lockdown need to be recovered, and hence, no matter how many rules are broken, or how many human lives are put in danger, everything is secondary in front of surviving in the job or business. Period.

So, after reaching home late at night ( I reached at midnight), I contemplated over these thoughts, and decided to write a post about this. And so I urge everyone to Stay at Home, unless something is absolutely necessary to be done. Things are real bad out there, and many people do not care for life anymore. All they care is business or getting the job done. We cannot blame them entirely, as the fear to die from hunger is more than Covid. The fear of losing job or getting bankrupt in business is more than getting ill by infection. Hence, it is our responsibility to take care of ourselves. These are not normal times, and hence, the luxury of travel for leisure are a thing of the past ( atleast for few years!). Today, we need to stay safe and healthy, and then only we will be able to travel for leisure in future when things become more safer.

Next day, I tweeted about this experience to RedBus, and they reached out to me immediately. Then, I was told that they had taken this very seriously, and reprimanded the bus operators with a strong feedback. I do not say that this will stop immediately as old habits seldom die. But I also hope that things will ameliorate as more people share their experiences on social media, and act as aware citizens. We cannot depend on any organization to tackle this pandemic, but its a collective responsibility now. This pandemic is a test of human patience, and unity as well. The more we collaborate and support together, the weaker the virus will become.

As Steve Jobs famously used to say – Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish. Now I think the time has changed, and the more relevant message for us will be – Stay Home, Stay Safe.

Travel during corona times!

Finally, the day came for which I had been contemplating. I started my journey from US to India on Aug 18th, and landed in Mumbai on Aug 19th. Traveling during corona times is indeed dreaded by most of us. And so did I. But I had taken the decision to return back and so I kept my decision firm. It wasn’t an easy move, but some changes are never easy and also, I believe that sometimes, it becomes necessary to bite the bullet.

The travel by Vande Bharat mission was not the best one, but still considering the pandemic situation, I would say the airline authorities did a very good job. I had been quite used to air travels for business in the last 2 years, but this air travel during pandemic was unprecedented in itself. Earlier, the only three things we need to do at the airport were check in, baggage dropoff and security inspection ( with immigration as another for international travels), that’s it. But now the list has few more add-ons such as temperature checking, 6 ft social distancing, frequent hand washing and sanitizing, and thermal screening. This is like the new normal for air travels now.

Even inside the flight, the job of cabin attendant has been reduced to just escorting the travelers to their respective seats, and keep the food/water on the seat beforehand. The always cherished hospitality by the cabin attendants and air hostess ( in particular) has become a part of history now. No longer are any drinks served, not even hot tea/coffee. Known for their elegant uniform, hospitality and courtesy, today, the stewardess have to wear the nurse uniform with dress, apron and cap. Ofcourse, this is the need of the hour, and in no way, does this demote the role of flight attendants. But the charm and sophistication which used to associated with air travel has been replaced by seriousness and fear of safeguarding ourselves. I hate to write this but nowadays flight journey feels like a flying ambulance!

The Vande Bharat mission has been doing an incredible job of bringing back Indians who are stranded abroad, or want to return back to their country. After my registration and booking on the website, I was told to sign an undertaking which stated that the decision to fly is my responsibility. When I reached the New York airport ( which was quite empty), I underwent temperature check, and they noted down my temperature on the undertaking document. After the usual formalities, I was again thermal screened at the gate before boarding the flight. Inside the flight, as I mentioned before, we were already provided food, water, masks, hand sanitizer and face shield. Everyone was seated with alternating seating inside the flight. The flight was non-stop due to the restriction to not land in any other country. Hence, the journey was long – 14 hours and hence everyone knew that it was not going to be very comfortable. Moreever, no in-flight entertainment was provided which made the journey somewhat monotonous.

Thus, after 14 hours of arduous journey, I landed in Mumbai. Again, we were thermal screened and then began a long and slow process to reach home. It took me 8 days to reach home after I landed at the airport. Meanwhile, a lot of things had to be taken care of, which included successful exiting of airport after immigration, travel arrangements and quarantine accommodation details to be given to the officials. Even at the airport, all the airport authorities and govt officials were inspecting and watching us so that we do not leave the airport before competing all the required formalities. I had to book a taxi/cab to go to Pune ( my hometown, which is 3 hours drive from Mumbai) after I got an e-pass with the police verification completed. Luckily, my father had already acquired the permit for this travel, and so this saved me some time of hassle at the airport. But at the exit gate of the airport, I was again asked about the taxi details, and the officer requested me not to exit the airport until the taxi driver arrives. Then, he took the taxi driver details from me, and contacted him over the phone. When the taxi arrived, he personally escorted me till the taxi, to ensure I did not meet anyone apart from the designated driver.

It was raining, and the monsoon season had ushered in. While traveling to Pune, I saw some of the most beautiful scenic beauty in the Ghats, especially in the Lonavala-Khandala region. Then after reaching Pune, I had to meet the Govt officials again to check the availability of hotels for my 7 day quarantine stay, which were designated as isolation centers. I selected one of the good hotels in Pune, and stayed there for the next 7 days. I had to carry all the bags with me to the hotel as I was not even allowed to drop my bags at home, which was not faraway from the hotel. The most important thing is that I was not tested for Covid during or after my 7 days stay. When I inquired about the Covid test, I was told that it was optional and I had to pay out of my own pocket. Even the isolation centers were quite expensive, and the bill was charged to my name. I wish they allowed Covid testing at the isolation centers ( as they were supposed to be meant for). No wonder why India is seeing the highest Covid infection rates in the world, and the nexus between govt officials and hotel/isolation center authorities cannot be hidden!

Finally, after this once in a lifetime pandemic overseas evacuation travel experience, I came back home. I was nervous about a lot of things as I had witnessed during and after the travel, but on the other side, I was delighted to be at home, in my country, with my family. Fortunately, I was not showing any symptoms related to Covid and after completing another 7 days home quarantine restriction, I was free. I did learn a lot during this travel. After seeing two countries which are equally affected by this virus, and seeing the troubles people are taking to reach and stay close to their family, or loved ones, I started realizing with mixed emotions, that however this pandemic might have changed our life, but the virus is a lot weaker in front of human strength, determination and courage. Kudos to the brave, hardworking pilots who are working so hard to fly tirelessly day and night to reach us safely to our destinations. Hats off to the flight attendants, airport authorities, taxi/lyft/ola drivers who inspite of the risk of virus infection, are working hard to keep the daily operations running smoothly.

The virus might have locked us down in our homes, but it hasn’t locked down the humanity within us. We will surely overcome this pandemic, and we can hope again, that the travel in future won’t be driven by fear or for evacuation purposes, but with happiness, joy and leisure. Good times are not faraway!