HOW TO BE A CHICK
Mumbai itself is on a gigantic ventilator, struggling to stay alive, while the COVID-19 crisis worsens and there is no let-up in sight. When a city the size of Mumbai is on life support systems, it is time for the people supposedly in charge to move forward in ways that go beyond mere lip service and bombastic public statements. Reports pouring in from concerned citizens across the board indicate an even bigger crisis looming over the horizon. A crisis that may or may not have been factored in by those calling the shots.
Good leadership involves taking tough decisions and moving forward aggressively. Take a look at how New York’s hands-on and very dynamic Mayor is at it relentlessly, ever since one of the world’s greatest cities took a hit that in many ways is far worse than the last big calamity (9/11), which had claimed 2,977 lives. Mayor Bill de Blasio does not shy away from tabling statistics and news, no matter how terrible the findings maybe. His daily press briefings are detailed and informative, leaving nothing open to rumour mongering.
Why can’t this happen in Mumbai, with Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray taking just five minutes out of his hectic schedule to keep everyone in the loop? Instead, politicians are busy playing games of one upmanship at a critical time like this. Disappointingly, it is their differences that dominate headlines, rather than a united approach to helping those who need immediate relief and help. If the shaky, doddering coalition refuses to be on the same page during an emergency, what can we expect, going forward? Frankly, if you ask Mumbaikars whether they care at this stage — if Uddhav stays or goes — the answer will be an emphatic ‘No’. Ask them who they would like to lead them through this tough period, and the answer will be “No idea! It can be anybody who inspires confidence, leads from the front and pulls us out of the worsening crisis.” Mumbaikars are sick of being manipulated by netas whose sole purpose is to hang on to Pawar… oops, Freudian slip. Make that ‘power’.
The word ‘ventilator’ strikes terror in most hearts. We think of it as the last resort. Most of us mistakenly believe once a patient is put on the ventilator — well, get ready to perform the last rites. That is not so, as competent doctors will assure you. But the ventilator’s reputation is indeed pretty bad in the minds of ignorant, nervous folks (most of us). Which is the reason why locked up Mumbaikars are petrified of reporting fevers, coughs and other symptoms. I have friends who have folfollowed the drill scrupulously, particularly with their live-in staff, and are regretting the decision, given the inordinate delays, the shabby conditions at hospitals and the futile waits at testing centres. With filthy toilets, no running water, and poor quality of food, they are now sorry they abided by the rules, given that the rules are not being adhered to by the rule makers themselves!
The admission process can take up to 14 hours, during which the patient can die, while being shunted from one facility to the next. Prime locations in South Mumbai are being readied with the help of L&T (hefty fees involved, one hears). There is concern about the actual use these spaces will be put to as and when the need arises. There are hundreds of vacant beds all over the city, while thousands of people wait to be allotted one. Those who manage to procure a free bed in a public hospital, narrate horror stories of being stuck inside quarantine wards, with people dying all around them. A few are ready to run away before their quarantine is over. Some confess to feeling suicidal, while others suffer severe anxiety attacks.
There is an acute shortage of nursing staff. Nobody so far has bothered to explain what happens next. It is said Mumbai is likely to peak in mid-July. But Mumbai cannot afford to stay in lockdown mode till then. As it is, financial analysts are predicting doom and gloom for Mumbai, India’s financial hub, whether or not we open up soon — which we absolutely must. Schools, colleges, clubs, convention centres, hotels, open grounds — all these have been swiftly taken over. While our migrant workers have fled, possibly never to return to the city that turned its back on them. Not too far from Mumbai, our tribals face malnutrition with death staring them in the face. Why have supplies not been rushed to these desperately poor people? Because they don’t count — they have never counted.
Authorities claim Mumbai is on high alert because it’s Eid this weekend and enthusiastic shoppers may be reluctant to practice social distancing. Preparedness is always good. Let the lowkey lockdown celebration of Eid pass peacefully — this is everyone’s hope and prayer. Flag marches can be viewed in many ways. When the State decides to call in five companies of the CAPF (Central Armed Police Forces), the message it sends out is strong. It is time for all of us to stand together and pray collectively, regardless of which religion we follow. The Virus is not selective about who it targets. Neither should we be. Eid Mubarak…