Partha Chakraborty is an Indian-born immigrant; a naturalized US Citizen since 2018. Educated in India and at Cornell University, Partha is currently an entrepreneur in water technologies, Blockchain, and wealth management in the US and in India. The views expressed are his own.
By many metrics in the fight against COVID, India has done extraordinarily well overall. A country of 1.366 billion people had reported a total of 18.75 million reported cases, with almost two hundred and five thousand dead since the pandemic began. By comparison, a collection of mostly western states (US, Europe including Russia, Turkey, Brazil and Argentina) has a very similar population, combined, but they had deaths in excess of two million, ten times as many as in India. The country has already administered over 145 million vaccine doses, one of the highest anywhere. Given the paltry resources upon which India’s health system is built on, all kudos to the administration and health workers for achieving best-in-class overall results, even if we put a generous allowance for undercounting unavoidable in a country of that size and similar socioeconomic worries.
Without question, there is a surge going around, especially in cities. Yesterday India tested 1,768,190 people, and 386,654 tested positive, a positivity rate of almost 22%, too high for comfort. There are mutations going around with a high infection rate, and an uncharted pattern of severity. Epidemiologists are predicting high levels of infection and death to continue.
A few things are different this time around. First, the second wave is overwhelmingly felt around cities. Second, the infected, and the dead, are primarily from India’s well-to-do, even affluent, population; these are ones who escaped the first wave by locking themselves in.
As soon as the ferocity of the pandemic eased late last year, they went out en-masse; rather, they went into air-conditioned prisons of privilege, and pandemic.
Gala marriages were back in fashion, especially at fancy destinations. Clubs, privileged domains for the wealthy and wannabes out of reach of the hoi-polloi, went all in to make up for lost time. Patrons were unmasked even if the orderlies covered their mouths. These patrons went back into workplaces and had their masks on their chins, if at all. Upper middle class of India went into air-conditioned malls, gyms, theaters, pubs and resorts, restaurants, movieplexes and every other place they missed for almost a year – and they stayed in mostly without masks. Having escaped the first wave made them sanguine of their invincibility. If there is a problem of plenty and if there is a bleaker side of the privilege, Indian urban population and the well-to-do are facing it right now.
People getting it easy are exactly the people who had it bad last time around, even in cities –migratory laborers, factory workers, household help, the fishmonger, the butcher and the roadside stall-owner, people at kirana shops, and the like. They could not afford to stay home, not the last time and not this time either. A vast number of them already had symptoms last time, and many died. Having done that, they seem to have generated some sustenance against future attacks.
In the late 1980’s Doordarshan broadcast a masterpiece on harmony. For about six minutes a theme of unity – “Mile Sur Mera Tumhara // Toh sur bane humara” – was repeated in languages of and with images from many regions of India. The tune was hummable no matter how tone-deaf you are, and it still brings a smile to my face, with goosebumps in my throat.
Sentiment in that song must mean more today than any other time since it was created. It is going to be a shame if the rivers that come together in the ocean start in our tears. There will be enough blame to go around, just not today. I am heartened that corporate India has stepped up, as did the Railways and the military. I am especially happy that the US (along with UK, UAE, Saudi Arabia, France, Singapore and others) have gotten past their hesitations and now making this one a fight for humanity as a whole.
We are all Indians today.