I am all set for “the jab”. Hoping I will get it soonest. Admission: I am severely needle phobic, to the extent that I cannot watch someone else getting a prick even if it is on the screen. Despite that and several other reservations, I am consoling myself on many levels. I am all set to shoot my “vaxxie” -- for those asking, “wat dat”? -- a “vaxxie” is a selfie shot with the arm that is not going under the vaccinator’s needle. Right now, despite a slight tremor in my voice as I write these words, I am thanking my stars that I am not Norwegian. And that I am not yet 80. Chances are pretty high that I’ll survive the jab and live to tell the tale.
Besides… and here’s my biggest trump card -- I am 100 per cent Indian! Fully-fully desi, inside out! This is my biggest shield. Not being a scientist, my wonky reasoning does not have to make sense to anybody but myself, and a few crazies like me. Never before has being born an Indian and having lived my entire life in India been such a boon!
Poochho kyon? Go on, ask, na? Look at our comparitively low numbers with Covid-19 deaths (approximately 165K). There has to be some explanation for this phenomenon. I seriously believe it is India’s dirt. I grew up in Mumbai, surrounded by germs and bacteria of every known description. I have happily eaten street food since my childhood. I played in and with mud, consuming some of it too. I did not wash my hands twenty times a day. But I did bathe regularly, okay? My home was scrupulously clean (my mother ensured that), but even she could not stop me from devouring roadside bhelpuri, paani puri, college canteen cutlets and exposed greasy snacks peddled by favourite vendors outside local train stations. This was true about all my friends back then -- we ate the most unhygienic food ever, and none of us fell seriously sick. Our stomachs, we joked, were “zinc lined” and our systems bug-proof.
Let’s loosely call this a vital “immunity building” exercise, for want of a better medical term. We ate and drank rubbish 00 who knows? These bad habits may have spared us from picking up the deadly coronavirus today. Nothing unique about our youthful experiences -- most of India conforms to this pattern. We are called filthy by the Western world. Our “unsanitary” existence is widely mocked -- but hey -- please explain how come we have not dropped like flies, like people in other, more “developed” countries? Is it our unique DNA structure that’s helping Indians combat the global scourge better than most nations still reeling under fresh cases and strange variants of the virus?
January 16, 2021 will always remain a red letter in India’s calendar. It was the one Saturday citizens had been impatiently waiting for ever since the world went into lockdown mode and everyday life came to a standstill. It’s the day we kicked off the most challenging immunisation exercise in the history of the world. According to available data, over two lakh citizens were vaccinated on Day 1. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was justifiably proud when he addressed the nation at 10.30 am and said: “We are launching the world’s biggest vaccination drive and it shows the world our capability.” All our chests suddenly grew to 56 inches! It is an ambitious plan, involving thousands, as 300 million people hope to receive their jab in this phase, by the end of summer. These include 30 million doctors, nurses, police personnel and firefighters. The next lot, of 270 million, will reach all those over the age of 50 (me!), and those with other vulnerabilities. This impressive rollout is nothing short of a feat -- and must be acknowledged as such.
For now, I am studiously ignoring the cynics and doomsday prophets who are pointing out all kinds of loopholes and deficiencies. Sanjiv Agarwal of Good Governance India Foundation is asking tough questions like: “Does all of India need a vaccine?” He believes that India has already achieved a high level of immunity and perhaps only the truly vulnerable need the jab. We are waiting for the ultimate photo-op that shows Prime Minister Narendra Modi pushing up his kurta sleeve and baring his upper arm for the shot. Yes, there are going to be hiccups and setbacks. Yes, we need more data, more time… but can we afford to wait? In Mumbai, the drive was suspended for two days. Frankly, I’m fine with the chief minister’s decision to do so. There was talk of a server being down, and messages not going out on time. Apparently, the turnout was lower than expected, with genuine concerns about the vaccine getting “wasted”. But given the rumour factories at work, this is hardly surprising. Each vial can vaccinate 10 people. Once a vial is opened, it cannot be preserved for more than eight hours. Despite these early roadblocks, citizens are filled with confidence and hope that the timely delivery of the shots is definitely going to halt the coronavirus -- and hopefully, any mutant/variant as well.
Being sentimental, superstitious and God-fearing, I loved the aartis, pujas and prayers that were conducted when the vaccines left the Serum Institute of India in Pune. Or later, when hospital employees greeted the health workers carrying the precious boxes to the designated venues with mithai and flowers. This is so endearing and such an Indian thing to do! Why not? I am prepared to pray to an icebox filled with life-saving vaccine vials without any self-consciousness! Vaccine hai, to hum hai! India is well and truly on its way to recovery from the deadly Covid-19 virus. As for me, I will time my blowdry with the jab. I can’t afford to ruin my historic “vaxxie”! Come on Bollywood… pull out a few cool “vaxxie” looks. Airport looks are so 2020!