The late People’s President, the venerable Abdul Kalam, often lamented that there were too many ‘negative stories’ on our Main Stream Media. He alluded to his visit to Tel Aviv, Israel and compared our experience, to the stories splashed across there. Kalam noted a fad for positive stories as – ‘discoveries, inventions, good Samaritan deeds and even stories that talked of State’s welfare measures to the populace’. Abdul Kalam was deeply disappointed that We The People never sought the positive.
These thoughts crossed one’s mind as one spoke to a friend who was a survivor from the ‘Covid-19 positive’ result. It was a heart warming story about him and his brother- being ‘laid out the red carpet welcome at a Quarantine Centre set up by the State of Tamil Nadu, in a College Campus and being treated like royal guests for all of 10 days.’ The survivors, who shall remain nameless, were effusive in praise for the ‘logistics and arrangements rolled out, with precise timelines for the services, and the extremely caring manner in which they were literally entertained’. The brothers felt that the very environment was so conducive that not one of the ‘128 patients’ parked in the B block, along with them, suffered any adversity and all of them walked out safe, sound and healthy.
On hearing this, one felt an obligation to share it. Open the newspaper or the social media forwards- it appears that there are no positive stories to report. All the fault lines were highlighted, commented and administrations taken to the cleaners, as if there was nothing good happening around us and it was a literal doomsday prediction.
Yes, the migrant or guest worker (to be politically correct) was a sad and sob story, which needed to be reported, as they deserved all the support. But then to black out on the good, honest, sincere work rendered by the silent Covid-19 warriors, is unfair and unjust. The warriors are not only those on the frontlines as Doctors, Nurses, paramedics, police, security forces, but includes a whole host of government officials and volunteers, who are selflessly sacrificing their personal interest, so that we may stay safe and come out of this mess. They deserve a look in too, nameless they may be.
Most importantly, to let the world know that despite the spike in numbers in Tamil Nadu and Chennai, Thiruvallur and Chingleput Districts, as the epicentre, in the face of a compulsory Lockdown for a further 12 days, the State administration was not sitting back or thrown its hands up and left it to the forces at play. No, they are on the job. Taking care of us and doing whatever they can in the difficult environment faced by us all. The least we owe is a sense of gratitude.
Ram & Shyam, as they shall be called, lost their mother in the midst of this Pandemic for reasons unrelated to the virus. It was a body blow to them both. They felt uneasy and went to Stanley Medical College Hospital, Chennai to be treated for their uneasiness. The hospital administration insisted on a Covid-19 test and found them both turning positive but totally asymptomatic. Their entire family was put on the scanner and found negative.
They were told that they may need to self quarantine themselves and a sticker was affixed outside their residence in George Town area of Chennai, a crowded area. Finding that they were a large family with no separate room available for quarantine- were offered alternatives, as available in Loyola College, Nungambakkam or D G Vaishnava College, Arumbakkam or Vellammal College of Engineering, Surapet, Chennai and several other options. They chose the last one.
They were driven down in a Mini Bus duly observing social distancing norms. They were provided a few masks and a pocket sanitiser bottle. They were checked into B Block of the Velammal College premises in a room, after temperature routine, with three beds laid down, far apart from each other. They shared the room with another inmate. As they entered the room, they each were given a new plastic bucket containing a mug, sanitiser bottle, bathing soap, toothpaste and a new toothbrush, and a fresh new hand towel (all sanitised they were told). Their identities were verified and entries made. They were told to get ready by 07.30 a.m., after a bath, in a neatly and crisply maintained facility, one for every ten inmates, with scheduled time lines. The facility was maintained in a spick and span manner and even the rooms were disinfected, twice a day and beds dusted and done every day for use.
Come 07.30 a.m. hot vegetarian tiffin with idli, dosa and idiappam with a cup of coffee were served in separate disposal cups in their rooms. They were told that service had been arranged from a prominent vegetarian hotel and it was ensured that cooking was hygienic conditions and service made to fit their ‘patient’ status. They were given homeopathic pills, by choice, and a paracetamol, just in case. Their temperatures were checked frequently, and they were requested to report any abnormality in their physical condition, whatever the time of the day- to the desks functioning 24X7.
The rooms were very airy and had electricity and well laid out ceiling fans. They were advised, “to consider themselves as guests of the State and that all they had to do was to quietly enjoy their time and be inside and not physically get close to any other inmate or outsiders. All they wanted the patients to do was to follow the discipline and they would be discharged upon lapse of 10 days and dropped where they were picked up from- safe, sound and healthy”.
Come 11.30 a.m., hot lunch with rice, sambar, rasam and a vegetable and curd were served on disposable plates, attractively packed. The food was tasty and edible, my friends said and it was as if they started to ‘enjoy the hospitality’. Come evening time- it was an English cuppa tea with a few harmless biscuits thrown in. The inmates were advised to take a walk around the compound, duly observing the social distancing protocol.
And when they were back in the room, after a stroll, they were given the option to have a bath again, and be ready by 19.30. It was again hot dinner that was served, vegetarian stuff of the healthy kind. They were tastefully made and variety was even offered, for every day of their stay there. For those who were addicted to the mobile with internet connectivity, most inmates were getting ‘too comfortable for their own liking’.
Time to leave. Quietly, my friends enquired how much they have to pay for the board and lodging and the visits by the nurses and Doctors, on a daily basis to make enquiries. They were told, “You were all guests of the State and you do not have to pay a pie”. My friends with moist eyes absentmindedly put their hands out to those officials in charge, to thank them, as they were being ushered out. They were told, “Do not forget the social distancing norms, even when you are back home. Please maintain it for a longer time and hopefully we may all, together Overcome”.
My friends were overcome with emotions and they reported that each of the 128 patients who were being driven back, in mini buses sported moist eyes at the warm hospitality, they were offered for free, by the State. Amidst all the complaints, grievances and negative stories on the States’ falling short and failing to match up, here is a positive story that Abdul Kalam would have been happy to have read.
Three Cheers to the Tamil Nadu State Government led by its Chief Minister Edapadi Palanisami, with appropriate support from the Narendra Modi administration, for standing by its People in this hour of crisis. Let us warmly applaud the Covid-19 warriors, be it at the front end or the backend, wherever they are. We Shall Surely Together Overcome.
(Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan-Author is practising Advocate in the Madras High Court)