dom at
Tue Oct 4 01:48:26 UTC 1994

I thought I might share with you a few reflections on what it is like
here in India with the plague epidemic going on.

I am in South India, in Bangalore, so the outbreak in Surat seemed very
far away indeed.  Of course the disease spread with fleeing people, and 
there are now positive diagnoses in several other cities.  I think there
have been two (or just one?) deaths in Karnataka, and no other positive
diagnoses as far as I know.

Most of what I know is from three national papers I read: The Indian Express,
The Hindu, and the Deccan Herald.  The Express makes for more exciting
and hysterical reading, whereas the Hindu seems to be more mature and 
balanced.  But none of them are doing anything much in depth.  

One of the overwhelming impressions is how very nasty the reaction of 
foreign countries has been, in particular the Gulf states.  The immediate
and total ban on all travel, now extended even to mail, was a real
slap in the face for India, and all those thousands of families who
work part of the time in the Gulf.  Personal friends of mine were on a
plane for the UAE that taxied out for takeoff at Bombay, and was the 
first plane turned back when the ban came into force.  They lost a lot of
money, and were not even accommodated by the airline that night in Bombay.
The ignominy was almost the worst of it.

The other thing that everyone is saying is, of course, that this is 
a terrible indightment of the government.  That people are losing their
lives in 1994 to a medieval disease like this -- nearly half a century
after the discovery of penicillin -- is unforgivable.  This 
is squarely a matter of public hygiene and civic sanitation, and 
is a graphic example of how dangerous it is to ignore infrastructure

There was a curious report buried in a middle paragraph last Friday,
saying that all schools and cinemas in Delhi had been closed.  Then
today there was a report saying that the schools were all opening again.
Evidently, people in authority are unsure of what level of response
is appropriate.

There are processions in some towns carrying Mariamma through 
the streets (actually she is being called "Plagueamma"), which again 
seems a throwback to 18th and 19th century diarists accounts of 
smallpox outbreaks.

In Bangalore, there are teams of people assembling 
roadside rubbish into piles for 
collection, but I didn't see any trucks to take it away.  Perhaps they
were coming, but one wonders if the sanitation department actually knows
how to clean up a city, or has the means to do it.

Although it is terrible for any of the people directly affected, the numbers
are still rather small, and at present it looks as though the thing
will burn itself out in the next few weeks.  Almost all reported suspected 
cases turn out not to be plague; almost all "ratfalls"  (new word for me,
meaning dead rat in the street) turn out to be caused by old age, or 
whatever rats usually die of.

To sum up, from the perspective of Bangalore it is all still (luckily)
very much something that is happening elsewhere.


Dr Dominik Wujastyk             Phone: +91-80-843-5320
12/1 Meghalaya,                        +91-80-843-5249
Vajarahalli,                Phone/FAX: +91-80-663-3884 (not auto: phone first)
Kanakapura Road,                email:  ucgadkw at (UK) and
Bangalore 560 062                       dom at  (INDIA)
Currently on sabbatical leave from the Wellcome Institute, London.


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