I remember the time when there was Anthrax scare in the US. My brother-in-law who is a general physician then said, Anthrax was not uncommon in India, with cases present even in Chennai. We have simply remained unaware that’s it. In his over 30+ years of private practice, he bemused that, there was not a thing he did not get to see. We have cows roaming our streets, dozens of stray dogs and cats littering every gulley and crows shitting every windowsill and parked car without being shot down at by civic authorities. Rhesus monkey menace is pretty common in every Indian city, town and village in India. You may find them in your balconies and terraces or even sometimes raiding our kitchen. We feed them fruits because we think actually God Hanuman is visiting us! We even feed the snakes, milk in our temples. We host elephants in temples! The only difference is, we DO NOT EAT them! In India, everything is holy and revered – from the cow to the crow! Even the dog happens to be the vehicle of Lord Kala Bhairava, a fiery form of Lord Shiva who is connected to destruction and restoring balance in the universe. World media portray India as filthy and teeming with germs, but at times like now perhaps, it helps growing up with a natural immunity to a good number of bacteria and viruses in the kind of environment we have in India. Could be a reason for covid 19 picking up slow in India (touchwood). Indians’ physical resistance to germs is very strong unlike those who grow up in sterile atmosphere.
In fact I was debating this with my son very recently. He returned from the US quitting his research studies (we forced him to). He was telling me how mental health is not given its due share of attention in India. I quoted a cousin’s name and said, today he works for a multinational only because we did not label him as autistic or dyslexic when he was a kid. He was just a backbencher and a poor performer in academics who did not merit any extra attention. He grew up with his peers as an equal and had a normal childhood and adolescence. Not all the kids can be class toppers. You need some to flunk the grades as well! In today’s schools and times, I wondered aloud how someone like him might fare. Sidelined like a freak, asked to join a special school, forced into counselling sessions and behaviour therapy classes. Of course there are varying degrees of delayed development and in some cases, special attention may be warranted. But in a majority of cases, not sidelining the odd but mainstreaming them and normalizing them must be sufficient. I have heard our elderly say, ‘not all the fingers in our hands are the same.’ This is how we tolerated and nurtured the slightly lethargic among us and made them live a normal life.
Today my sister called to tell me how the situation in the US is getting worse and out of control. She has family there from in-laws’ side. Not only are the masses there hysterical but even the doctors are overtly stressed and can’t cope up. The American physicians may be great research scientists and innovators in the field of medicine, but it looks like, they are not mentally prepared or trained like their Indian counterparts to take on or deal with highly stressful situations and therefore cannot get down to work on their hands and knees when there arises a crisis, without breaking down. Then what is the use of boasting state of art institutions and cutting edge technology medical apparatus and testing/research laboratories. Apparently, the medical fraternity in the west gets overwhelmed/ exhausted too soon. Indian doctors are good at managing stress and dealing with traumatic conditions because, life is a struggle for us all the way. You only have to step into our government hospitals to understand why a huge percentage of medicos in the US, UK, Europe, Australia and Middle East are Indians by descent. Same for our staff nurses and paramedics. Comparatively India is cool. Of course I do not know how the next few weeks are going to pan out. Indian doctors still are good at diagnosis without the help of screening tests for the chief reason that medical equipment and testing kits are expensive in India!
I was telling my son, we don’t give importance to mental health in India because we never believe we will have any problem in the first place with our mind. We meditate. We pray in temples. We celebrate without holding back. Just look at our festivals and weddings. Globally they call ours ‘the big fat Indian wedding!’ We don’t control our emotions. I have been on the verge of so-called depression myself many times in my life. All of us go through ups and downs in life. We go through phases. We throw temper tantrums, we stomp and scream, we cry and curse but then we do come around in a while. We do not consult a psychiatrist for normal but sometimes erratic human behaviour and we refuse to pop a pill branding ourselves as ‘the depressed.’ There is nothing wrong with a vast majority of us. The actual cases for counselling or medication may be negligible. After Corona, my son tends to agree with me.
I have had friends and relatives visiting from US. What spooks me is that, some of my friends and relatives who grew up in India actually find India unsettling! For instance, someone complained about fresh milk I was using for coffee. These people are now used to milk from cartons that they cannot accept fresh milk not older than one day, merely pasteurized and without added vitamins and preservatives, as safe enough to drink. In fact at Ongole in Andhra where my husband worked, i used to watch as my milkwoman milked a cow in front of our house. Straight from the udder, warm and without water mixing. I love fresh milk and ‘seempal’ (the first milk of a cow after it births a calf but now i don’t have it because I think only the calf has the right to the first milk not humans) and until last generation, many of us owned cows at home. Now of course, we get milk sachets in half or one litre hardly a day old that we refrigerate. This milk unlike the UHT milk you may find in the US or Europe, has only a day’s shelf life even if you put it in fridge. This milk curdles if you use it after a day. Because this is how the natural milk must be. Have you ever seen the UHT milk souring. It can have even 365 day shelf life! I was shocked when my friend refused to drink fresh pure Indian milk only because it did not come from a carton printed with calories and ingredients (!)
Same for the meat we cook in India. No frozen fish or chicken or goat meat. Even though I am vegetarian, I cook meat for my family and friends. We have never so far gone for frozen meat. Even in Malaysia and in Middle East (where we are currently based), we have gone for fresh meat only. Most Americans again cannot agree with meat that is not packaged or frozen. Anything that is packed for them is automatically safe and hygienic enough to consume. Fresh meat is contaminated in their dictionary. Expiry date and date of packing are a must for them in anything and everything! Now how can you ever change this mindset! We Hindus in India who are supposedly the poorest, refuse to eat food older than a day but the far richer Europeans and Americans and even Arabs go for food frozen for months even years! I wonder who is really living a truly richer and better life!
The curry smell may be because of turmeric, an array of spices like black pepper, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, even saffron, curry leaves, coriander, red chili, asafoetida (hing), fennel, cumin seeds, mustard, kalonji (or black cumin) etc., etc. that are an integral part of Indian cuisine – north and/or south Indian. We Indians use a mix of all or most of these on a daily basis in our kitchen. Eating with hands, walking without footwear – these are all healthy habits. Even power-cuts are good! Most Indians can go without power and amenities like air conditioner for days! Yoga helps most of us have flexible bodies. Meditation calms our mind. I am not saying we are the best. But I guess, we can handle trauma and crises much better than the so-called advanced first world nations as we see presently.
The greatest lesson I learn from Corona is that, not necessarily everything has to be streamlined or strictly disciplined and enforced as in the US or Europe. Things can be irregular and not punctual as in India. Things can go wrong no issues. Things can wait. Things can be imperfect. Systems can break down like our power grids and metro rail! India teaches you resilience and patience as none can! One of the major issues in the west I feel, is this invincible attitude of theirs because they believe they have put in place the best streamlined system that will take care of itself.The litmus test for such a hypothesis is now. And I must say, most western countries are already proving the theory wrong.
We Indians are infamous for our ‘chaltha hai’ attitude about everything. We take it all very easy and nothing is serious for us. ‘This too shall pass.’ For the first time in my life, instead of counting it as our curse, I am taking it to be our greatest blessing.
We Indians, especially Hindus, have been slowly getting materialistic that is against our dharma. Covid 19 is like a rude awakening to us, reminding us, our goal is Nirvana/Mukthi – the ultimate renunciation of all things bonding and materialistic by nature.
My husband has been working outside India for over 20 years now. For the first time I heard him say, he wants to return home for good and be with just the family. Corona has opened his eyes and he says, ‘what for all this money. who for?’ I braced myself for three more years abroad as he very recently bagged a prestigious project to head. We don’t know how this will work out, but the very thought has stirred emotions in me. Many expats working overseas who are doing great share a surprisingly sudden and similar feeling, wanting to get back to India.
India’s greatest pluses are this mental strength and quiet confidence and physical resilience. Even after serial bomb blasts on more than one occasion, Mumbaikars returned to work the very next day because the city never stops or sleeps. This nation has to go on, come what may. This my nation has been hounded and traumatized for centuries – that there is never a chance or moment for us to get complacent. We are always on our toes. Even militarily, we have to thank our hostile neighbourhood for keeping us always on alert! Our soldiers are battle hardened! We fight the worst adversaries : the Pakistanis and Chinese!
Family ties in India are very strong. Family breaks your heart as none does. Rat race for school and university admissions, employment etc., etc., have you primed to compete with the best brains in any part of the world ! Frankly this is the secret of success for most Indians who make it big in the US.
You cannot drive in the city without having your car scratched. Nobody even bothers! No court case, no fine. That is India. If you drive in Indian roads, you can drive anywhere in the world – that is another feather to our cap!
Do i sound sarcastic! Or satiric? No. This is just matter of factly.
The calm demeanor with which our prime minister Shri Narendra Modi ji addressed the nation has won him our hearts. Such a confidence yet caution for corona. Fixing responsibilities. Assigning roles. Preparing the grounds, testing waters, for the masses before taking the eventual and inevitable plunge shortly, if things don’t work out smooth. I like his approach.
India is resilient as ever. Will will banish the corona! Covid 19 will bypass India! Jai Hind!
PS: Watching a rerun of Man vs Wild with Bear Grylls featuring our PM, I can’t help lauding the clarity with which Modi ji asserts, how personal hygiene is very important to Indians even if most of us can’t care less about social hygiene. With Chinese or the west, the reverse is true. For Planet Earth to stay healthy and survive, every society must practise both in tandem.