It started when we arrived at Bengaluru International Airport and stumbled into the customs line at 4 a.m. I stepped hesitantly towards the officer on duty. He clutched a compact, gun-like contraption, prepared to shoot it at my forehead. Perplexed, I listened intently to the murmuring of the other travelers around me. "It's nothing; he's just taking your temperature…"
Then everything connected in my mind. I remembered the questionnaires that all passengers on our flight had been forced to answer as we inhaled the fumes of air sterilization spray. Any American arrival brings the threat of the swine flu to India; it was this customs guard's job to ensure, with his hand-held forehead thermometer, that I would not be responsible for unleashing the H1N1 virus on Bangalore.
These days, many of Bangalore's denizens tie bandanas around their mouths as a defense against the disease, making the streets look like a veritable Wild East. Then there are masks ranging from homemade paper contraptions to the N95 masks being black-marketed and touted as the next generation in swine flu protection. Amidst the knowledge that the swine flu – and the garden-variety influenza and innumerable other viruses and strains found only in India – exist, imperceptibly, all around us, there is a universally felt need in this city to feel prepared against these dangers.
Still, many Bangaloreans remain unaware that swine flu is airborne; in all probability, many of the unaffected were already exposed to the H1N1 virus without having known it. Tips on avoiding the disease in local newspapers include such helpful tidbits as "Avoid entering crowded places," – advice which is impossible to follow unless one avoids this city completely. Every morning at area schools, teachers inquire who has symptoms of a cold or a cough (as if their pupils will confess) and those students are promptly sent home (as if their showing up at school wouldn't have done the damage already.)
The H1N1 hysteria has peaked here; and while some of the hype may be hogwash, in a developing country like this, prevention of the disease is critical because of limited resources for treatment of the public. It truly is the year of the pig: swine will fly before the swine flu is forgotten in Bangalore.
Sonalee Rau. Sonalee (suh-NAH-lee) is a chipper Chipper and a would-be magnet junior. She spends a great deal of time playing tennis (Blair is red hot), doodling, reading, quoting famous people, quoting not-so-famous people and lamenting her inability to play the piano. She is also a big … More »