Here’s my prediction for what it is worth: our great PM will be the first, high-profile citizen to take the vaccine
I am writing this a day after the anniversary of the horrific 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai in 2008, that not only shook the metropolis like nothing ever had, but shook the rest of India and the world as well, as shockwaves reverberated across continents at the audacity of the operation. It’s been 12 years since that ghastly day when the bone-chilling events were played out live on television channels globally. I guess time has a way of making us forget even the greatest of tragedies. This year, the significant date went by without much notice. The local media in Mumbai gave it scant, passing coverage -- if at all. A couple of pictures appeared the next day in a few dailies, featuring police officers paying tributes to their slain colleagues and all the other victims of the terror strike. Only one prominent obituary in a leading daily served as a reminder of what families had endured when their loved ones were brutally gunned down by ruthless criminals from across the border. Not so surprisingly, the pandemic deaths have overtaken and overwhelmed us to such an extent that we neglected to honour the memories of all those we tragically lost more than a decade ago.
While we wait breathlessly for the magic vaccine, here’s my prediction for what it is worth: our great Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, will be the first, high-profile citizen to take the vaccine today when he visits the Serum Institute in Pune. He is scheduled to fly into Hyderabad and Ahmedabad on the same day to take stock of vaccine development work at facilities in these three cities. Will he… won’t he? Take the shot, I mean? I think he will. This is nothing more than a gut feeling, while figuring out the mind of one of the shrewdest leaders in the political sphere. For one, a bold gesture such as this one will send out a powerful signal to the rest of the world that India has beaten everyone else in the vaccine race. For another, it will be more than a mighty booster shot for his personal ego. Besides, with two key state elections to consider, his party, the BJP, will try and flatten any curve in its path -- not just the Covid one. India’s global image as a pharma leader will be further bolstered if NaMo goes for it. And frankly -- history will be made by this one gesture of this one man! Narendra Modi has both -- an uncanny sense of timing, besides an obsession to create personal history. If he indeed does take the vaccine before any other major international political personality, he will be hailed as the “Hero of the Pandemic 2020”. Catch him passing up on such an opportunity!
The question that is worth asking is this: Are we pinning unrealistic hopes on the vaccine “saving” humanity? People are still dropping like flies, particularly in America… while the Covid-19 statistics in India continue to be alarming. We are expecting miracles once the vaccine gets marketed -- and there are still four or five months to go without that happening. Yes, we must place our faith in experts and scientists at this point and pray for deliverance. Will that happen because we desperately want it to? Or will we be dealing with a fresh set of problems? As of now, the world is in need of instant solace and reassurance. We hang on to every tiny scrap of positive news and breakthroughs. We are too close to the pandemic to have sufficient distance to make informed choices about the vaccine. At the moment, I am sitting on the fence, and not committing to taking it as and when it’s here. I have zero knowledge about its side effects, zero knowledge about its long-term efficacy, and zero knowledge about its overall behaviour. In that sense, we are all guinea pigs, ready to try whatever it is that appears, because we are scared and numbed by fear. Fear of the unknown. I am asking myself silly questions like: “What if I do take the vaccine and my body revolts against it? What if I avoid contracting Covid but my kidneys fail? Or my liver packs up?” The thing about the pandemic is how it has generated a fear psychosis on an unprecedented level, as we scramble to grab every little straw that offers relief from the dreaded virus, without thinking about repercussions.
Till then, we have little choice but to go along with the official info, which may or may not be accurate. Rumour mills are in overdrive, about who is making how much selling masks that are substandard, and how easy it is to get licences to import masks if the person puts down Rs 45 lakhs -- no scrutiny, no testing, no questions asked. When the scenario is this cynical, it is hard to stay optimistic and believe by this time next year everything will be “back to normal”, or “back on track”. Nothing is ever going to be the same again -- that’s a given. But we cannot carry on without investing in hope for a better tomorrow. Whether or not schools reopen next year, whether or not our hospitals and healthcare systems can cope down the line, whether or not there will be a third, fourth and fifth wave… babies will continue to be born, people will get married, lovers will find a way to celebrate romance. Poets will write moving verse, painters will give expression on canvas, musicians will compose melodies -- nothing will stop the creative impulse, least of all a microbe.
Christmas is but a few weeks away. Santa Claus and his reindeers will arrive in a safe bubble and he will greet children with a lusty “hohoho” from behind a sturdy face shield and mask -- so be it! The world will continue to spin, and the stars will still shine. ‘Tis the season to be jolly -- why deprive ourselves?