The very same day after seeing Firdaus at the pool, I met her. I didn’t tell her I’d seen him, since She seemed to have other bigger concerns to deal with. She had just arrived from Rakkad, Dharmasala, and was wearing a flimsy green mask around her mouth.
“What’s going on?” I asked her.
“I think I might have caught the ugly flu” She.
With that she opened her pouch that hung listlessly, as if weakened by the flu itself, diagonally from her shoulder. She took out four largish pills, two each of Vitamin C and Multivitamins, and popped them into her mouth with meticulous care. She had that annoying habit of taking a pill and placing it deep into her throat, so that her disease stricken tongue didn’t have to perform the daunting task of carrying the pill from the mouth and dumping it into the throat.
I had been feeling quite exasperated by the ‘still day’ and in the evening, exasperation personified, She stood in front of me with her flu, having previously evaporated from my life without a goodbye. But She didn’t seem to mind. I guess She figured I would be a little irritated with her, if not anything else, after all that had happened. But She wasn’t going to allow anything else besides that mild irritation. So I made my peace with the situation.
I asked her how She got the flu. She started telling me about her time in Rakkad, how She was alone at her uncle’s house there, and the only visitor She’d had was the maid. The day before, in the morning the maid turned up at work with “Cough and Cold”. She sent the maid home straight away and since then had been feeling like She was coming down with the deadly ‘Swine Flu’.
I wondered how She knew that the maid had ‘swine flu’ and not any other kind, but to humour her I asked her if She had a sore throat and runny nose, and any other flu like symptoms. She didn’t say. After much gibberish She finally blurted that She didn’t have a sore throat or a cold or a fever … but She could feel it, She could feel herself coming down with the flu.
And I just couldn’t contain my anger. I shouted at her for about 15 minutes and She quietly listened without interrupting even once. We both knew this anger was directed more towards her disappearance act than the flu drama.
After that I sat down to explain to her. First I made her take off that stupid mask She was wearing, the green one with blind like pleats with white borders. It made me sick and drove me back to unwelcome memories of hospitals. Then I explained to her how I had read in an email that masks actually don’t help much. Since the flu virus is supposed to spread through air, which means that if someone who has flu sneezes and his/her mucous-y droplets fall on a surface, and someone else touches the surface, that someone else will probably catch the flu. And ergo sneezing in your mask and then strutting around wearing it, and in the process planting the virus for other people wasn’t the coolest thing to do.
She immediately took off the mask, put it in a brown paper bag and threw it into the bin!
She was a science student in school but it hadn’t been her decision to study science. Had her parents allowed her the choice She would have happily opted for Humanities and done well in the area, which She was doing now as well! But because She was ‘made’ to study science in school under the loving guidance of teachers who absolutely hated her daftness; the subject now evaded her!
I asked her why She was being so paranoid about the flu. And in the voice of a petulant child She told me that the name bothered her. ‘Swine’ was a derogatory, bad, inappropriate word, whilst ‘Pig’ wasn’t. Pig had cute connotations on the other hand. The fact that this flu was called ‘Swine Flu’ instead of ‘Pig Flu’, according to her meant that it was a bad flu, or a more virulent one!
I shook my head in disbelief.
“Listen, it all makes sense” She implored.
“How?” said I impatiently!
“Look at the media!” She then went on to explain how it was a more virulent viral flu since it had put the media in a tizzy, and how all newspapers, news channels, radios reported all aspects of the flu, all the time!
I was saddened when She started talking about this. If you’re a friend, and you’re reading this, you know I work in the media industry and I hate it, from the bottom of my heart, I hate news, I almost hate journalism, I hate people who make news, I hate news channels most importantly, I hate Indian news channels so much so that I’d rather live off garbage in the dirtiest streets then go back to work for them … I did work for them for quite a bit. The saving grace was that I was working for their ‘entertainment’ stories and not news stories! The not so saving grace was that their entertainment stories were as shitty, if not more, as their news stories. I left working there because I felt like I’d fallen from grace but to be honest at that point I hadn’t even been standing to be able to fall. It was worse and more twisted than falling from grace and the fact was written large on my face …
Now, I look much healthier and have a better perspective and therefore can explain to the people outside the media world, that the inside of the media world are as stingingly offal as dirty politics and bureaucratic set-ups.
I explained to her that when She came across news about Swine Flu, most of times the news read something like this ‘Mr. X dies of Swine Flu. This many deaths due to Swine Flu. This many affected by Swine Flu. This many dead here. This many dead there. Dead! Dead! Dead!’
But what about why they are dead?
They are dead probably because of their weakened immune system, or other health complication in their bodies that the flu interfered with.
There are newspapers, and I am going to name names like ‘The Hindu’ today, the 14th of August, the editorial page where a very sane doctor has written a very sane account of the dangers involved with the flu, which can never and will never be solved under panic.
The others specially the news channels wistfully ‘create’ the tizzy around such scenarios as it gives them high TRP’s, the gold of the media world. As the media in our country is Juvenile, it loses itself in a ‘gold rush’*. The more mature media of the west, still indulges in gold rushes but in a very subtle, cool, and harmless to the audience, sort of way. Our media is far from that maturity at the moment.
When they hear Swine Flu they hear ‘gold rush’ announcing bells. What follows is thoughtless activity inside the newsroom, where untrained apprentices device ways to emblemize Swine Flu. And the result is … A screen split into 4, showing 4 restless, young reporters, sending out panic stricken gibberish through their green, blinded masks. This screen shot sends many a minds that have unwittingly switched on the news channel at that point, into self protect mode, and the minds immediately scurry to the nearest chemist to buy the same mask, the same mask that is not going to help them at all, but might just help the virus.
The saner thing to do would be to tell people about the simple importance of ‘hygiene’ at this time.
Why our news channels do this, you might ask. And to that I will just say, think of it as the business strategy called ‘large scale hoarding’ or ‘cornering the market’ wherein an individual or organization attempts to temporarily control all available supplies of a given good in order to artificially increase the price. Here the given good is Swine Flu, the hoarding act is the ‘exclusive’ shows on a particular channel, and the price is the TRP according to which the advertisers swamp those particular shows, or show timings of that particular channel, during that particular period of time.
She mulled over all this for the longest time, read the Hindu article I had shown her, and the one on the second page of the newspaper:
Then She left without saying much.
Five minutes ago, about an hour after She left, I got a text from her, which She’d probably sent to everyone in her phonebook, saying “Please don’t panic in the wake of Swine Flu. It isn’t a big, bad disease. All you need to do is keep clean. And the minute you feel like you have the flu, get it checked. For all you know it could be just some regular, good old flu!”
*A gold rush is a period of feverish migration of workers into the area of a dramatic discovery of commercial quantities of gold. Gold rushes took place in the 19th century in Australia, Brazil, Canada, South Africa, and the United States. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold_rush