A Message from India
India then and now: Top Image: People desperate to leave Bombay (as It was then called) during the plague of 1896. Bottom: The current rush to get on the last trains before they were shut down due to COVID-19.
India then and now: Top Image: Sheikh Memon Street a century ago Bottom: The same location, even emptier than 100 years before. Normally, of course, this area would be filled with people, cars, scooters and more as people went about their daily lives
Mumbai is nothing if not resilient. We have been through calamities before: the 1993 bomb blast, 2005 floods, the terror attack in 2008. And that's just the recent past. Mumbai has survived and bounced back because of the attitude of the people, who come to one another's aid and who are able to summon up hidden reserves of strength.
Now we are facing an unprecedented threat with the coronavirus. This is a global catastrophe and many other countries have suffered loss of lives. India is especially vulnerable. We are a country of over 1.2 billion people, public health care is poor and private health care is expensive. About 25% of the population is illiterate and 68% live in rural areas with limited resources. City housing is crowded and sanitation is often poor. There are over 100 million Indians over 60 years old. The government's official infection numbers may not reflect reality as most people do not have access to tests or care and government policy restricts testing.
I am not Prime Minister Modi's biggest fan, but when I listened to his speech on Thursday, I sensed a genuine concern from him as well as a feeling of helplessness. He advised us to stay indoors and apart to control the spread of the virus and announced a curfew from 7 am to 9 pm. However, in crowded conditions it is difficult to really separate. Also, many Indians are daily wage workers and this loss of income will put them in desperate straits. It is heartening to see that organizations have come forward to offer help. Even some supermarkets and restaurants are offering free food "to the people whose house runs on their daily income but due to coronavirus their income is stopped." Unfortunately, we have also had social media spreading fake reports and rumors which have caused panic and long lines at stores. The government has now produced its own official website in an attempt to provide accurate information.
At MarketPlace the artisans have to stop work because of the quarantine. This will affect them, but I marvel at their strength. These women have dealt with so many obstacles, and they will get past this, too.