By Ravi Perera –
If proof was needed of our nation’s plight, the Corona virus has raised the screen on the humbling scene; under-developed, money-strapped, huge debts, ham-handed administration and inept leadership; seventy years after independence, a country going from mediocrity to basket case. Our problems were not created by the pandemic, it only exacerbated them.
If a theme is needed, it is a repeating story of incompetence, corruption and big talk. While the stage is on fire, they talk of mega issues: global problems, constitutions, good governance, democracy; without any right, empirically or morally.
The play is for twenty plus million people, but the true actors are only a handful, a few families and individuals playing merry go round, a story plot they will hate to change, a script written to their benefit entirely.
In this desolate landscape of broken promises and failed endeavours, people are shuffling about, confused and uncomprehending of the magnitude of the betrayal. Covid-19 has only made their suffering worse, but then it is only a matter of degree.
Following are some tales I have heard in the previous weeks from different sources, which cannot be verified or vouched for. However, given our actualities, they are more than probable, and, perhaps representative of the experiences of thousands of our fellow citizens.
There is a conspiracy
When I first met him about ten years ago, Jeffery was a gym instructor; lean, agile, a disciplined man of moderate habits. Perhaps because of his heathy lifestyle, he did not show his age, with a gait and movements of a young man. I later learnt that Jeffery was in his early seventies. He was also congenial, we used to meet occasionally with mutual friends, for a drink and a chat.
Two weeks ago, a friend who moved closely with Jeffery and his family informed me that Jeffery had passed away, a victim to the Covid-19 pandemic. One evening he had suddenly developed breathing difficulties, his family’s frantic efforts to summon an ambulance was of no avail. Our ambulance service is hard pressed by the pandemic demands. Apparently, whenever a suspected Covid patient is transported the vehicle has to be disinfected which lengthens the turn-around time. The trained staff is limited and overworked. By the time the ambulance got to his residence, Jeffery was beyond help.
I inquired from the mutual friend whether Jeffery had taken his vaccinations. Evidently not, he explained it this way- “Jeffery was an inveterate web surfer. He had come across various conspiracy theories about the pandemic. Once he mentioned Bill Gates, suggesting a connection with the pharmaceutical industry, an attempt to mind control the world. He did not want to be a victim of a global conspiracy!”
A Cricketer departs
I have known Ruwan from childhood. A cricketer of some repute in his youth, in later years Ruwan became a businessman, dabbling in different things. An indulgent person, he liked his drinks a bit too much. This over-indulgence impaired his health, leading to various medical complications. In later years, he lived a retired life, convalescing, just outside of Colombo, in the Dompe area, looked after by some family members.
Ruwan had wanted to get the injection but at the time the vaccination campaign was concentrated in Colombo, even in adjacent Dompe it was not available. When he fell sick, his relatives had rushed him to the Dompe Hospital in a three-wheeler. They were informed that the hospital did not have the necessary facilities like ventilators or oxygen and were advised to take the patient to Colombo. The hospital did not have an ambulance to offer either. Ruwan passed away while being transported to Colombo in the three-wheeler.
As is the case with nearly every fatality now, it was declared that Covid-19 was the cause of death, setting in motion a tortuous process for the relatives, up to cremation and even beyond. Being not adequately empowered, Ruwan’s family were sent from pillar to post. They had even been approached with solicitations for bribes in return for favours, including the possibility of adducing a different cause of death. Eventually, several of Ruwan’s childhood friends came to the rescue, helping with the endless paper work, supplying the cash when necessary.
Many, many moons ago, when a teenaged Ruwan walked out of the pavilion, padded–up, a shining bat in hand, it was cheers all the way. He was proud, empowered; the game of Cricket raised him. That was only a fleeting part of his life, all too short. An English game, that created a fantasy, amidst a harsher, cruder reality. Ruwan’s final walk did not have the glory that accompanied him on his youthful walk to the middle.
The death of a mother
Kamala had lovingly nursed her elderly mother for many years at her home. She kept an attendant to see to the mothers’ needs round the clock. The mother, nearly ninety, had suffered from several ailments. She was too feeble to be taken for the vaccination.
A few days ago she died at home and was later declared to have succumbed to the dreaded Corona virus. This finding drags the bereaved family into a bureaucratic maze, which would exhaust the victim even in ordinary times. Although the entire cost of the proceedings is to be met by the family, the whole process is out of their control.
Their documents were processed at the Kalubowila hospital which is close to her residence. There is a heavy Police involvement in the procedure, who demanded several documents, and in turn, provided several documents which were needed prior to cremation. They had put up a special tent at the hospital premises for the purpose of processing the documents. Kamala and her husband had to be in that space suit like protective gear for nearly a whole day while the documents were being processed. With the heavy masks it had been incredibly hot. The documents are not given at once, only at different times, as they become available. There were many bereaved families waiting. Some of the documents given to them had to be photocopied by them and resubmitted. As there was no photocopier available on site, Kamala had to make several trips in search of a copier.
Although Kamala had an undertaker in mind, she learnt that victims of Covid were not handled by that undertaker. The hospital had a few names, one of whom Kamala selected. As there were many cremations to be done, the crematorium also was nominated for them. They were given a crematorium in Moratuwa.
When they eventually returned from Moratuwa, after a long day, sad, sleepless and exhausted, everybody at home including the attendant were told to isolate themselves for two weeks before submitting themselves to a PCR test. They had all taken their vaccinations earlier. The cost of the PCR is Rs. 6,500 per person. Kamala had to continue paying the nurse who was also staying with them, including the PCR cost. Eventually when the test was done, all came negative.
And, a Singaporean
Kumar is a Singaporean Indian, in Sri Lanka for business purposes. Due to travel restrictions he was compelled to stay on longer than anticipated. Middle-aged, squat, a man of the world; Kumar was easy company. Invariably, many Sub-continent immigrants to Developed countries acquire a self –assurance referable to a life in an ordered society, coupled with an attractive openness. There is a discernible sense of evolvement in them, an inner security, a largeness. I enjoyed talking to him.
I asked Kumar how he felt about doing business here. He despaired of the lack of systems. “There are no rules or standards. There is a pretence of standards, but it is only that, it is a word used, but not understood. Anything can be rearranged by a powerful individual or with a bit of money. The ensuing instability creates anxiety, at both at an individual level as well as socially.”
Kumar had recently developed the gout, which gave him a lot of pain. “A rich man’s disease!” I commented. He attributed the gout to the copious beer drinking he had indulged with his Japanese principals. I have heard many self-congratulatory declarations about our medical services. Assuming that Kumar would have sought their guidance, I inquired the local hospital he attended. “Oh, no. I consult my doctor in Singapore and he guides me. Everything is done on-line. My doctor is available 24/7” he said emphatically, with a tinge of pride.
Dispassionately looked at, all the hyperbole about our medical service is not believed by anyone possessed of a true choice. All our rich and famous fly away to Singapore, UK or USA for their medical needs. It is most unlikely that they even take the Indian made generic medicine, which is the standard medicine for the average person. It is all European or American medical brands, for our ‘prabuwaru’ (elite).
I inquired about the Covid-19 situation in Singapore. While the government of Singapore is concerned about the rampaging Delta variant, he had the fullest confidence that Singapore will overcome the threat. It is a government that has repeatedly proved that it belongs firmly in the First World, Kumar said.
Soon after the pandemic broke, the government of Singapore distributed to every household in the country: a blood pressure meter, Oxygen gauge and an antigen testing tool. Not that Singaporeans, having one of the highest per Capita incomes in the world, cannot afford to buy them; it is the method and system that is important.
“That is the commitment the government of Singapore has to its people”