South Asia is one of the more beautiful parts of the globe: sandy beaches, verdant greenery, and rich history has been part of its fascination since the explorations of Marco Polo. Kerala, India where I have been living off and on as an American expat, is by far one of the crest jewels of India. Bragging of iconic backwaters, a high level of education and according to Wikipedia, a state’s per capita income which is 60% higher than the Indian national average, it is considered a desirable spot to live. In a speech by former President of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee in 2016, he extolled the peace loving co-existence of religions describing a city in Kerala as where…“Gods gather in unity and harmony. This town and its surroundings have been a thriving centre of Islam, Christianity, Judaism as well as Hinduism”.
Given the higher standard of living, it is unfortunately no wonder that Kerala was the first state in India to announce three corona virus cases. The first cases were treated swiftly and methodically and were medical students who had recently arrived from a medical university in Wuhan. Contrary to the perception of India being a third world player, the Kerala government effectively treated and rehabilitated these students who fully recovered. This was February.
Flash forward to March where the world feels more like we have entered the world of the movie “Contagion”. According to The Hindu, a popular newspaper in South India, “Contagion” a movie based on a deadly pandemic by Steven Soderbergh, has become the second most watched movie in Warner Brother’s catalog in 2020. A family of three entered Kerala, skirting the authorities at airport security about their trip to Italy and attended social gatherings, religious services and met family for a week, only to test positive on March 8th. The state went into a tailspin and primary schools were closed for children, faculty and staff overnight. It goes without saying that within a couple of days of, the Chief Minister of the state, wisely commenced a lock down with closed theaters, smaller social gatherings, closing schools, and universities. The drama continued today with a British tourist escaping from the lovely hill station of Munnar where he was under quarantine, and was seized at the Kochi, Kerala airport along with his travel group of 19 boarding a plane to Dubai. The UK tourist tested positive according to The Hindu.
One begins to wonder, is this for real, have we regressed to desperate measures? Disruption in US airports like O’Hare and Dallas seemed not much better with long anxious queues and confusion. In a thriller movie, a hero comes to save the day, human values of survival and sacrifice prevail. I think this March will test the human spirit on a global level, from Kerala to the countries beyond.