January 26, 2020
Who makes our Republic?
A billion plus Indians. Sure. Every citizen. Happy. With dissent. All included. For they who dissent. Dissent with a grievance.
For me. I need faces. Real faces that I will relate to. And I know represent. The spirit of India. Its Constitution.
These women, men and children for me make India a Republic. In action.
Integrity. Courage. Dedication. Compassion. Love. These faces remain etched in my mind.
Some I have touched. Some I have read of. And remembered. For they represent all that I cherish in my Republic. India.
And because I know that they are in action. Somewhere in small towns, metropolises, villages, hamlets. Even today. That my Republic is safe. Secure. In hands of her Children.
The faces are many. I write of three. Below. Those that I have no physical pictures of. But etched in my memory.
Face 1: A dead cadre: Small Pox Health Worker
Alipurduar-1 BPHC, 1995
His face glowed up. Wrinkled face. Unkempt hair. He stood up. In a meeting of young health workers. And began a long speech on how he had put up tents in deep jungles. How he had walked in forest slums. Where wild animals roamed. To reach the last hut. From where a putrid smell came. To visit a house with small pox. And how he had ridden a cycle on uneven paths in monsoon. To vaccinate. “It is a memory long back, Sir. But a journey that was rewarding.”
He, the last few of the Small Pox Health worker cadre. That has long been abolished.
Face 2: Innovation with Bata Shoe Box
Jalpaiguri Town, 1999
It was March. But the sun was up. And it was noon. They walked in a pair. Two Pink Sarees. With a Bata Shoe box. I stopped them. “Where to on a Polio Campaign Day?”
I knew they were returning. From the market. Shoe boxes.
“We are vaccinating. Sir. House to house. You can visit. And check.”
I stared. Bata shoe boxes. “Oh these?” One replied. “I have recently undergone Surgery. Appendicectomy. Doctor asked not to lift weight. On leave, Sir. But today is Polio Day. So, I have come out. I know the houses. The families. The children. They trust me. Yesterday. My son made these boxes. For me. So that I do not have to carry weight.”
And she opened the boxes. Lined with foam. There was one ice pack. And on the ice pack 5-6 vials of Oral Polio Vaccine.
“From tomorrow I am again on leave. But today is Polio Day. I must vaccinate.”
Face 3: Betting on her last card
A district in UP. 2002.
The village was red. On the Block Microplan. Red because resistant. To Oral Polio vaccine campaigns.
I walked. Angry. May afternoon. Unbearable heat. To find the health worker. To be seen nowhere.
At last she was spotted. Village boys and girls saw her. “There, there.” They ran. To fetch her.
She came. A middle aged. One of many community volunteers. Not a regular health worker. On the upper side of 50 years. Profusely sweating. A vaccine carrier in hand. A small child clinging to her dress.
“How many houses have you visited?” I asked. “Almost all. A few remain.”
“And what is the status?” I asked. “All vaccinated.” She replied. Wiping sweat on her forehead.
I challenged. “But this village does not take Polio drops. What miracle happened?” I ridiculed.
She said. The children shouted. Some put out their tongue. “We are all vaccinated today.”
I asked. “What happened?”
“Sir, everybody knows me in this village. This child is my grandson.” She pointed to the dress clinging toddler.
“His parents. My son and daughter in law. Died. From a road accident. He is my last family member. My husband has passed long back. At every house, I have shown him. And said, I am vaccinating my grandson in front of you. I would not have if this vaccine was bad and unsafe. After I vaccinate him in front of you, it is your turn to vaccinate.”
She paused. And said, “The poor child has taken too many doses today. For I had to use my last bet to break this resistance.”
I could not tell her anything. It was embarrassing. All the children were staring. A few village-elders. I just could not say “Well done. Thank you.” As I would normally respond.
I wanted to touch her feet. But it would be dramatic. And culturally unacceptable. To a Muslim lady. Perhaps.
I just held her hand. And said, “Please do not feed the child with any more vaccine today.” And I left the village.
Hopeful that in my Republic, Her Citizens are in action. The Nation is safe.