Subramanian Swamy’s Book Himalayan Challenge Has Critical Lessons for Both Indian and Chinese Policymakers

China, for a long time, has been considered a black box around the world. Particularly in the Indian context, China evokes images of competition, low quality goods, limited freedom of speech, expansionism, and several other uncharitable feelings. On the other hand, there is the entire film industry in the west as well as in India that would like us to believe that everyone in China can fight with their toes on sticks and all they do is meditate all day. The common perception of China is caricaturish at best and devoid of any real understanding of the place and its people.

We can’t blame the common people for nurturing such perceptions since we believe in what we are fed by our media and politicians. You wouldn’t however, be pleased to discover that people sitting at the top of policy making towers have on multiple occasions betrayed their shallow discernment of China and its communist regimes. This has resulted in several strategic blunders by India when it comes to its China policy. The 1962 war, India’s flip-flops on Tibet, Nehru’s dilatoriness on India’s military modernisation while following a rather vacuous Forward Policy with China, and the failure of successive governments to hold a strong hand on the negotiation table have resulted in massive clouds of suspicion and confusion on both sides of the border.

These and a lot more have been discussed with the precision that has come to characterize Mr. Subramanian Swamy over the years in his recent book – Himalayan Challenge – India, China, and the Quest for Peace (published by Rupa Publications). He has travelled to China on the invitation of Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs as an envoy of the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai in September 1978. Later in 1981, Mr. Swamy was invited to meet China’s Supreme leader, Chairman Deng Xiaoping where he convinced the Chinese government to reopen the Kailash Mansarovar route for Hindu pilgrims. His keen interest in Chinese studies and his first-hand experience with the Chinese government have helped Mr. Swamy understand multiple perspectives on Indo-China relationship. These perspectives make this book a seamless read with intriguing pieces of information on every page.  

The book starts with a historical context of the India-China relationship with a quick but penetrating glance over the great impact India has had on Chinese culture, religion, and society. The author establishes important timelines related to the export and acceptance of Buddhism, the modifications wrought upon the religion to make it more  suited to Chinese symbolism, Megasthenes’ account of his travel in India, and the claims of Confucius and Buddha being contemporaries. Mr. Swamy then goes into the  details of the borders that India and China share with affiliated events through the annals of time.

The book is concise and never deviates from the point it has to make. That is because the author doesn’t give more than the necessary time and space to the background details and swiftly comes to the makings of the conflicts between India and China. Starting from the policy confusions on Tibet between the two countries, the origin and making of the McMahon line to the 1962 war and points in time when the two countries dumped their thousands of years old unblemished bond into cold storage of mistrust and deceit, Mr. Swamy discusses in detail the doublespeak of Mr Nehru while dealing with China against the suggestions of Mr. Patel, the complacency that had crept into the Indian side due to the era of sycophants in ministry as well as bureaucracy in the 50s, China’s lack of sincerity when dealing with Mr. Nehru and the India of his time, and China’s limitations when it comes to military combats with India. Mr. Swamy is equally critical of parties on both the sides of our contentious border and doesn’t pull any punches while doing so.

Thankfully though, this book is not about military combat and who will survive longer in the event of a nuclear war. Although Mr. Swamy touches upon those subjects, he also explains that India and China do not have anything apart from the border issue in the way of a long lasting friendship and peace. The two superpowers must find ways to trust each other and sincerely look for ways to increase cooperation. This is not to suggest that India should give in to Chinese threats on the borders. On the contrary, Mr Swamy hopes for transparency in communication and expects more assertiveness while dealing with Chinese incursions from the present day government.

The book also has an interesting appendix section consisting of some declassified files, transcript of Mr. Swamy’s conversation with Chairman Deng, Mr. Patel’s letter to Pandit Nehru and Nehru’s note on China and Tibet, a verbatim record of a discussion in Beijing between Khrushchev and Mao Zedong over India-China relationship and Soviet Russia’s role in it. These make for interesting reading.

India has a vast Himalayan challenge in front of it. With Pakistan playing in China’s lap, and a few neighbours finding their voice against India at China’s spurring, India has to define its diplomatic path with maturity minus the naivete displayed by our forefathers. The problem is not going to disappear if we bury our heads in sand. Hence, the future leaders of our country would do better to get a primer on what has transpired between these two great nations so far and why. That way, this book should be a required reading for politicians, bureaucrats, as well as the common citizens on both sides of the border.

Subramanian Swamy’s Himalayan Challenge is an honest assessment of India’s unsettled questions in the North and thus hints at the potential good that could come out for both China and India if these questions were settled. I wonder then, if only these two countries could trust each other more and cooperate with confidence, perhaps both  could have used each other’s help in managing the COVID-19 pandemic with greater effect.

Death by a Thousand Rallies, Modiji’s Surgical Strike On India’s Population Explosion

I am not sure how many feel insulted by all the election rallies happening around us these days. I certainly do. When COVID-19 patients continue to suffer and die in thousands for the lack of adequate medical care and facilities, our politicians have once more proved that we are nothing more than  a single vote – a step in their ladder to power. On other days, one vote could be a powerful identity but as things stand out now, it is nothing more than a mockery of our democratic functions, values, and commonsense.

All the states that went or are going through elections – Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala, Assam, and the union territory of Puducherry saw politicians from all shades and hues. The campaign rallies by their star campaigners drew huge crowds at every occasion in complete disregard of the healthcare bloodbath our country is going through. When you know that for most of these rallies, people are enticed to attend using money, liquor, and other kinds of allurements, two sets of voters can be distinctly seen in this reality. The first one is the poor voter who knows that the offered money can help him fend off for a few days. The second set is that of the greedy voters who have consciously put a price tag on their attendance as well as their votes, and in this case, also their lives. While you may feel that we can’t do much about the first set, the second set is not going to disappear anytime soon either.

Under the given circumstances, who must take the blame for such gross violations of COVID-19 protocols laid out by the Election Commission (EC) of India? Of course, the political class. But before we go there, the EC itself must be held accountable. The fact that this body has not been able to do anything about these huge rallies has shown us again that it lacks the teeth it wants us to believe it has. Even with all the reforms, the commission has remained a tiger that can only roar after its hunt has been robbed away by the hyenas, hyenas being the political class of our country. Our vote is their meat. 

Since the BJP is in power and Mr. Modi is our Prime Minister, a huge part of the blame of such a vulgar joke on us must lie with them. It is not that they did not know. We have had similar rallies during the Bihar elections. Most states in India have pathetic numbers on all kinds of healthcare charts, and still by not doing anything to prevent these rallies or not exploring other options for campaigning, they have put our healthcare infrastructure under extreme stress. The doctors and medical staff find themselves in the same situation they were in a year ago. So, while the common citizenry is told to ring bells and sound plates to applaud and encourage the corona warriors, our supreme leader is hitting record numbers rally after rally to insult the very same people.

Come to think of it, hasn’t our democracy been always this way? I feel insulted but not surprised by this apathy displayed by the most important people of our political system. Right from our Prime Minister to candidates fighting for a seat, no one has had the strength to lead by example. BJP, DMK, AIADMK, TMC, CPI – there is no party that has not made a joke out of the pandemic. The surprising part is that most of these people have experienced the pandemic first hand. Even then, they have conducted themselves in a way that has proved that selective amnesia is a more dangerous disease. For example, our Home Minister Amit Shah has himself recovered from the virus but can still go on from one state to another in search of vote count. Amit Shah is one example but there are several politicians who have suffered or are suffering due to COVID-19, including the Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. How is it possible then that they can treat the pandemic with such callousness?

Are we then taking these people more seriously than they deserve to be? Are they mere instruments of the electoral institutions and processes of our country? If electoral victory is the only deity these political parties have, are we all just being pushed into the sacrificial fire as offerings to this deity? If decades of politically engineered Hindu-Muslim faultlines, caste based seat allocations, minority appeasement, cash for votes have not adequately underlined this fact, the pandemic has settled the debate. At present, we are not more than a single vote that can fetch victory for a political ambition. Our lifespan starts at the ‘massive rally’ claim tweet of our politicians and ends at the button press on the EVM. After that, even if we get infected by the virus and die, it will be for the good of the polity of our country.

When they say, we must be prepared to die for our country, they actually mean ‘die for the polity’, and perhaps nothing else. We refuse to believe this for a good night’s sleep. The first thing they did was to coin the term ‘corona warrior’ so as to attach a sense of pride in dying at work while our politicians keep at their criminal election campaigns. Second thing they did was to bring out the thaalis and diyas to pay pompous respects to these corona warriors. Then they organized political rallies and offered 200 bucks and alcohol to the attendees in order to create noble causes for our corona warriors to die. There is not one missing link, no loose ends in this political drama.

If you are more religious than political, not that there has remained much of a difference between the two, you can also visit the Kumbha Mela. They have made state-of-the-art arrangements for you to get infected. In any case, going by the popular saying , “Modi ji kar rahe hain toh kuchh soch kar hi kar rahe honge”, it could very well be ‘Modiji’s Surgical Strike’ on one of our lingering problems since Chacha Nehru’s time – India’s population explosion.

Note: The image used in the article has no scientific basis and is purely based on political hearsay. For more accurate data and charts, please refer here.

COVID-19, EPL, and the Evolution of Socially Conscious Advertising

Mesut Özil’s Tweet on Xinjiang 
Source: Mothership

Let’s solve water’… Like it’s a problem to be solved, which it is. The brilliance of the copywriting simplicity can be witnessed during the currently underway, English Premier League (EPL). In the aftermath of COVID-19 and necessary health and safety precautions, the uncertainties of potential revenues and absent audiences has the Premier League grappling with reworking the broadcast environment. Additionally, with the recent moratorium on unbridled advertising by the EPL’s advisory group, league clubs and associate brands have been given food for advertising thought. In June 2020, the “Premier League’s broadcast enhancement advisory group capped advertising at 25% of the branding at each club’s ground, with 65% reserved for images of fans and 10% for the Premier League’s imagery and logos.” Even as the EPL’s “500 million pound (USD 665 million) deal with PPTV” has been terminated due to acrimony over Mesut Özil taking on China about its Uighur Muslim camps, the global movement against discrimination and racism is expanding its influence in the golden game of advertising.

The Most-Watched Football League – English Premier League
Source: Project 11

Billion-Euro Covid Hit to Premiere League Revenue
Source: Deloitte & Bloomberg
Mesut Özil
Source: football.london

According to Deloitte’s Annual Review of Football Finance 2020’, “the Premier League continues to generate the highest revenues across the ‘big five’ of EUR 5.9 billion IN 2018-2019.” Considering COVID-19 has prompted the richest domestic soccer competition in the world to ask for “80% prepayment of broadcast rights fees,”  the EPL revenue is likely to be hit further after losing access to China’s 1.4 billion market. In early 2020, CSM Live was commissioned to print ‘stadium wraps’ for the expectedly empty stands of the club stadiums. Based on the advertising guidelines issued by the Premier League, club designs began veering towards positive brand associations such as Manchester United Against Racism. 

No Room For Racism
Source: Sky Sports

While the No Room for Racism campaign was launched by the English Premier League in March 2019, furthering the efforts of the Kick It Out initiative against discrimination; the EPL’s history with racism and discrimination continues with the recent racial abuse directed at Crystal Palace’s Wilfred Zaha by a 12-year old from Solihull.

In response to the offender’s arrest, Zaha tweeted, “People need to understand that whatever your age, that your behaviour and your words come with consequences and you cannot hide behind social media…It is important social media platforms do as they did yesterday and seek out these individuals and remove them… It isn’t enough to just say #notoracism. We need action, we need education, things need to change.

According to Stop Funding Hate’s Alex Murray, “there’s the ability for football to come together to demand action. I think that the influence clubs have, as well as their massive spending power, means there’s a real opportunity to get behind a campaign like this and add to the impact it’s already having.” Even as campaigns such as Stop Funding Hate and ‘No Room for Racism’ promote initiatives against hate and discrimination, the Conscious Advertising Network is pressuring advertisers to be more conscious of branding associations. Launched in June 2019, the Conscious Advertising Network (CAN) was formed by co-founders Jake Dubbins and Harriet Kingaby as a response to media industry reports such as by The Times which demonstrated that big brands were inadvertently advertising next to content by extremists, pornographers, and white supremacists.’ According to Kingaby, “CAN feels strongly that all parts of the industry – brands, agencies, media owners, ad tech, regulators and civil society – should come together to fix the significant problems in the system… and now has over 70 members who are committed to ensuring industry ethics keeps pace with the technology of modern advertising.”

As the golden game of EPL advertising undergoes a makeover, one of the most loved and profitable exercises in global sporting collaboration will have to keep up with a more socially-conscious audience in its brand imagery as television/digital audiences worldwide stare at their screens for their favourite team’s next goal-making move.

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Aarogya Setu App Has Brought Privacy Laws Under Public Surveillance Yet Again

On 25th May 2018, the European Union (EU) took the reins of data protection in the global digital economy with its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Internet users worldwide were faced with a brand new umbrella of terms and conditions that global technological giants scrambled together for GDPR compliance. A month earlier, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg had already apologized for the Cambridge Analytica scandal with “…I’m sorry we didn’t do more at the time…”

Facebook Apology for Cambridge Analytica
Facebook Apology for Cambridge Analytica | Source: Jenny Kane, Associated Press (ABC News)
App-Based Contact Tracing
Fig. 1 App-Based Contact Tracing | Source: Nature

Before the world was burdened with the Covid 19 pandemic and the surveillance of contact-tracing apps (Fig. 1), the maze of global data mining ensured a large percentage among digital consumers worldwide was happily unaware of the technological possibilities of location tracking and data protection. Simultaneously, there has been ample evidence globally of the vulnerability of technological information systems. As recently as April 2020, Zoom had photobombed meetings by uninvited intruders, Google is being sued for illegally collecting children’s biometric data, and multiple Android apps are obscuring malware and spyware distribution. With the uncertainty of Covid 19’s one-week incubation period, governments worldwide faced the issue of weighing public safety against individual privacy in trying to contain an unknown infectious spread. As a result, privacy concerns have entered the mainstream, and the possible ubiquity of Covid-19 surveillance has finally dawned on the global digital consumer.

 

According to MIT Technology Review’s Covid Tracing Tracker (Fig. 2), 4 countries among 22 which have launched contact-tracing apps have made installation mandatory for its citizens. Although India’s Aarogya Setu installation is a mandatory requirement only for travellers, Qatar has made it compulsory for all its citizens and Turkey requires installation for only those citizens testing positive for Covid 19. Among these 4 countries, China’s “health code” system on Alibaba’s Alipay and Tencent’s Wechat has been ‘rolled out in more than 100 cities across the country’, and is ubiquitous for its extensive surveillance of citizens. The resultant worldwide privacy concerns have caused many social activists to question data protection and retention policies.

MIT Technology Review Covid Tracing Tracker (Flourish)
Fig. 2 Covid Tracing Tracker | Source: MIT Technology Review

 

Aarogya Setu - Bug Bounty

Despite the United Kingdom’s ambiguous response to Boris Johnson’s Chief Advisor, Dominic Cummings’ 419 KM excursion to County Durham, the government is quite clear about the necessity of Covid 19 contact-tracing. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) has announced that its ‘test and trace system’ will maintain records regarding “personal data about people with coronavirus” for 20 years, with their contacts’ information stored for five years. In India, Mr. Robot-aliased French Ethical Hacker, Elliot Alderson’s exposé of security concerns about Aarogya Setu prompted the Indian government to announce its Data Access and Knowledge Sharing Protocol . Recently, Aarogya Setu’s source code has been released on GitHub, and a bug bounty was announced.

Of course, the vulnerability of global data information systems was confirmed recently by CyberNews’ security analysts when they discovered “800 gigabytes of 200 million detailed user records on a publicly accessible server” including data files ostensibly attributed to the United States Census Bureau. According to the CyberNews Team, “Certain codes used in the database were either specific to the Bureau or used in the Bureau’s classifications.” Unprotected databases are not the only global privacy concern. Data mining is often hidden among unnecessary app permissions or the terms and conditions of registration that generally users do not pay attention to. For example, on 27th May 2020, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich in the United States filed a lawsuit against Google for its “willfully deceptive and unfair acts and practices” regarding collection of users’ location information despite “Location History disabled” and “Web and App Activity.”

As governments join the global data surveillance for Covid-19 tracking, privacy concerns are no longer the limited purview of the individual consumer. The MIT Technology Review team which is “watching the Watchmen” considers Singapore’s Trace Together at the forefront of contact tracing apps with its decentralized approach, open-source license, and ‘opt-in’ feature. For the Senior Editor of the MIT Technology Review, Patrick Howell O’Neill, “The way forward is to ensure transparency in contact tracing apps in terms of data collection and retention. With the Chinese health codes determining movement in public spaces as well as private establishments such as offices and restaurants, contact tracing apps and Covid-19 surveillance is likely to remain a glaring reality in our daily lives for a few years to come.

Cover Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Policemen force two men to do sit ups for flouting the lockdown rules, at Dharampura Bazar in Patiala on 24 March 2020 | PTI

COVID-19, Lockdowns, and Our ‘Typical Indian Problems’

We have now crossed the 100,000 mark. Every new day is beating the previous record of one day spike in the number of COVID-19 cases. The numbers refuse to budge. Lockdowns have gotten feebler every passing phase. The state leaderships which were collecting adulatory coins till now on social media from film stars, seem to be giving up in a very trumpesque manner. One look at different state governments tells you what they are keeping busy with. Fighting litigations to open Tasmac shops, fudging the numbers on coronavirus, choosing to deliberately get oblivious of the violations of social distancing and lockdown norms by the high and mighty, and cancelling emergency trains because the builders can decide the rights of a poor Indian in a closed door meeting with the Chief Minister, we have seen everything.

Considering the difficulty of our time, the socio-economic diversity of our country, and of course our population, the chinks we are developing are inevitable. In spite of these misdemeanours, the government and bureaucracy have been toiling to contain the pandemic. The pressure to do better than other affected countries is palpable on the face of our leaders. The inconsistencies that we have seen in our political class and bureaucracy is a reminder for us to notice similar patterns in citizens too. While many have cooperated with the law enforcement agencies and the local administration, a huge number for some reason, is determined to dilute all the efforts and our national discipline, assuming it exists.

Back in my hometown, I remember something distinctly from my childhood. I would watch these individuals boarding a bus and on being asked for the ticket charge, they would just utter the word ‘staff’. That was the magic word. Some conductors did not dig deeper than this. A few would ask for an identity card. This would invariably turn into some sort of argument. The word – staff, was just one word from the freeloader (tu jaanta nahi main kaun hoon) vocabulary. This is still common in many parts of our country. I am sure you have seen words like ‘Army’, ‘Police’ on motorbikes and cars. Those are declarations of authority. Even when these vehicles are not being driven by the original owners, these signs have the same power. The point is, once we are made aware of this sort of vocabulary, we use these words whenever we are bending the system for our benefit. In effect, most of the people on the streets are either powerful in some way or are pretending to be. Ask any dhaabawala how many policemen pay their bills.

Last week, I ventured out after about 10 days to get some vegetables and while I was picking my veggies, a woman appeared out from a car without a mask towards the shop. When I asked her about her mask, she went back reluctantly towards the car but came back empowered with the male company who was on the wheels. On being asked again, they went into an argument overkill to defend their choice – “you don’t tell me, who are you?”. All that did not surprise me. In fact, when I answered with – “I am a citizen of this country, and I have a right to point it out if you are doing something so wrong for public health”, she dug into her freeloader vocabulary and retorted – “I’m a doctor. So I know. You don’t tell me!” If only irony were an academic discipline, this lady would win a Nobel.

Delhi customs has confiscated illegal export consignment of PPE kits. Karnataka government has already received requests for opening up mosques for prayers from MLC C.M. Ibrahim. People are coming out in large numbers for religious congregations, Maharashtra is doing everything that could be seen as opposite of a lockdown. It is almost as if people are volunteering for herd immunity by infection. All my visits to the bazaar have brought me face to face with people who don’t care about following social distancing norms or wearing a mask. Closer home, a house had some religious ceremony and entertained guests over a period of 3 days. A neighbour has carried out a complete makeover of his house using around 5-7 workers every day of the lockdown. These workers took the masks from their pockets only when I happened to request them. At all other times, they stayed inside the pockets. Interestingly, the homeowners used masks for themselves. After initial prohibitions from the governments on spitting in public places, I had hoped for some change. I didn’t realise spitting is something that completes our Indianness.

I’m sure you must have come across such situations in your own outings during these lockdowns. Of course, I am assuming you are not the one violating these norms in the first place. Now that the governments have given up on the lockdown restrictions and we are on our own, it is perhaps time to look into our behaviour as individuals during the last couple of months. Our attitude, both at the beginning and now, can finally explain the ‘typical Indian’ problems. I list a few of them here –

  1. Why do we indulge in rash driving and honk like we are composing some Bollywood ‘item number’?
  2. Why does our saliva keep asking for ‘aazadi’ from us every time we come out in public spaces?
  3. Why do our public hospitals spread more diseases than they cure? 
  4. Why does corruption fit so well under ‘essential services’ for us? 
  5. Why have our ponds, lakes, and rivers shapeshifted into exaggerated drains?
  6. Why do we smoke, pee everywhere apart from the places designated for them?  
  7. Why queues are synonymous with waterboarding for Indians?
  8. Why do Indian women get the definition of women-empowerment wrong so often? 
  9. Why do Indian men deny the existence of condoms?

When I met these defaulters during my lockdown outings, most of the responses betrayed a sense of invincibility, like ‘it’s nothing, it won’t happen to me’. Another response tried to tell me that since I was safe by following the rules, I should keep shut and not bother others. It is not innocence. It is not any sort of self-sacrifice. It is just a refusal to fall in line, a refusal of responsibility. We do not care. We are great at throwing the blame on someone else. It’s not that we don’t care at all, we do. In fact, as Manu Joseph puts it, we have ‘immense stamina for useless issues’. For example, we care enough to slap a film-maker because his film hurts our group-pride. However, no amount of gutkha spitting hurts our group pride because we haven’t yet identified with any group that takes offence for gutkha spitting. Of course, Maharana Pratap didn’t sacrifice his life fighting the gutkha spewers, how can we take offence for that then?

 

The group that is still largely unrealized and unknown in our land is called ‘enlightened citizenry’, a concept discussed in detail by Swami Ranganathananda in his lecture and now book on Enlightened Citizenship and our Democracy. An individual’s awareness of his social responsibility is at the centre of such a citizenship. Since we have not yet understood this difference between an ordinary ‘adult citizenship’ and an ‘enlightened’ one, our other group associations dominate enlightened citizenry for much of our lifetime. It is up to us then to step back every time our pride is wounded and identify the group we are associating with to inflict this wound upon ourselves. If we find that this group is anything other than ‘enlightened citizenry’, we have our answer to most of the problems that begin with ‘a typical Indian..’.

 

Cover Image: Policemen force two men to do sit ups for flouting the lockdown rules, at Dharampura Bazar in Patiala on 24 March 2020 | PTI

 

Dr. Nonita Mittal - Interview with The Seer

In Conversation with a COVID-19 Warrior and Survivor

Dr. Nonita Mittal pursued her medical education from Armed Forces Medical College in Pune, India. After graduation, she worked as a research scholar with the pediatric hematology-oncology team at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh for a year. She was involved in development of a decision aid website for patients and caregivers with Sickle Cell Disease. She went on to pursue residency in general pediatrics at SUNY Downstate Health University Center in Brooklyn, New York. 

Brooklyn was one of the worst affected areas by COVID-19 pandemic. The positive test rates for COVID-19 in central Brooklyn have averaged from 63%-78% with a disproportionately higher mortality rate amongst its population as per preliminary data from NY DOH. Dr. Nonita Mittal is currently in her final year of residency and was closely involved in taking care of COVID-19 patients in this area. She got infected with COVID-19 while taking care of one of such patients early in the epidemic and recovered from it successfully. We spoke with her about her time during self-quarantine, her work, and other matters related to COVID-19 with twin intentions of expressing our gratitude to her and making our readers more aware.

DisclaimerPlease note that the medical details discussed in this interview are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

 
Healthcare professionals face a bigger risk of getting infected by COVID-19 because they are active on duty while many of us can work from home. We are so relieved to hear that you have recovered from COVID-19. We would like to hear from you some details of your own journey to recovery. 

For the first seven days, I mainly had severe headaches and sore throat that evolved into fever and chest congestion. I took Tylenol round the clock for fever and muscle aches. For my sore throat and congestion, I drank lots of water with hot lemon ginger tea 3-4 times a day. On the 8th day, I started having difficulty breathing. I was in touch with the physician over the phone who recommended monitoring oxygen saturation using a portable pulse oximeter and albuterol inhalation every 4 hours. I was instructed to come to the emergency if my saturations dropped below 92% or my difficulty while breathing was not relieved even with the albuterol. Thankfully, I responded well, and by day 10 most of my symptoms resolved. I monitored my temperature closely throughout, and once I stopped having fevers, I returned back to work. COVID testing at the time was only approved for hospitalized patients, and hence, I was not able to get it.

 

You are back to work. When this disease is evoking such great fears and shock in even unaffected people, what makes you go back to work after having seen it so closely?

Being affected from COVID-19 made me realize how scary it can be to go through something you have no clue about. It actually strengthened my resolve to go back to work and help those inflicted from COVID-19 as much as I could. In addition, when I was quarantined, my colleagues were covering my shifts and putting their lives at risk, so it was only fair that as soon as I recovered, I did the same for them. I became a physician to help those in need and now when the situation demands it, I felt I had to step up to my cause. 

 

This is a disease that is not yet properly understood by people, and perhaps statistics is the last thing a patient wants to understand. The emotions must be running high. So, what are the questions patients are asking their doctors?

Most of the patients and their families want to know about treatment options. There is a lot of curiosity regarding the effectiveness of Hydroxychloroquine and Remdesevir. There are no randomized clinical trials to prove their efficacy, however, the prelim data from certain institutes shows Remdesevir to be promising. Patients do ask regarding outcomes, but the course of COVID is so variable that it is hard to predict the outcome in any one. The only thing we can say with surety is that patients with comorbid conditions like obesity, kidney disease, or diabetes have worse outcomes. 

 

This, of course, is bringing mental trauma to patients and family members alike. What are the steps being taken by medical authorities and governments in the US to provide adequate support to the affected. Is there anything specific you would like to mention?

The government support has been very slow and inadequate. Center and state have been giving mixed messages which makes it difficult for people to follow the quarantine guidelines. In a pandemic, it is vital to build the trust between the leader and the people, and the leader has to walk the walk too. 

At the medical level, despite all the chaos, the healthcare teams have been trying to update the families with the daily progress. Many people who tested positive for COVID antibodies are donating convalescent plasma. Steps have been taken to provide telehealth and remote pastor services for those affected. Many local philanthropic organisations like World Health Kitchen have risen to the occasion to provide food for everyone working at the hospital. And there have been many anonymous donations for PPE for the healthcare worker and family members alike.  

 

How are you protecting your family during the present crisis? What are the precautions or steps you are taking to see that the family members remain untouched by the disease? Also, how are they responding to your decision to go back to work after recovering?

Me and family make sure that we practice social distancing and frequent hand washing. We have also designated a dirty area and clean area at home. Every item from outside is first placed in the dirty area, and only brought inside after being sanitized with bleach/alcohol wipes. After returning from the hospital, I immediately take shower, wash my clothes, and sanitize any article that I carried with me. Wearing a mask is mandatory in New York now, and we abide by it. 

I stay with my husband. Luckily, I don’t  have anyone vulnerable staying with me like our parents or elderly, so I can get by without quarantine at home. My parents and in-laws are in India, so they were worried about me going back to work which is understandable. My husband refused to leave me alone when I got COVID, and he ended up getting it too. So, he has been very supportive of me going back to work as we both agree that it is our responsibility to help others who are dealing with it. 

 

What are a few misconceptions you have come across about this disease through the course of your work with patients? 

We are still learning about the disease ourselves. Some of the few misconceptions are that this disease only affects the old and is limited to lungs, Physicians across US agree that COVID is a systemic disease. Patients have an increased tendency to form clots. These clots can affect any organ of the body including kidney, heart, nervous system or intestines. Both young and old have died due to this disease, and it is hard to say at this point what is the exact cause of the death in these patients. We will have to wait for the results of data analysis across the institutes to get some of these answers. Also, there is no miracle drug and if you do not follow social distancing you will get sick no matter how healthy you are. Hence, it is very important that emphasis is laid on prevention rather than cure.

 

There are already groups on the street demanding the resumption of business as usual. How does it affect the battle against this pandemic and does it hit your morale?

These groups have a good reason to protest. The lockdown has hurt the economy terribly and some groups are affected more than the others. The economic battle is part of the battle against the pandemic and does not affect my morale. However, it does signify lack of awareness regarding the seriousness of this disease. It will be hard to find the right balance between preserving health versus economy, but it is also an opportunity for everyone to come together and support each other to handle this situation in the best possible way.

 

There is news of discrimination against the medical professionals in several countries. India has already introduced an ordinance to prevent such discrimination and violence against the medical staff. Are you seeing such things happening in the US?

Yes, I have witnessed such instances personally too, although not at the same scale as in India. Once in a while a cab driver may refuse to pick you up from hospital or someone in the building may accuse you of putting others at risk by bringing all the bugs from hospital. But mostly, the experience has been appreciative towards the healthcare workers, and everyone has tried to help in whatever way they can. 

 

This pandemic has caught most of the countries unaware. Do you think we are going to be better prepared in the future, if such a thing happens again? What changes have you noticed in the medical fraternity’s own approaches and methods before and after?

Yes, definitely. The medical fraternity is more prepared to handle such crises in future. The resources and staff have been allocated to deal with any surges that may happen in the future. The hospital administrators communicate with the staff on a daily basis to educate regarding COVID management strategies, new developments, and dispel any false information. More funding is being diverted to public health initiatives and research pertaining to understanding and treating COVID-19.

 

What are you looking forward to most once the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us?

Of course, I am looking forward to enjoying the outdoors like I used to before. But this pandemic has also made me appreciate all the little things that I took granted for earlier. I make an effort to keep in touch with my friends and family, and I have learnt to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. So, once this pandemic is behind us, I hope all of us will not forget the precious lessons that it taught us, and bring a change in the way we see and live our lives. I thank God daily for what I have, and intend to live my life with gratitude in years to come.