COVID-19: Conversations in Gujarat reflective of what people are going through

Whispers among mourners following the death of Ramlal, who was close to both Mota Bhai and Nana Bhai and had participated in ‘Ghanta Bajao’ and ‘Diya Jalao’ campaigns, reflect the angst in the state

COVID-19: Conversations in Gujarat reflective of what people are going through

Nachiketa Desai

The silence of the cremation ground was broken by the murmer of some mourners gathered at the condolence meeting of Ramlal.

“No one could think that of all the residents of the Ram Krupa society Ramlal would die and that too from COVID-19,” whispered Chimanlal.

The call of ‘Bharat Maata Ki Jai’ and more urgently the scare of the pandemic in Trumpland had made Chimanlal decide to return to his home town after 15 years from New Jersey where, though an illegal immigrant, he had found a job as an attendant in a motel his Patel uncle owned.

“How could Ramlal die of COVID-19? After all, as the president of Ram Krupa society, Ramlal had organized the ‘Taali bajaao, Ghanta bajaao and Diya jalaao’ mass programme raising the cry of “Go corona, Go” interspersed with the war cry of “Jai Sriram” in response to the call given by our very own Gujju PM,” wondered Chimanlal.

“Moreover, he was believed to be close to both Mota Bhai and Nana Bhai. Did he not get the cooking gas agency for Jethalal’s brother-in-law using his political connection with the owners of the Gas company?’ pointed out Amrutlal, who was unable to get job for his 25 year-old engineering graduate son as a clerk in the revenue department because he could not mobilise Rs 5 lakh that the minister demanded.

“I am told that Ramlal died in the autorickshaw which was used to take him to the hospital for want of an ambulance. There was a long queue of patients like him to get admission into the hospital. As Ramlal’s condition was fast deteriorating, and he was gasping for breath, his son managed to procure an oxygen cylinder paying two crisp Rs 500 notes to one of the hospital staff,” said Popatlal, the treasurer of Ram Krupa Housing Cooperating Society.

“Oh, yes! And, when Oxygen too did not help much  and Ramlal’s condition became worse, someone who was standing in the hospital queue for the admission of his relative suggested procuring a vial of Remdesivir injection from the pharmacy store in the back lane opposite the hospital.

But Ramlal’s son did not have Rs 15,000 in ready cash to buy Remdesivir. “Arrey! you being so well connected with the ruling party top brass, call the party chief who is distributing the injection free of cost to loyal party worker. Who else can claim to be more loyal than you? Weren’t you the ‘Panna Pramukh’ during the recent municipal election?” chipped in Bhagyesh, the autorickshaw driver who was the childhood buddy of Ramlal’s son.

“A newspaper has carried the party chief’s mobile number on its front page after the chief minister suggested to ask the party chief, not him, on how he had managed to stock 5,000 vials of the injection when the life-saving Remdesivir had disappeared from the market.

The party chief’s mobile phone rang a few times following which a recorded message said, “The number you are calling is switched off, try later.”

Ramal breathed his last in the autorickshaw.

“Worse was yet to come,” said Amrutlal who had attended the funeral procession to the crematorium. “We had to wait for six hours at the crematorium for our turn came to consign Ramlal’s body to the flames,” he said.

(This is an 'imaginary' conversation pieced together from real conversations heard in Gujarat)

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