During our visit before the last week's to the plantation, visitors wore masks when they came in — only, they'd pulled them down the nose, covering only the mouth. After a while, once they'd settled, they'd ask to take them off. Some of them asserted that the surgical masks on our faces were useless. Many visitors had imitations of the N94 on, which are hard on the wearers because, besides limiting the breathing, they punish the back of the head, and around the ears, and roundabout the nose. They are polite people there in Sakleshpur, so we went ahead and mingled with them, not protesting, pinning our hopes on our own masks before barefaced men.
We cannot blame these netizens of hilly Malnad, overdosed as they are on oxygen. They cannot survive with air supply stopped by a face covering. As regards us, the Bangaloreans, the face cover — which, we'd not realized until now — is a good thing against odour and pollution. It is something to consider even during "normal" times.
We returned to Bangalore and after two weeks found ourselves well and uninfected and more than fit to go back to Malnad. It was as though Trump had proved himself to us whom he doesn't know, wouldn't care a hoot for: The world has amplified the bark of this virus that has only a modest bite; the mask is a dispensable nuisance.
This time around, by which I mean last week, our visitors on the plantation wore no masks at all, but they came with an explanation. "We've hardly any corona," they said. "A fellow goes to the hospital with a fever. They throw him in a ward. Send him home in a few days. It's a scam."
They explained: For each Covid-positive case, the hospital gets paid two-lac rupees by the government. That's an opportunity for hospitals in these economically depressed times. Get as many patients as they can, whom they can prove Covid-positive, and collect money.
"No number the media is broadcasting is right. All exaggerated."
I told you already that the folks in Malnad are too nice to argue with. So we were silent when a highly respected coffee planter told us, when my wife reached for a sanitizer, "Don't use that! It's useless. They've proved that already. The thing is dangerous, actually."
So we attended to less dangerous things: checking that the Bordeaux mixture has been sprayed on the pepper vines, that the third round of manuring has been done for the coffee, that pepper-vine saplings have been procured for fresh plantings for this year, and so on.
We are back in Bangalore now, and in this neighbourhood that I love there are two present cases of Covid, five houses down the line from ours — a father, and his daughter. On 2nd Main, behind our street, all six of a family in a businessman's home are infected, and their maid and driver. These are two cases I know. More houses would've had the black cross daubed on their doors if this were the seventeenth century. But this is another time, and for understandable reasons, everybody is quiet.
In the news this week, our city fathers admitted only four of the 198 wards in Bangalore City are free of Covid infections. That's the believable truth about the situation in Bangalore, making the mask a must, and the sanitizer, and the distancing. At least here in the city, one can be sure that it makes a lot of sense to be sensible.
Here's a footnote:
Shahid Jameel, a virologist and CEO of the Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance, said that the situation in India did “not look pretty”, adding: “Of the three top countries only India is showing a rising curve. This is a matter of grave concern and there is an urgent need to reverse the trend.”
Jameel placed much of the blame for the rampant spread of the virus on public apathy, which he said arose from “the constant narrative from central and state governments of rising recovery rates and low mortality”. He said this was a false depiction of the situation on the ground.
“People are not using the only scientifically proven methods to limit transmission: wearing masks properly in public and maintaining safe distancing,” he said.
Photo: Mine: The small old Shiva temple in the Nandi Thota coffee plantation