I was dozing off, after hardly having slept the night before and having driven 200 plus km through the Gir Forest in an uncomfortable car, walking into a poultry farm in Navapur wasn't exactly bliss. The smell of chicken poo was overwhelming, but so was the weird sensation under my feet. I was standing on a bunch of feathers under which there was what appeared to be freshly moved earth. That was the moment it hit me, "What the fuck am I doing putting myself in the line of danger?"
Hours of watching National Geographic and reading horror stories of an impending biological apocalypse in Time magazine were all playing back in my head. This shit was seriously dangerous, I believed, but then again it also hit me that no-one had yet died of this infection in India, so there was no need to be overly paranoid about things.
But back to where it all began....
Every time I complain about sitting around at office and staring at the tits of some model online and not getting to travel anywhere other than five-star lunches or scotch whiskey tasting sessions, I get a 'bambooed' (pronounced the north-Indian way - BUM-booed rather than BAM-booed, which basically means something not so nice). Tomorrow I head off for the heart of India. I don't think I would quite be replicating Captain Marlowe's journey up the Congo (much less since I will be using a fancy 737 courtesy Jet Airways instead of a broken old steamer), but given that India has almost no electricity, I guess I can make the analogy stick.
Anyway, thats tomorrow, and that is also my excuse in advance for not posting for at least the next four days. Anyway, back to the tale. The travel over the next few days is after spending the end of last week exploring the Marathwada region. I had gone to cover the post-outbreak impact of the 'alleged' H5N1 outbreak in north-western Maharastra. So, the question is was there H5N1 in the first place and how scared should we be? And is this all a plot to sell medicines? Tamiflu, the supposed cure for 'Bird Flu' is a general drug for Flu and isn't a ready-made cure, but each dosage costs a bomb and under WTO regulations, India's generics companies won't be able to easily produce cheap copies the drug (unless an 'emergency is declared).
The thing is that there are compelling arguments on both sides, I have no doubt that H5N1 can become a tremendously virulent disease that kills millions of humans like it has already killed millions of birds - though most of them indirectly through culling. Yet, why are we all getting worked up on a 'potential' disease threat when millions of people are dying day in and day out from highly avoidable diseases - and India is sitting on an AIDS timebomb. But, in 1917-18 tens of millions of Indians died in the Flu outbreak, so we can't ignore the problem either.
The problem is that after visiting Navapur and Nashik and speaking to the people involved on all sides of the tale, speaking to other journalists who have been covering the issue, I find myself unsure of what the hell is going on. It is a conundrum as people would say. But, I do know this much, H5N1 was a very good way of selling airtime on news channels.
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