Dr. Bose looked worried. The Sarpanch appeared helpless. The nurses seemed anxious.
“Anand, what is going on? What is wrong with all of them?” the Sarpanch asked.
Anand Bose didn’t answer. He just continued reading the medical chart of the patient. After a long while he breathed hard and put the chart back in its holder. He looked around at the other patients lying in the ward. Old men, middle aged men, children, women, and teenagers. All from the neighbouring village of Kanwalgaon. There were nineteen patients in the emergency ward so far. And he had just received word that the ambulances were bringing in two more.
“Twenty one” he muttered “ My God, this is an epidemic”
He turned and looked at the nurses.
“Have you given them the injections, I had prescribed”
“Yes doctor, we have” they answered in unison.
“Then we can do nothing more. We just have to observe them and see what course the illness takes.” Dr. Bose then turned to the Sarpanch “ Come Madhav, let’s go outside and talk”
The Sarpanch and Dr. Bose stepped outside.
“What do you think Doctor? Surely you must have an opinion based on the symptoms” the Sarpanch asked in a voice that seemed set to crack and burst into tears at any moment.
“ I don’t know, Madhav. It could be malaria, it could be dengue, it could be anything. The fact that so many people have been afflicted with it means there is an epidemic spreading. I will have to keep them here under close observation. I will let you know if there are any further developments. I also have to look at the two new patients who are going to be coming in.”
“My god, it’s a nightmare” breathed the Sarpanch hard.
“Look, you cannot do anything more here. I suggest you go back to your village. They need you there. I will keep you posted on further developments”
“Yes..yes.. that seems to be the right thing to do. Thanks doctor” the Sarpanch shook both the doctor’s hands gratefully and left.
A couple of days later the Sarpanch received a call from Dr. Bose. The patients were out of the serious danger they had been in. Their blood samples had been sent to the lab and it was confirmed that it was a case of dengue. Thankfully, the strain was not as serious as they had thought. Dr. Bose assured the Sarpanch that the hospital had the medicines to combat the epidemic. It would take time, but the patients would be cured. Bose could hear the Sarpanch’s loud sigh of relief over the phone when he said this.
“By the way Madhav, I would very much like to visit that village of yours” Dr. Bose continued “I have been getting so many patients from Kanwalgaon, but I have never seen it with my own eyes even once”
“Of course Doctor. You can come visit any time you want” said the Sarpanch in a warm tone with grace and gratefulness “Our whole community is indebted to you and we have been for many years. Just tell me when you are coming and I will arrange a grand welcome.”
“How about this weekend? I can come on Sunday”
“Sure, sure, of course. My whole village will be excited that you are coming”
“Great. Alright then. I will see you on Sunday” saying this Anand Bose put the phone down and turned to the nurse sitting across the table from him with a pensive look on his face.
“So you are going to be visiting Kanwalgaon on Sunday then?” she asked.
“That’s correct. You have seen all the files, the ones I asked you to check?” he asked nodding to the large stack of manila folders on the table. “ And you are sure about the results and your analysis”
“Yes Doctor, I am. Kanwalgaon is no stranger to epidemics. There was a cholera outbreak two years ago. Before that there were several cases of malaria being reported in the area. And this is not the first time that the village has been hit by dengue. It has happened before as well”
“Hmmm. Disturbing. That is why I am going to the village myself. I want to do a little recon work. I have my suspicions about why this place is hit by so many diseases at regular intervals. Especially a village that is so prosperous and relatively well educated. Well, I will soon find out I guess”
On Sunday the Sarpanch was true to his word. He did indeed throw a grand reception for the doctor. The whole village turned up to greet Anand Bose, after which he was taken to the main temple where special prayers had been organized for the welfare of the community. Prayers over, a grand feast was laid out with large quantities of all the sumptuous dishes that Kanwalgoan was famous for. Anand Bose thoroughly enjoyed himself. The simplicity of the village folk was endearing and he basked in all the attention that he was receiving. But at the same time he was observing and making notes in his head.
After the feast he told the Sarpanch that he would like a tour of the village. The Sarpanch was glad to oblige. Along with other senior members of the community he showed Anand the rest of Kanwalgaon and the surrounding areas.
There was no doubt that Kanwalgaon was doing well for itself. The bumper harvests that it enjoyed year after year had given the farmers considerable wealth. They planted cash crops that earned them good revenue in the city markets, and some agriculturalists even exported their produce. Large bungalows dotted the countryside with modern SUVs parked in front of them. Women wore expensive sarees and drove scootys while children made their way to the fancy schools that the area now had.
The village elders were proud of Kanwalgaon’s success. They wasted no time in talking up the skill of their farmers and the smartness of their businessmen. Kanwalgaon was no less than any city, they said. The neighboring villages they look upon us with envy, they said, because they do not have our wealth, our intelligence. They call us the Mumbai of this area, don’t you know, because we are so developed. Every comfort that people have in the big cities, we have in Kanwalgaon.
Anand Bose smiled and nodded at their pride and self-congratulatory spirit. After the tour the group congregated at the Sarpanch’s house where they sat in the verandah drinking tea and talking.
“So Doctor, what do you think of our village?” asked the beaming Sarpanch.
“It’s nice, Madhav, very nice” Anand said pensively putting his cup of tea down.
“But you don’t look too happy about it” the Sarpanch frowned.
Anand was quiet.
“What is it? Please speak freely. You are our honored guest” one of the elders requested.
Anand looked around the group and started speaking.
“The people of Kanwalgaon have done well for themselves. All through the day you have shown me the lavish bungalows that you have built, the schools you have started, the cars you have bought, the abundance of crops in your fields, the richness of your soil; all very impressive. I have tasted your cuisine; very delicious. You invited me to your functions and temples; I found it to be grand.
But I also saw other things. Outside those lavish bungalows I saw mounds of garbage piled up. Garbage that had not been cleaned up or disposed off for days. Near the green fields I saw stacks of rotten vegetables and crops just lying there. No one had bothered to burn them or take them away. Rotting crops and vegetables that were attracting insects in the dozens. The green fields are nice, but there are also bad crops that had not been cut, weeds that had not been taken care of, areas of swampland producing fungus and algae. There is so much fertilizer and manure used in your farming, yet you just leave them anywhere and do not find a proper storage place for it”
The mood in the congregation turned somber and quiet. Anand continued speaking.
“You see, I asked my nurses to do some research on the medical history of your village. You have faced epidemics before, haven’t you. Cholera, dengue, malaria, and all at regular intervals. You know what is common to the epidemics that you face. They are all the result of a dirty environment. I had my suspicions before and having seen Kanwalgaon, those suspicions have now been confirmed.”
“Anand, what are you saying?” asked the Sarpanch in a concerned tone.
“Madhav, your village has spent so much money on bungalows. Couldn’t they have spent some money on public toilets. There is still so much defecation in the open. You spent so much money on roads. Couldn’t you have spent some money on closing some of those open sewers. After the functions and the feasting and the religious ceremonies, couldn’t you have cleaned up the garbage. Your people just tossed them over to a side and went away. I know that many of you enjoy pan and gutka. There are bowls available in the market for spitting out the juice. You don’t have to spit on the streets. You can build dustbins for the garbage on every street corner. Kanwalgaon is not even that big. You can afford to have dustbins on all the streets and in all the colonies. But no, you choose to throw all those pieces of paper, and cigarettes and excess food carelessly on the road.”
The atmosphere was very tense. Many of the elders were staring at the Doctor intensely, some even unpleasantly. Anand bowed his head.
“I know you don’t like listening to all this. But I have no choice. You are the adults. The examples of carelessness that I have described have all been done by you. If this is the example that you set for your children, then they will also do the same. Then we will just have generation after generation facing the same epidemics over and over again.
I was happy when I saw so many schools and so much wealth in your village. But the people of Kanwalgaon have the same problem as in the rest of the country. More education and greater wealth has not lead to more discipline and greater responsibility.
You keep your houses clean, yet you dirty the world outside. The very world that you have to live in. There are so many places in Kanwalgaon that I saw where ants, mosquitoes, flies and roaches were moving around freely. They are the source of all your epidemics and your unclean environment is attracting them. Unless you clean this place up, you can look forward to more such problems.
I am just surprised that despite so many epidemics none of the elders have tried addressing this problem and implementing a solution. You just hold your head in helplessness when a problem appears, cry for a while then move on and forget everything that happened before.”
Anand now turned directly and spoke to the Sarpanch.
“The patients will be fine Madhav. We are treating them with the latest medicines. But I fear that it won’t be the last time that I am going to have to treat them. I have seen other places and as people get wealthier and their lifestyle becomes grand, they also pollute more, dirty more, shirk responsibility more, and I am afraid that the same thing is happening to Kanwalgaon. Think for yourself if this village is not dirtier than what it used to be.”
Anand stopped talking and took a final sip of his tea.
Nobody spoke. The doctor had given them nothing less than a dressing down. At their age it was hard to take and they hated it. But deep down they knew it was true. What he said made sense. They also knew that the threat of another epidemic looming because of the dirty environment had to be taken seriously by them.
The Sarpanch knew that the revelry was over. The atmosphere was strained and it was time for the Doctor to take his leave.
“I think it is getting late Anand. You should be getting back. Come I will drop you to your car” he said diplomatically and got up.
As Anand and the Sarpanch were making their way to the car, the Doctor spoke “I am sorry Madhav if what I said back there insulted all of you. I did not mean to be rude”
“No, no, no” the Sarpanch shrugged “It is a bitter pill to swallow but it had to be said. What you said was right and you said it in the best interests of all of us. They are upset now, but they will come around to realizing that you are a well wisher and they should consider what you have said.”
They reached the car. Anand turned around after opening the door.
“But my friend, you have to clean the village up. Kanwalgaon cannot go on like this”
“I know Anand, and I will. I will speak to some of the sensible members of our village and make the community see sense in cleanliness and discipline. Of course, you have to understand that things won’t change in a day. Years of sloth and indiscipline cannot be wished away in a hurry. But slowly step by step and little by little we will mend our ways. It is after all for our own good. Maybe building public toilets and installing garbage bins would be a good start.
I won’t forget Anand. This time I won’t forget. I don’t want any more epidemics in Kanwalgaon. I will lead the initiative myself. Next time you come here, you will see a Swachh Kanwalgaon.”
“I wish you all the best my friend. We will look forward to a clean and better future”