It was the summer of 2009. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the flowers were in bloom and there was Swine Flu in the air.
Everyone was paranoid, as was I. The first obvious step was to go marching to the nearest store to get one of those night burglar masks that everyone was talking about. After which it was only human to laugh at those who did not own a mask and go “Ha! Ha! Suckers!” when they weren’t looking. It was also imperative to visit a doctor every time someone in the same room/builing/street/city sneezed. It was the swine flu protocol we were expected to follow.
Amidst all the madness, the inevitable happened. Schools and colleges shut down, which sent me packing off to my little Chennai village.
Little Chennai village did not care about swine flu. Pune was too far away, so what difference does it make if Eight people were dying there every day because of this new disease? Little Chennai Village did not give a shit.
I was still paranoid. So I decided I needed a bottle of sanitizer to fight the flu. I’d never seen too many people use sanitizers in Chennai, except my best friend who has always been a compulsive sanitizer user, but I didn’t think it was a ‘Chennai thing’. I was soon about to find out.
I went to all the local medical stores to check for sanitizers. They were either out of stock or had no idea what a sanitizer was. The following is the translated Tamil conversation that took place in the last medical store I went to (and it was the last one for good reason):
Me: Do you have sanitizers?
Shopgirl: Sanitizers? What’s that?
Me: Err… You know the thing everyone is using because of the swine flu?
Shopgirl: Oh, that!
Shopgirl turns to storeguy
Storeguy: What does she want?
Storeguy: What’s that?
Shopgirl: You know that thing everyone uses when they don’t want to wash their hands?
Storeguy: Oh, that!