We have paid for the vaccination of two members of the people who help us every day...H, the cook, and V, a maid. They've been with us for quite a while now, and are more like family members than domestic help.
Both of them have been told that Thursday is the day there will be a vaccination drive at the apartment complex, and that they should take their shots.
It's not that they have not seen other people taking, or having taken, their shots. All of us have taken our jabs, and they have seen our reactions. Some of us had a couple of days of fever, others, a sore arm at the site of the injection, others, no reaction worth mentioning at all. But this....does not reassure them!
Blanched faces and reluctant looks greet the announcement. "But...but...but...."and several more "ifs" and "buts" hover on their lips, not spoken, but hovering large in the air above their heads.
I use several methods to convince them. The facts....the vaccination may not prevent them from getting the virus, but will almost certainly mitigate its severity. All of us have got our vaccination done, some of us twice, too. We are all alive and kicking, in front of their eyes.
This doesn't work very well. Another unspoken message, "It's all very well for YOU, but what about ME?" hovers overhead. So I try a little mockery. When the 12-year-old in the family has had a jab, why should they be scared, I ask. (I talk to each one separately, at separate times.) Both of them take a little time, digest this information, and agree to be present at the vaccination drive.
I decide not to let them go it alone, but to bear them company through what is definitely an ordeal for them. H has her Aadhaar card all ready, and the message in response to the registration too. We get her "number" (6) and she's told to come at 11am. I take her to the queue, where helpful volunteers from the apartment check her name against the list, and though the time is past, obviously, there is a long (staggered) queue, so she waits. Not yet comfortable, but definitely less trepidation than before. Meanwhile, I go in search of V.
V...is a different kettle of fish. Trepidation is now her middle name and email id and Twitter handle! She gives vent to it with a heartfelt "Amma, I am SO afraid! What will happen?" I reassure her once again, by showing her all the people who are coming out of the clubhouse where the vaccinations are being done...none of them the worse for wear, all alive....
She's got her Aadhar card with her, but when I ask her to show me the message confirming her registration, she cannot bring up the message. She cannot bring up ANY message. I struggle with her tiny phone, which seems to have got strong ideas from Mahatma Gandhi about the non-cooperation movement. I ask her to wait while I check if the confirmation message could be on any of our phones.
At this time, H is called, so I drop what I am doing, and go inside the clubhouse with her, and stay within calling (or if she drops dead, catching) distance of her, while the jab is administered. Success! Smoothing the tiny band-aid over the puncture, she walks out.
I look for V. No sign of her, not even in the preliminary queue! I spend 10 minutes hunting for her at the gate, too, and then go upstairs, where I find her, obviously wondering how to get out of it. "Amma I am SO afraid!" is now a steady refrain, added to other wails like "But I had low BP last month!","My neighbour said I would fall ill", and "Suppose I faint?"
Failing in everything else , I point to her vaccination mark from childhood (smallpox, pertussis, diphteria. All of us have the tell-tale marks on our forearms or upper thighs...thankfully hers is on her forearm and I don't have to look further!). I also tell her that the Rs.1000 that has been paid for her will go waste. For some reason, this seems to turn the scales. I accompany her downstairs again.
Firm and rather hard-hearted (as I am sure I appear to her) I stand near her and ensure that she remains there, too. But by this time, the internet is down, and there is going to be a long wait for those who have not yet had their turn.
I dare not leave her standing (she says, "I will be all alone!" though there are about 20-25 people there!) in case the disappearing trick happens again, so I lounge about until her name is called. With a pale face and a lamb-to-the-slaughter expression, she goes inside.
Her message is not to be seen on her little phone. Giving up, the volunteer just does a fresh registration for her, which, I think, is very kind of him. Her number is 5, actually one ahead of H, but it's immaterial now. She waits, and then is called to the nurses' station, where she grimaces as the needle goes in, and then comes out, still all of a tremble. I am caught between sympathy, empathy, and irritation. I have spent about an hour and a half on all this!
I take her, too, upstairs, and ask her to remain here (and not go home) for another hour. I tell her that I will get help immediately if there is any reaction. I check on H, too, who seems fine.
After a couple of hours, both of them report headaches. That night, they both report (on the phone) mild fever. Today (Saturday), they report that they seem OK, but have sore arms. I ask them to take the paracetamol that I dispensed on Thursday.
So far,so good.
But if this is the situation with our urban dwellers, I wonder how people in the rural areas, especially those who either have no information or have been listening to a lot of theories, would respond to the vaccination drive. Would they all have someone who would try and explain things and remove their fears with a combination of persuasion and irony? I don't think so....how is our entire population to be vaccinated? I wonder!