I lost a great-grandmother to the influenza epidemic of 1917-18. She died in Meerut. My grandfather was three years old at the time. He always told us that his mother died when he was very young in this epidemic. It was swift. He regretted her death since he got the archetypal stepmother who did everything to stop him including trying to smother him with a pillow or was it a pile of clothes (?). I forget now. Dada always maintained that if his mother had lived, she would have supported his dream to become a doctor. His stepmother thwarted his chances. He set up a factory making blankets for soldiers during WW2 but wound it up fast as he was allergic to the wool. Then he set up a workshop to fix agricultural machinery and automobiles in Meerut and its hinterland. He died aged 101, in 2016. Just a little before the Covid19 pandemic alert. If Dada had lived he would have probably had some hazy recollection of 1918 or even how the elders had reacted. Crucial stories to learn from.
Chinmay Tumbe’s The Age of Pandemics (1817-1920): How they shaped India and the World ( HarperCollins India) is an excellent account of the cholera, plague and influenza pandemics. He details the probable cause and effect, the eerie parallels in (mis) management of political powers in the name of governance and wild human behaviour in response to a pandemic alert, especially that of migrants and the inevitable disastrous economic consequences. His reliance on historical records and oral histories makes for fascinating storytelling especially for his insights on how economic recovery strategies may be considered. It is more than just statistical analysis, it is about being prepared and managing human expectations. Even his excessive use of data is not a hindrance. It is useful. His parting words of bearing this present pandemic with humility and patience must be taken to heart.
And yes, Meerut was one of the cities severely affected by the Influenza pandemic.
This is a stupendous book.
Accessible to the specialist and lay reader.
21 Jan 2021