infectious disease

Nipah fear still grips Kozhikode: Markets count their losses, buses and even hospitals go empty

Kerala government’s assurance that there is no need for panic has had little impact.

The Kerala government said on Sunday that no fresh Nipah virus infections had been reported in the last few days and there was no need for panic. The statement followed a meeting chaired by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to assess the measures taken to contain the virus, which has in the past month infected 18 people and killed 16 of them – 13 in Kozhikode district and three in neighbouring Malappuram.

The Nipah virus causes fever and upper respiratory distress in humans that quickly escalates to encephalitis or inflammation of the brain, and in some cases myocarditis or inflammation of the heart. Its natural host is the fruit bat and it is transmitted through contact and transfer of body fluids. According to the World Health Organisation, there is “no vaccine for either humans or animals and the primary treatment is intensive supportive care”.

The first Nipah death in Kerala took place on May 5, and was confirmed by the National Institute of Virology in Pune on May 20. The two infected persons are being treated at the Government Medical College Hospital in Kozhikode while around 2,000 more are under observation on suspicion of having come in close contact with infected persons. Among the dead was Kozhikode nurse Lini Puthussery, who was infected by her patient and whose final letter to her husband went viral.

In Kozhikode and Malappuram, however, the fear of fresh infections remains palpable and the government’s assurance has made little difference. People here continue to stay indoors, coming out only to buy essentials. Business is down in the markets while few travel by bus and train.

Even the Government Medical College Hospital in Kozhikode, where 14 of the infected were treated, wears a deserted look. Hospital authorities said the facility used to attract over 3,000 patients a day but the number had come down drastically since May 20, when the presence of the Nipah virus was confirmed. “Less than 200 patients came here on Monday,” they said.

Ismail, who sells books and lottery tickets near the hospital entrance, attested to this, adding that his business had suffered as a result. “I used to earn Rs 500 before Nipah outbreak, now I can’t even get Rs 100,” he said.

Ismail has now taken to selling face masks at Rs 5 a piece, but there are few takers for these as well. “People come here wearing face masks,” he said. “A few people buy it from me.”

The Government Medical College Hospital in Kozhikode treated 200 patients on Monday compared to its usual volume of 3,000 a day.
The Government Medical College Hospital in Kozhikode treated 200 patients on Monday compared to its usual volume of 3,000 a day.

Bus travel down

The Nipah scare has taken a big toll on public transport in Kozhikode.

With many people avoiding bus travel for fear of contracting the virus from their fellow passengers, bus operators have been forced to cut down the number of trips by almost half on many routes here.

“People are scared to travel to places hit by the Nipah virus,” said K Radhakrishnan, general secretary of the Kozhikode District Bus Operators’ Association.

He said the average daily collection from each bus had plummeted from Rs 8,000 to Rs 3,000. “The daily collection is not enough to pay the labour wages. We cannot afford to run the service incurring losses,” he said. “With the drop in revenue, bus owners [have] decided to stop the service on many routes.”

Face masks are everywhere in Kozhikode.
Face masks are everywhere in Kozhikode.

Bitter times for fruit market

While business is down on the whole, fruit sales have been hit particularly hard in Kozhikode, which is Kerala’s largest fruit market. Rumours that the virus spreads through fruit bitten by bats have not helped.

According to All Kerala Fruit Merchants’ Association president PV Hamza, sales have plummetted 50% across the state in the last three weeks. “Fruit worth Rs 20 crore were sold in Kerala, but it slumped to less than Rs 10 crore,” he said. He added that Kozhikode accounted for daily sales worth Rs 2 crore but the sale volume had now dipped “below the Rs 1 crore mark. As a result, more than 30,000 retail fruit vendors in the district have incurred huge losses”.

Mango sellers seem to be the worst affected. “Mango is the favourite fruit of bats, believed to be reservoirs of the Nipah virus,” explained Hamza. “So customers struck it off their shopping list.”

According to reports, Kerala sources 90% of its fruits from other states.

Hamza said, “Trucks from Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra used to bring 800 tonnes of mangoes to Kerala every day during the peak season. It has now come down to less than 400 tonnes.”

He added that he had “heard that ripe mangoes are rotting in warehouses in other states”.

A near-deserted shopping mall in Kozhikode.
A near-deserted shopping mall in Kozhikode.

Traders count losses

The blow to business from the Nipah virus follows losses from the demonetisation of high-value currency notes in 2016 and the hasty introduction of the Goods and Services Tax last year, according to the Kerala Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samithi, an organisation of traders.

K Sethumadhavan, the organisation’s district secretary in Kozhikode, said the timing was especially bad as traders were anticipating brisk sales because of Ramzan and the re-opening of schools after the summer break. Instead, “sales dropped more than 70% in the last three weeks”, he said.

Sweet Meat Street – Kozhikode’s main commercial hub with 1,640 registered shops and around 125 street vendors – has been left reeling. “The association estimates that traders lost Rs 45 crore due to the slump in business since May 20,” Sethumadhavan said. “[The] Nipah virus has dashed our hopes.”

All photographs by TA Ameerudheen.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.