health workers vaccine centre india covid
Health workers sit in the waiting area of vaccination centre, Mumbai, India Image Credit: AP

“Let’s go, we have to be at the clinic at nine before the crowd gathers,” said my wife, as I fumbled trying to put my two masks on.

It was the first day of Eid, after a monthlong daytime fast, and people usually celebrate, partaking of home-made vermicelli sweet, greeting friends and relatives and generally having a good time, but this was urgent.

India had suddenly extended the wait period between the primer and booster shots, to 12 weeks, and today was the last day of the second dose before the new wait time rolled in. And there was also a huge shortage of vaccines.

We desperately needed the second shot as air tickets were booked, the Airbnb apartment reserved, and because we were not sure whether Canada would let us in if we were not fully protected from the new Indian variant of the virus.

First time out in the open

It was my first time out in the open after the lockdown was announced in Bengaluru, and I was feeling vulnerable.

We did not have any papers to show to the police why we are in a taxi speeding off on the deserted roads to a tiny village on the outskirts of the city.

The police had been ordered to be strict during the lockdown, and in their wisdom, they thought the best way to enforce it was to start belting people with their ‘lathis’ (a heavy wooden stick).

I did not think getting beaten up or running wildly on the street while being chased by police with ‘lathis’ on Eid, was such a good idea.

My wife had our certificates, with a picture of a smiling prime minister, showing that we had taken the first shot. The police were now wiser in this lockdown and ask for the letter or SMS that says we have to be at a certain Public Health Clinic or hospital on a certain date for the second shot.

But we had an Uber driver who only took on international teachers as passengers and he knew the exact time we need to get off the roads and which side roads to take to make us invisible.

(The teachers, who would all be travelling abroad for the holidays, had known through the grapevine which of the few Public Health Clinics were offering the second shot, on the last day).

Even as the ‘first wave’ hit globally, I had something known as ‘vaccine hesitancy’. It sounded like what an introvert felt. (How are you feeling today? Not too good, I have vaccine hesitancy).

Biocon (Biopharmaceutical Company) chief, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, succinctly described the vaccine shortage situation in India. She said it was like an “arranged marriage” (where a relative or a marriage broker brings suitors to the home to show the reluctant girl). “First you are not ready, then you don’t like any, then you don’t get any,” Shaw said.

The Public Health Clinic in a rural setting, with birds chirping and trees forming a canopy over our heads, was comforting and it had very few people waiting.

We were told to stand in rectangle boxes that were chalk-drawn on the ground. Then I noticed another batch of people sitting under the trees and I asked a clinic staffer what were they waiting for.

“They have come to test for COVID-19. Don’t worry, only people with symptoms are tested here,” he said.

My wife had heard our conversation, and she told her colleague, and we all looked at each other and time seemed to be frozen like in the movie, Inception, and the word, “eeks”, went racing through our thoughts.

Luckily, I had only two days of fever and a bit wooziness (because I refused to take an Ibuprofen, to let the antibodies form), and we are now waiting for international flights to start.

Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi