Surviving Chikungunya in Delhi, one pop song at a time

Palash Krishna Mehrotra
Palash Krishna MehrotraAug 31, 2016 | 15:15

Surviving Chikungunya in Delhi, one pop song at a time

Make no mistake. The chikungunya epidemic has arrived in Delhi with fanfare. Friends are getting it. Acquaintances are getting it. Domestics are getting it. And, well, this columnist has got it too.

More people are down from it than the numbers released by the government might suggest: 400 cases were reported last week. Navin Dang, senior advisor, Association of Practicing Pathologists in India, told the TOI that statistics don't reflect the true situation as only 'a few labs/ hospitals have the facility to diagnose it.' I know people who have self-diagnosed and not gone in for the test because of the high cost, which is between four to five thousand rupees.

I picked up the virus in Delhi but in Dehradun the doctor was stumped by the symptoms. He poked around my ear with a hard metal instrument; he asked me to roll my eyes and checked for jaundice. He told me to keep a temperature chart, suspecting typhoid. All old-school illnesses. Finally, I googled and got the answer I was looking for, my hunch later confirmed by a blood test.

Typhoid is known as the king of fevers. It has a stately languid elegance about the way it goes about its business-the carefully calibrated daily rise and fall of temperature. But chikungunya is a brash free-flowing new-age virus. It's got you by your hair before you know it.

It got me in less than sixty seconds. One minute I was sitting on a chair feeling fine; a few ticks of the second's needle later, I was overwhelmed by a violent shivering. I barely managed to crawl to my bed and cover myself with blankets. That's the first symptom: sudden onset of high fever, which goes up to 104 degree Fahrenheit.

Joint pain along with high grade fever is the classic chikungunya combo, although the phrase "joint pain" doesn't quite describe the quality of the pain, which has had young people pouring into Delhi hospitals on wheelchairs. If I had to describe it, I'd say it's like someone twisted your arm around your back, kicked you in the shins, ankles and knees, gathered you up by the scruff of your neck, swung you around and let you fly. After four days of high-flying fever, you land with a thud, relieved to be alive, and ready for round 2, for this is the thing about chikungunya: it comes in stages.

When you have the fever, you will only sleep a wildly delirious sleep in which dragons and other fantastical creatures appear frequently. There is relentless nausea and no appetite. I could drink only orange juice. Once the fever goes, your skin is tender and sensitive and you'll develop a pin-prick rash - the intensity varies. Some get ulcers in the mouth. The joint pains can apparently linger for weeks after. My fingers are stiff, I have difficulty walking. The pain comes and goes. At this stage, those so inclined, flock to Baba Ramdev's stores to shop for roots and bootis.

Or you can go on YouTube where you'll find a whole subculture of chikungunya songs. These I found much better than any palliative pill. You will laugh so much the joints will open up by themselves. Perhaps because the virus is rarely known to be fatal, the chikungunya songs are quite celebratory, with a fair bit of dancing and several jokes about sipping orange juice and popping analgesics. This is a virus which comes with its own soundtrack.

There is "La Chikungunya" by Don Omar of Puerto Rico (fantastic mosquito-dance moves); Colombia's Jkar sings in a reggaeton number: "Tell me if you've been bitten by chikungunya, which has turned into a crazy mess that you can't contain'." If you want something more wedding-orchestra-like, you can try Anand Balagobind's "Sweet Melodies": "Bhaiya, dhoom machaye chikungunya." Balagobind is Dutch-Surinamese and the Hindi words are easy to make out.

But the undisputed Justin Beiber of  Chikungunya Pop is an eleven-year-old Jamaican by the name of Wayne J who raps in Jamaican patois. His 'Chikungunya Song' (there are several versions, including an excellent live one), with the catchy refrain 'One Panadol quick' (Panadol being an analgesic like Crocin), is witty and quite irresistible: 'Mosquito bite inna foot/ an it a bite inna neck mek/ sure seh yuh have yuh mosquito net/ weh yuh seh, yuh caan ketch it? Yuh waan stick a bet? Check di ole inna yuh back weh water collect/ Mi inna long sleeve tink a bleach mi a bleach/ mi a stay outta di mosquito reach/ Any day name day dah bwoy yah feel sick/ One Panadol, one Panadol quick.'

It's while listening to these songs that you realise there is a great sisterhood and brotherhood of fellow chikungunya victims stretching across the tropics. The songs also take you on a wonderful journey into varieties of local patois, all saying the same thing: if you are from the tropics, then you have to have gone through the chikungunya initiation. It's a new rite of passage, a fact of life in the humid damp third world, whichever continent you might be on. So dear reader, if you haven't been bitten yet, find a friendly aedes aegypti and join in the international chikungunya fiesta. You're missing out on membership to an elite worldwide club.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Last updated: September 02, 2016 | 14:46
Please log in
I agree with DailyO's privacy policy