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The Caring Folk of a Small Town

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We, the Citizens

By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

The Garhwal Post has carried many reports on the basic goodness of the common people of Mussoorie. Groups have banded together to help those who have been impacted by the Pandemic and its terrible repercussions.

This is, essentially, the job of our elected representatives, and the administrators working under them. In some states, they have risen to the task. In our state they have not. This is why our citizens, supported by one very sensitive bureaucrat, have had to rush in to fill this cruel gap.

The GP, as a state-district-town communicator, plays a fundamental role in keeping our Democracy alive. By presenting the many facets of the civic opinions of Uttarakhandis, it upholds the Rule of the Citizens. It prevents our democracy from derailing into a perverted, Top-Down, spin-doctored, Bollytocracy: “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. It cannot be an easy task, and we salute the GP for staying the course, come hell or high water.

We cannot give details of what is being done by all the self-help organisations in our town. We have chosen one, because we have known many of its organisers for a number of years. Here, in a slightly condensed version of their words, are the varied roles that they played, and continue to play, in comforting the afflicted of Mussoorie.

“As soon as the second wave gripped our town, a group of friends, who had worked during the first wave too, got together and decided that they must do something immediately. PEHAL was born. From 21st April cooked meals are being delivered to Covid patients in Home Isolation as well as in the Civil Hospital. Over 3,000 meals have been provided. In the early days of the second surge (we) collected empty oxygen cylinders from friends and families, got them re-filled, started an Oxygen Cylinder Bank and provided this service to many Covid patients desperate for Oxygen. Starting with three Oxygen Cylinders, it became 28 in a matter of days with local citizens, schools and Mr Bajaj from Mumbai donating more.

Another unique initiative was providing Oxymeters to Covid patients at their homes, and monitoring their levels twice a day.

The team behind these initiatives consists of Rajat Agarwal, Anmol Jain, Rajat Kapur, Ashish Goel, Sanjay Agarwal and Sandeep Sahni. They are supported by Jagjit Kukreja, Nagendra Uniyal, Satish Juneja and their team from The Traders’ Association, to deliver the meals.

The initial funding for this initiative was from our own resources. Later, Savoy Hotel and St George’s College started providing the meals.”

Clearly, as these activities, during the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, involve movements across our Himalayan town, any blind insistence on the stoppage of all vehicular traffic would have defeated the initiatives of PEHAL. The cooperation of the authorities was essential. This was provided by our SDM, the very polite and effective Mr Manish Kumar, IAS. We have not met him but, from the reports that keep pouring in, he is one of the three most effective SDMs we have had in the 81 years of our family’s involvement in the civic affairs of Mussoorie.

What the SDM and PEHAL are doing are in the finest traditions of Democracy. The idea of a Government Of the People, By the People and For the People was born in the City-State of Athens, and its adjacent territories called Attica. That was in the 4th Century BCE. All citizens were obliged to vote in their Assembly. At that time, they had an estimated 30,000 voters. That was much less than half the 66,991 voters in Mussoorie, today!

In spite of the small number of Athenian voters, historians agree that Athenian Democracy fell because of the great self-pride, the hubris, which Athenians developed. They believed that they knew everything that could be known about everything! And so the Spartans, who were pretty austere in their lifestyles and did not believe that they were the cat’s whiskers, overthrew the Athenians’ self-indulgent pomposity! Does that ring a tocsin, a warning bell, to you? It does to us.

Perhaps some other caring folk, especially those who live in small towns where the ambient sound in not very loud, can hear it too!

(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other
National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 half-hour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who is a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)