We, the Government
By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer
We did a phone survey on the effects of the partial lifting of the Lockdown in Mussoorie. We chose a cross-section of people we had known for many years. They all make their living from our little town. We excluded those who tended to exaggerate, play to the gallery or say what they thought we would like to hear. And we told them that we would not reveal their names.
The question we asked was “Would you serve a customer if he or she was not wearing a mask?”
“At first I would very definitely say No,” said the owner of a shop in the Library area. “We must show solidarity with the citizens of our town. But if I see that the tourists are really in need, say if it’s an emergency involving children or elderly persons, I would relent after telling them that their conduct was endangering all of us.” Then he added, “Most of them seemed to be people who had driven up for the day to get a breath of cool, fresh, air.”
Said another well-known trader in the same area, “My staff have instructions not to admit people without masks into the shop. If it’s a real emergency, then my employees might carry out a few items for the tourists to select from, but that is as far as we would go. We can’t risk the health of other citizens of our town.”
A hotelier also in the western part of the Mall was even more emphatic. “No way! Wearing a mask shows a sense of responsibility. A guest without a mask puts my staff at risk: the risk is in excess of the revenue. In a grave emergency .. well! .. I might consider it..”
At the other end of the Mall, a popular bookshop has a rope barrier stretched across its open front. Shoppers can place their orders from outside the barrier. If they want to enter the shop, besides the obligatory mask, they must also sanitise their hands from the dispenser placed at the entrance. Two of the owners’ close relatives are doctors; both the owners are senior citizens and they don’t intend to take any risks.
A senior official of one of the five professional associations in our town felt that the law was not being enforced strictly. He said that marginal business people could not afford to buy the mandated protective gear and local citizens were being targeted by the enforcement personnel. This is, clearly, the responsibility of the state: professional associations are, essentially, self-help organisations. Another informant had told us that he had seen four youths in a car, parked on the Mall, drinking beer on Saturday afternoon. This is another grey area: local vigilantism might lead to a civic disturbance. A senior hotelier, who also owns a restaurant, said that he would not allow anyone without a mask to be served in his properties. He also made an interesting observation about the origin of the tourists who drove up to Mussoorie on Saturday. He said that when he had travelled down the length of the Mall on Saturday morning, there were few visitors. In the afternoon, however, the number of tourists had increased markedly. This confirms our earlier impression that Mussoorie’s influx of visitors must have been trippers from Dehra. Significantly, our hotels have had either no occupancy or “miserably low” occupancy, which again suggests the presence of day trippers from the Valley.
We have received unconfirmed, but persistent, reports that some unregistered and self-styled ‘home stays’ on the outskirts of Mussoorie kept tourists, in violation of all orders. The good news, however, is that when their neighbours discovered this, they called in the police and the danger of the spread of Covid-19 was averted.
The bulk of urban Indians live in small towns with populations of less than 5 lakhs. We feel very proud of the population of our minuscule town for their, fine-tuned, pro-active stand. If we can enforce the direct democracy of We, the Government, so effectively, then other small towns can do so and, finally, the Mahatma’s dream will have been realised.
Hopefully, this social trend will, in future, be called the Mussoorie Model!
(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.)