The Age of Pandemics – Book Review

The Age Of Pandemics 1817-1920 How They Shaped India and The World by Chinmay Tumbe is a well researched book to add to the must-read history of India that has been forgotten and ignored. A book written while the nation and the rest of the world was and still is in the grip of yet another pandemic.

Reading the book is like reliving the past in the present, the denial of an impeding danger, the confusion about the disease, its prognosis and how it spreads, and the rumours around the cure, the acceptance of the problem and living with it, and finally, forgetting the whole process till the next epidemic hits. The feeling of “the more things change, the more they remain the same” never felt more true than right now.

The story is repeated with every universal epidemic – the state of imposed quarantines as well as the social censure of the families affected by the disease, the apathy of the bureaucracy or the government on many fronts and the empathy of individuals and other social organisations which mobilise the efforts of making life easy for those afflicted, the period of scientific research, medical discoveries and inventions to manage and find the cure if not eradicate, the migration and the type casting of a particular caste, religion or profession for the source of the spread.

These 100 years that saw the death of 40 million people in India alone and approximately 70 million worldwide was unproportionately and unfavourably skewed towards India, perhaps due to the climatic and sanitary conditions, mutated viral and bacterial strains, genetic makeup of Indians or could be because of many other reasons for which research is still ongoing.

This period of pandemics that ravaged the socio-economic makeup of the country remained largely undocumented even outside the realm of collective memory and oral history traditions prevalent in India. However, the book The Age of Pandemics has tried to fill this lacuna and succeeds to a large extent to bring the focus into this particular period.

The book published by Harper Collins India is priced at the hardcover original price of Rs 599/- though available at a discounted price of Rs 400/- in hardcover and at Rs 256/- in Kindle at Amazon India.

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