The Skoda looks visibly uncomfortable amid rusting jeeps and archaic ambulances in the parking lot of Aundh General Hospital.
On the second floor of the building, the 32-year-old the owner of the car and the mother of a swine-flu-affected boy, looks equally out of place in a Nike top and Levis jeans with an I-pod plugged into her ears.
It is her first encounter with the realities of the public healthcare system, which the government has entrusted with treating all swine flu patients. We’ll call her Rita, because she did not want her real name to be revealed.
Rita, who is also on medication, spends 16 hours at the hospital every day.
“The isolation ward is huge and my son is only 11 years old. He has never lived in a situation like this. It is a culture shock for him,” she said.
In Pune, swine flu has made the classes meet the masses. The class divide, claims a doctor in the hospital with a wry smile, was painful.
“Even now, in a crisis situation poor children will share one bed,” he said.
But the patients carried their own cots with railings, because they felt that the children could easily fall off the railless beds in their sleep.
“Last Saturday, the parents protested against the horrible conditions and then it improved over next few days,” said Rita.
Suddenly, its corridors look cleaner, English computer print-outs direct people to the isolation wards. Rita has seen the transformation with her own eyes.
At the same time, the rest of Pune is quite calm about swine flu because the hoi polloi believe that it can affect only the wealthy — those who study in expensive schools and go abroad on holidays.
This is why Padmaja Nalawade, principal of Erwandna Secondary School located opposite Abhinav English Medium School from where first few cases were reported, is confident that none of her students would contract swine flu.
“This is a Marathi medium school and our children come from middle-class and lower-middle class backgrounds. They will not contract the disease,” she said.
The school was never shut even when the first few cases were reported from the area. “We were told to function normally,” she said.
Back at the hospital, medics feel the development is fortunate. “Not a single patient is from a poor or even middle-class family, which is why it can be contained soon,” said Niteen Bhonsle (Bilolekar), officiating superintendent at Aundh General Hospital.
“Thankfully, the disease has not spread to rural areas. Otherwise, it could have been a bigger disaster,” he said.
The affected population being more aware was reporting the disease early, claimed a doctor at the Naidu Hospital, which is treating majority of the patients.
Parents waiting outside the quarantine ward, camouflaged by heap of construction debris and weeds, however, are clamouring for the government to allow private hospitals to start treating swine flu.
“This is such a depressing place, my son feels sick mentally here. They should have allowed a home quarantine instead, with all the medicines or allowed private hospitals to treat patients,” said a mother of a 12-year-old affected boy.