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Tuesday, April 29th, 2003

Another acronym for fear and death

The flight from Moscow to Delhi is not crowded at all. Of course, we are flying on one of Aeroflot's huge Boeing 777 aircraft (which seats 292), but still, this is very unusual. There are enough empty seats for Goswami Maharaj and I to stretch out and take a nap in the next row.

About an hour before we land at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, we find out why — SARS. A flight attendant hands all the passengers a "Health Alert on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)" form. This is something new. We have to fill out the form if we have come from or transited through any of the SARS affected countries.

I haven't been following this SARS epidemic too closely, but I do know that China, Thailand, and more recently, Canada, have all reported cases of SARS. I am a little surprised, however, to see that some of the newer affected countries include Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.A.

This SARS thing is getting serious! Shortly afterwards, I notice that all the flight attendants are now wearing respiratory masks. Another flight attendant hands out masks to all the passengers. A bit late, I think. (We have been in the air for four hours already.) If my mom was on this flight, she would be panicking right about now...

When we land at Delhi, a little after midnight, I see that everyone is wearing masks: not just the customs agents and other officials, but even the janitors. The fear in their eyes cannot be masked.

At 6:00 a.m. we get a connecting flight to Kolkata. Srutasrava Prabhu and Mahananda Prabhu are there to welcome us, with garlands. We drive the short distance to the Sree Chaitanya Saraswata Krishnanushilana Sangha, and go upstairs to see Srila Govinda Maharaj.

We offer our dandavat pranams to Srila Gurudeva. He smiles, welcomes, and embraces us. The world of SARS — the world of fear and death — tiptoes softly out of my consciousness...
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