Old-timers in Mangaluru recount smallpox outbreak | Mangaluru News – Times of India

In the 1940s through the 1970s, Urwa Market, now incorporated within the city limits of Mangaluru, lay on the …Read More

MANGALURU: The dramatic steps taken to combat Covid-19 across the world have introduced almost three generations to the implications of what living life in a ‘quarantine’ entails. Words such as isolation and containment, along with quarantine, will be definitive terms associated with the experience of the young. However, for thousands of elderly citizens in their 70s and 80s in the country, quarantine, without the term hardly ever used, was an essential part of their growing-up years; the disease they dreaded was small pox.
In the 1940s through the 1970s, Urwa Market, now incorporated within the city limits of Mangaluru, lay on the outskirts of the coastal town, and it was here that around 25 sheds were erected to house those suffering from small pox. A solitary shed still remains, a visible reminder of those terrifying times.
The Karnataka state gazetteer, published in 1971, shows that the region was struck by cholera, small pox, malaria and many other fevers. Although cholera accounted for more fatalities, the administration quarantined only those who had small pox. “People in infected areas are inoculated, and are advised against entertaining relatives and friends. Most cases are coming chiefly from adjoining districts and Bombay,” the gazetteer noted. In 1945, the small pox epidemic claimed the lives of 254 in the erstwhile South Kanara district, while the number dropped to 49 in ’59, to 41 in ’60 before ultimately coming down to zero in ’70.
Former corporator and secretary of Besant Institutions Devananda Pai, 68, recalled days from his boyhood when Urwa Market was forbidden territory. “A thrashing awaited us at home if we ventured there. Those who were quarantined were largely thought of as being on their deathbeds. Most people who were isolated did not reunite with their families,” Pai added.
Christine Lobo, who will turn 100 on June 24, recalled her father telling her about the epidemic sweeping through Kulashekar in 1890. “My father told me that small pox claimed lives every day in Kulashekar. The then parish priest Father Alexander Dubois, who presided over the final rites, would be forced to dig the graves himself when he could not find anyone to do so. Since I lived in Chikkamagaluru in the 1940s, I never caught small pox, though I have suffered from malaria,” Christine said.
Jessy Castelino, 74, wife of former mayor PM Castelino, was a class VIII student when the small pox epidemic struck the district. “I lived in Kinnigoli, around 30km from Mangaluru. It was a small town but was shut for eight days, and were not even allowed to go outside and play,” she said.


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Sagar Biswas

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