I just received the second mail from my son’s school principal, in a week’s time, shrouded in grief, expressing her condolences for the untimely death of another parent due to COVID-19. In spite of being an optimist, I cannot but give in to the feeling of an all-encompassing despondency. How do I console them, they, who have lost their dear ones? I try to keep my voice even but the anguish leaks out of the gap between words.
The virus has not only mutated, it has gotten deep into the psyche of human beings, rendering them inhuman due to helplessness induced by poverty. Yesterday I read a heart-rending story that wreaked havoc within. It was about a 13-year-old child who was abandoned at the railway station, with a COVID positive report in his hand, by his father. When the railway officials found the boy standing at the deserted parking lot of the station, the boy told them that his father left him there because he was unwell. The child was maskless, there were no tears in his eyes and his face was writ with confusion.
The father, a daily wage earner, a widower, had taken his only son to a city home as the parent was finding it difficult to make ends meet. The home wanted the child to undergo a COVID test first before admitting him. After the positive rapid antigen test report found in the boy’s hand suggested he had contracted COVID-19, he was not allowed in the home. The father, who apparently had no other means, left the child at the station compound. After a lot of cajoling the child drank some water and ate a few biscuits, offered to him by the officials at the railway station. A state-run NGO took the responsibility of sending the boy to a safe home till the father could be traced out and counselled.
As I read this, I felt a curdling unease swilling within me, like a meal my stomach didn’t want. I call a friend of mine who runs an NGO, she says that there have been enumerable cases like this. The other day she helped a 14-year-old girl to do the last rites of her parents. My friend chides me softly, “Either you wallow in misery or do something worthwhile to help such people around you. It will make you feel better. The pandemic has shown a positive side too, it has brought out the feeling of brotherhood and charity among us, the viral-foe has united us in a strong, fraternal bond.”
The other day a lady who lives just two buildings away from my parents’ house in Kolkata, called my father (who is a physician) desperately. Her voice was shrill with anxiety and grief, “My mother has no pulse and there are no doctors available now to check on her and declare her dead. And without a doctor’s certificate we will not get a death certificate. Can you please help?” As a concerned daughter I almost dissuaded him from going over, he is 77 years old with comorbidities. The doctor immediately dressed up, and reassured me with unbelievable tranquillity, “I will serve till the last breath, since I have been blessed with the skill and knowledge to save people and eliminate their misery.” He smiled, (double) masked-up, and set out.
My friend Ron, has begun her foray into helping humanity in Pune, India. She provides food to all the relatives of COVID patients waiting outside hospitals, some forget to eat out of anguish whereas some don’t have the money to afford food; to the homeless; to the boys who work tirelessly handling medical waste of COVID wards and the list is endless. Her venture, called the “#HappinessDabba” is a full package of food laced with love and hope, helping people affected directly or indirectly by the pandemic.
I decide to shake off the pessimism that was gradually seeping in, stand by people who need compassion and a little cheering up because together we can wade out of this murky water. The other side of this pandemic will see us stronger, sturdier and more united as a people, for sure.
Navanita Varadpande is a writer based in Gurugram, India. Twitter: @VpNavanita