Delhi Covid Coronavirus Wave India
Heartbreak: A relative of a person who died of COVID-19 reacts during cremation, in New Delhi, India Image Credit: AP

My friends will tell you I am seldom lost for words. But not today, most are too weak to speak- whether for themselves or their families. As I wait- not very patiently for their updates, the fingers continue to hover over the keyboard as they have been for the last few days.

The deadline is coming closer, but the words are lost. Like me. And many of you. Today, I don’t know how to begin.

Much like the virus, fatigue was anyway trying to sneak in through the tightly fisted composure, the flowers and yoga had stopped doing their thing.

Through the last year, work has been a panacea for any bouts of uncertainty. But in the last few weeks inspiration has become like that dodgy two- wheeler on a narrow road, it has been working in spurts and stops.

Now with aunts, cousins, mentors, children, sisterhood all collapsing around me, emotions have redefined their own different stages. Disbelief that quickly changed to despair which is almost always followed by anger.

In search of a bed, a lab or oxygen

I was no different. But today there is no longer any rage, only a sense of bleakness. When everyone you know is either fighting to survive or frantically looking for something - a bed, a lab or oxygen, when every message is a trigger, it is not easy to come up for air.

In the last few days, we have learnt a big lesson- respect for the dying is not universal. Power is a heady aphrodisiac and keeping the poor, illiterate a necessity so that political rallies march on and number of deaths are masked. So many of those counting the dead were already no man’s people.

During polls, they get their two minutes of importance but if they are dying in ambulances even before the election results what hope do they have after?

This time though may be different, they are grieving their loved ones. Every person who is losing this battle is someone’s sister, husband or parent, don’t dismiss them as a statistic.

They are all unwell or dying on our watch, because as people we were abandoned a long while ago, we are only voters. So, mourn each one of them.

Covid second wave India
Relatives and friends wearing PPE perform the last rites of a COVID-19 fatality at the Nigambodh Ghat crematorium in New Delhi India, on Monday, April 19, 2021. India has among the world’s fastest-growing COVID-19 caseload in terms of total numbers

Pyres burning all through the night

We always teach our children empathy and kindness, this generation is seeing how pyres are burning through the day, all through the night. They are watching as the poor pay thousands they cannot afford for cremations, just to give their loved ones a semblance of dignity in death. Our leaders have failed.

The medical fraternity is gasping for breath itself and yet continues to save even those who went to the Kumbh proclaiming they were Covid immortal.

Doctors, nurses and other staff at hospitals are beaten, exhausted and almost numb. They have lost many of their own- even those who got both doses, and yet they risk their lives and that of their young children and elderly parents selflessly every day when they step out to save another stranger’s life.

These are the real heroes for our children. But how do we justify to these fatigued warriors the expenditure on a statue and spending crores on a new parliament building when our public health care budget remains among the lowest in the world? All they wanted in an emergency were basics- enough kits to test, oxygen for every patient and ICU beds.

But don’t let our fear and defeat impact the children, tell them that the doctors are trying to heal us all but are only human. This wave is also over their head and children can sometimes teach adults, compassion. Many doctors go home after losing a patient, barely saving another and do homework with their children.

The pain and the magnitute of it all

Some days, in fact most days now I want to be a coward, it is becoming increasingly hard to read the news or go on Twitter, but then I go back thinking perhaps my one retweet may reach the right person. This normally most toxic of places has kept my belief going- people reaching out to each other, helping and sharing food, availability of beds and pain.

This is how we were as a country, perhaps in our collective grief we will realise how we were played. If not, the kindness of some will embrace even the others when they require a bed. Entire families are being wiped out, only the insensitive brandish political or religious affiliation through this brutal time. When the ghats are burning like they are today, only humanity can survive.

Last year we were sympathising about the deaths in Italy. Today, the world is doing the same with us. It is pointless saying that we saw it coming. It doesn’t matter now. Later, it should.

Once this is over, we will all perhaps need to reinvent, but for now, start by not being harsh on yourself. Perfection can wait another year- whether in the kitchen, a zoom presentation or your child’s score.

Not meant to be our journey

For the second year the mango trees have blossomed in my family home in Punjab’s Jalandhar, and we are far from home. I have not seen my parents since January last year. So far, I have taken comfort in the knowledge that I am not the only one, that so many around me are no different.

But there is no escaping that the pandemic has taken away almost two years of our family lives. I miss the small- town serenity even though ironically, we are all so restless we can barely sit. Hopefully the mango trees have a mind of their own and will welcome me with a bumper harvest when I can make it back.

I tell my friends we will all go together and collect the mangoes when this is over. They nod, tiredly. There is place in that garden for anyone else who wants to join us, someday we will heal together under the withering trunk and gnarled branches of those giant trees.

For now, we are broken. This was not meant to be our journey. Or perhaps, it was.