A lot of things have changed since early April when we shared recipes to celebrate spring and the beginning of Ramadan/Ramzan and more still since last year when we shared our series on Migration. The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic hit India and has affected people all around us. This time, the wave has been deadlier. Not just that, it has brought to the fore challenges of India’s already overburdened and crumbling public health infrastructure that has left many literally breathless. But we don’t need to tell you that sitting far away. If you are in India, you know it better than us.
Cognitive Dissonance of an Indian Expat
Living in countries where vaccines are available to all age-groups and a relaxation of masking and social distancing rules has begun, has caused another kind of anxiety. The move toward normalcy around us has meant a deep emotional and mental disconnect between our working personas and personal lives. We are expected to show up for work (remotely or in-person) with optimism while at the back of our minds is the constant, almost pathological need to check in with loved ones. The added time difference of North America has meant that at night, when dawn descends on India, an urgency to call or text sets in. In case there is a delay in responding from the other side: panic – numerous questions and worst case scenarios running through the mind. Prachi Gupta wrote in the Atlantic about the experience of Indian expats in the US. The picture she paints is accurate and hits really close to home. Like many we’ve suffered a personal loss. Sakshi lost her paternal grandmother – Badi mummy – and her father and brother are recovering from Covid at home. Here she shares her experience of the past month.
The Guilt of Distance
The week before we got our second vaccine shot in Dubai, my brother tested positive in India. I felt defeated that it had finally crept into our home after an entire year of preaching and monitoring my family’s mask etiquettes and sanitation routines. They did all that and yet.
I imagined the worst – that it would eventually spread to all of them. Although my brother quickly isolated himself, the virus had already spread to my father and octogenarian grandmother.
I understand what I am going to relate here is not new anymore, or even shocking. Like thousands of families we spent countless nights on the phone – booking blood tests, tele-consults with doctors, asking for hospital beds, scouring social media for sources of oxygen cylinders or concentrators, nurses, tiffin services, checking with pharmacists for elusive medicines, speaking with friends who are doctors (god bless them!), and of course, checking on my family’s symptoms. For several days we oscillated between the decision to hospitalise my dad in a hospital hundreds of miles away or care for him at home. How do you know you are taking the right decision at the time? All this from just a four hour flight away from my hometown, that I could not visit, was too afraid to fly because of the risk of getting infected or worse still, infecting those who were still negative. A few days into the madness, I got my second shot of the vaccine and the guilt surged.
One particular night spent on a phone call with my brother is etched in my memory. He was managing my grandma’s symptoms of delirium, excruciating pain, breathlessness and my dad’s high fever. With no medical help at 2 am, my sick brother was taking care of two elders with only me on the other side of the phone. Medicines and syrups prescribed by a doctor on the phone did not help her. I told him to caress her head for some time thinking it may help her sleep. I longed to be there with them to help. The best I could do was stay on the line with him.
The next morning he drove her to a hospital to plead for a bed. There was nothing available anywhere but phone calls from a family member to a doctor who knew another doctor, finally helped in getting her admitted. We didn’t know at the time that we won’t see her again. It has been a month since Badi mummy passed away, she the lover (and maker) of parathas, the best halwas, long-drives, the master of Kadhi-making and stories from long past.
This is just one of the many stories of how many Indians are struggling to find timely or any medical attention at all. And no, this is not a far flung town or suburb; this is from a major satellite town in the National Capital Region of Delhi. I shudder to think of the situation in rural India right now.
Social media – empowering with a dash of privilege
I am immensely grateful to family and friends who stepped in to help, going above and beyond to show up for people in need, to strangers sharing phone numbers and resources on social media, to volunteers who are building databases with updated information and making cold calls to verify these resources. At the same time, I am extremely aware of my privilege – that I could arrange for the resources I could, sitting far away.
It has been a month I will never forget. I am grateful for the ones we could save and sad for the ones whom we tried for, but lost. There was no time or opportunity to come together and grieve. The only consolation is the love and memories that they leave behind.
How can we help from afar?
This story of India’s second Covid-19 wave is far from over. It continues with lakhs of others going through so much worse, particularly those who are at a disadvantage due to their circumstances – poverty, discrimination and the state’s apathy. Every day there is news of someone’s untimely death, adding to the staggering numbers that the administration isn’t counting. They need to be counted. Even as we recognize their humanity beyond statistics. According to official (often not actual) figures, in the last 7 days, an average of 4329 lives have been lost in the country. Estimates of actual figures are far higher. The need of the hour is to get aid and medical help to the many who are in need.
So what can we all do to help
Besides doing our bit by staying safe at home, washing our hands and maintaining social distance, we would like to remind you of the work of some organizations that are providing help to those affected on the ground. From providing oxygen cylinders and concentrators to meals, certain organisations have stepped in to help those in need and right now there are a lot of people in need.
We urge you to donate to organisations that are transparent and help people without discrimination on the basis of their religion, caste, gender, social status etc. since our populace is large and an amalgam of so many different people. In addition, as people who write for a living and on this blog as a passion, we urge you to support independent sources of information – news media – free of political affiliations. Time magazine called out the failings of Indian media in pursuing the government for truthful data on the pandemic. Their silence and compliance with the government’s hogwash has only worsened the situation.
Every little bit counts
A year into the Covid-19 pandemic, fatigue has set in. We feel it, same as you. But fighting through it, and empathizing with the suffering of others – family, friends or strangers – by donating to the fight can lift the veil of sadness. There is a mutual benefit to such charity – it provides a purpose and energy to our giving and the impact is real. We don’t discount the fact that it is an extremely difficult time for a lot of people dealing with loss, trauma, fear and anxiety. If you feel you need help, therapy or counselling, please check the resources we found here.
Some of the organizations either of us and our families have donated to include The Hemkunt Foundation, AID India (Association for India’s Development), The Caravan Magazine and, Delhi Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee among others. Below is a list of these resources and a comprehensive document listing numerous others. Please consider making a donation, however large or small, you can.
Fundraising to fight Covid-19 in India:
- India Donations – Covid-19: A comprehensive, continually updated list of organizations accepting donations and working on the ground with their area and region of focus listed.
- AID India (Association for India’s Development)
- Mutual Aid India: A list of projects, missions, and funding goals.
- Dil se Sewa – NDTV and Delhi Gurudwara Management Committee
- Hemkunt Foundation – providing oxygen in Delhi/NCR
Independent News & Media Outlets that Need Your Support:
- The Caravan Magazine
- PARI (People’s Archive of Rural India)
- The Print
- The Wire
- Scroll India
The best way to come out of this calamity is by informing ourselves, reconnecting with our humanity and seeing it in others. The blatant disregard for dignity – in life and death – caused by the chaos India’s government has unleashed should not be forgotten. Let us not put on our blinders after this disaster is over. Leave them off, question the powers that be.
– Kanika & Sakshi