Reflections on India's second covid wave
You know one of those odd days, when you wake up and it’s pitch dark. You reach for your phone, check the time and see it’s an ungodly 3:45am. You put the phone down instantly, face first. And go back to sleep.
But you can’t. As you lay there waiting, you resist the temptation to check your phone. You are afraid you will read the news. Again. You have been trying hard to avoid it but failing.
After turning and tossing, you are staring blankly at the ceiling.
And you start thinking of the article you read the previous evening—that young girl who lost both her parents to covid. How does one tell a teenager, that life will be OK despite such a loss? And the nineteen year old, who turned to reddit for legal advice, because his father had succumbed to covid and was certain his mother would too; and loan sharks had turned up to recover money that had been lent to his parents. He desperately wanted to know what to do. I learnt doing my taxes four years ago and I’m 34. You think of the anger these teenagers must feel for being orphaned overnight, without a warning of any sort.
You think of the scum who calls himself a sanyasi, and is busy mocking those complaining about lack of oxygen cylinders—“god has filled the cosmos with oxygen and given you two cylinders” he says while pointing to his nostrils in front of an audience, “take it all in, you fool” he grins diabolically. This is played on national TV. This man is a millionaire who concocted a ‘medicine’ for covid and had a press-conference to release it with the country’s health minister in attendance, no less. How does he sleep at night, you wonder.
You think of the friend who messaged you at 11:35 three nights ago, asking you if you were still up. You know his entire family has covid and your heart sank fearing the worst. As soon as he called you, you asked, “Is everyone at home ok?” He said ‘ya man, everyone is fine at home but’ and broke down to say one of his friends passed away from the virus; the guy was 36. He is survived by his wife and mother. You hear your friend feel helpless because the news is yet to be broken to the mother. She had no relatives, just one son, who is now no more.
You think of the 21-year-old who ran pillar to post to get a hospital bed for his 55-year-old father, who suffered a heart attack, but couldn’t find a bed anywhere in the city. Because most hospitals were packed and the ones that had any beds, required a covid negative certificate for admission. The man eventually died. You had a chill run down your spine, wondering, what if this had happened two months ago when your own father survived a heart attack thanks to timely action from the doctors. So it was all sheer luck then. It still is.
An entire population is reduced to surviving on luck—all your life-savings, health insurance, connections, contacts be damned. Or are we to turn metaphysical and ask 'Isn't every passing moment nothing but luck?'
You think of your father’s distant aunt who got covid from her son. A woman in her eighties, her condition worsened quickly. She was hospitalised but couldn’t make it. My mother had sent her idlis for one meal, as every acquaintance pitched-in to relieve the stress for covid affected families. That must have been one of her last meals. As one son recovered, another son of hers had to be put on a ventilator in the same hospital where she died, and his condition remains precarious.
You think of the countless stories on twitter, account after account of people losing loved ones; of their struggle to find a hospital bed, oxygen, medicines and even a space to cremate. The stories of their guilt that they didn’t try hard enough, of their frustration that the help didn’t reach on time.
All this feels like a foreboding of a collective mental breakdown waiting to happen in this country's near future.
You can’t help but think of politics and the political class and feel nauseous—a prime minister who is otherwise keen to occupy every square inch of available media real estate, has vanished into thin air, along with his most trusted second-in-command. A nation that is yearning for a paternal address from a statesman—someone who will say ‘we will get through this’—has been left in the lurch. While the PM retreats into silence—although one can’t tell if it is due to his recent election loss or if he is waiting for the virus to magically disappear—his office is on overdrive managing media. And the real work on the ground to fight the virus seems to be happening with no urgency whatsoever. The citizens have been left to fend for themselves while dying on the streets.
And you know this man is a seasoned politician who understands his vote base far better than you will ever understand your own family. Time and again, he has made it amply clear that it does not matter what English-speaking, urban, middle-class Indians tom-tom about in their drawing room conversations or op-ed pieces (much less in obscure blog posts)—a view his supporters continue to lap up in the face of the biggest crisis brought upon the country. He probably knows well, when this is all over, all he has to do is rouse crowds in massive rallies by stoking religious sentiments and he will be back to being a successful electioneer.
We have become a country that is ravaged by blind faith. Blind faith in the supernatural to protect us from the virus, blind faith in the political establishment to save our lives, blind faith in dhongi yogis and blind faith in karma that it will be duly served. Whereas the powers that be who perpetuate this blind faith, ensure that they have in place for themselves, the best that science and modern technology has got to offer—faith for the ordinary, science for the elite.
There is no accountability. There are no resignations. And, this time, no alibis for the government to blame. The blame must be placed squarely where it belongs—after 400 days of time to prepare, this government has failed its people in the worst way imaginable.
And continues to do so.
It is a nightmare you are left watching with your eyes open, in broad daylight and there seems to be no end in sight.