With the coronavirus cases taking a new peak daily, the last few months were horrible for almost every Indian. We witnessed never-before scenes on the roads, hospital gates, premises, crematorium and graveyards. It was just a nightmare to say the least.
Apart from myself being severely infected with Covid pneumonia, every other person I know either was infected or knew someone who was infected or dead. While on home quarantine with fluctuating oxygen and blood sugar levels, I kept on scanning my Facebook and Twitter timelines only to get the news of some or the other known becoming victim to the deadly virus. It was deeply frustrating and depressing.
Before I became ill, one of my elder brothers in Bihar was already on oxygen support fighting for his life, though he was saved but given the dire state of healthcare in the state every second it felt as if some bad news will come to us. He told me on phone that for the first four days of his hospitalisation there was not a single doctor to visit him and other patients in the Covid ward. He himself went to the staff and told them about the critical condition of two patients so that they could be shifted to the ICU but nothing happened and later they succumbed before his eyes.
Almost every part of the country was like a badly managed ICU ward with the state nowhere to be seen and people gasping then dying because there was no oxygen.
For those at the helm of affairs, winning elections and getting more and more states under their command was more important work than saving those dying just because they didn’t get oxygen on time or a hospital bed or ambulance.
The entire country had turned into a huge crematorium with heart-wrenching images coming from every corner. A news report on an international media website about a hospital in Uttar Pradesh, one of the most-affected states, made me cry while lying on my bed. But at the same time, my anger over the apathy of the state and system was a thousand times more. When I went to the hospital for my chest X-Ray and to see the doctor, it was a scene of despair with at least 25 ambulances coming with patients with oxygen masks within a span of 40 mins, and there were many deaths.
Another brother of mine, who teaches in Aligarh Muslim University, was infected with the virus last year. He remained in the ICU of a Delhi hospital for 18 days with 80 per cent lungs having been damaged. He miraculously came out alive and told us how he witnessed at least 14 patients dying in the ICU in 48 hours in front of his eyes. We all thanked God that he was infected last year because this year he lost many of his university colleagues to the virus. One of his close friends messaged me to ask about my health and I didn’t know that he had a mild infection. The other day someone updated on Facebook that he was gone suddenly due to a Covid-induced heart attack, leaving two little daughters behind. I kept getting news of deaths of acquaintances, relatives, and friends almost daily.
Life has always been uncertain and death was certain, as we have heard since childhood, but the pandemic has made death more certain. No one knows how many waves are about to sweep population after population away. There are thousands and thousands of children who were orphaned by the pandemic and look towards an uncertain future.
The worst part has been the absence of state from the stage when it was needed most. During the first wave, following the lockdown declared by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, millions and millions of migrant workers were left to fend for themselves, thousands left the big cities for their small towns and villages, many walked thousands of miles bare-foot, many were crushed on the road in accidents, many were killed on railway tracks. “Based on the information received from the state police, 805 people suffered injuries and 8,733 people died on the railway track between January and December 2020,” the Railway Board had said. Most of them were migrant workers for whom big cities and the state never care about. The unofficial death count must be multiple times higher than what the state says.
The first wave of Covid itself killed more than one and a half lakh people officially. Then came the second wave, which caught a complacent state in such a way that it decided to leave people to fend for themselves. Despite multiple warnings, the Prime Minister and his entire team was busy in elections and the religious Kumbh Mela was allowed to happen. Not only that, politicians kept on justifying such events. The scenes outside the hospitals were genocidal, thousands of lives could have been saved if the state had honestly pursued its duty of standing up to the occasion.
Crematoriums were full and at some places, multiple bodies were cremated on a single pyre, graveyards were running out of space, thousands of people died in home quarantine. Now the official death count is nearly 3,70,000, but according to various independent media organisations and international publications like New York Times, the count is at least 10 times higher. We will never know how many died in the villages where families after families have been destroyed. Thousands of bodies were floating in the Ganga, Yamuna and buried in the sand on the banks, and those will never be counted. In fact, Bihar raised it’s death count to 72% a couple of days ago.
The entire pain and agony during the pandemic have brought many human emotions to fore. They have brought out the best and worst alike. Some people went out of their way to help those in need, some went on with their business of hate, politics and opportunism. This pandemic is going to change so many things around, and I hope against hope that it makes us behave like human beings more and more. We must learn how to be compassionate, genuine and concerned for those who have no one to care about.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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