“I was admitted in the hospital with an oxygen mask on my face when my seven-year old video-called me,” he said. “All five members of my family had been detected positive for COVID, and except for my child, the other four needed hospitalization.” My colleague was back at work after more than two weeks and he was narrating his experience. “My son asked me: Papa, will you survive? I didn’t know what to say. It broke my heart.”
The story he had to share shook me up. This man is a senior faculty at a premier university hospital in Varanasi. When five members of his family tested positive, he tried his best to find out a proper healthcare facility for treatment. After all, two of them were senior citizens and he couldn’t take things lightly. When he saw the abyssmal state of affairs in Varanasi, he took the quick decision of travelling by road overnight to Nagpur. Sixteen hours later, all the four adults were admitted in two different hospitals. Two of them were showing danger signs, and but for the timely intervention, some of them might have succumbed to the disease. One was discharged today, and it seemed like a miracle to him. He joins his palms and offers his gratitude to the Almighty for being alive several times during his narration.
“But weren’t you in one of the premier hospitals of the country?” I start asking. He cuts me off abruptly bristling with anger, “Lies. They are all lies. Haven’t you seen the bodies being disposed in the rivers? The bodies buried by the river beds? These politicians are feeding off corpses. I have lost ten members of my extended family to COVID! Does any politician even care?”
He goes on to narrate his experience with obtaining Remdesivir in Nagpur. “I was asked for my Aadhar card details. We received five doses of the drug at a reasonable price. And I had to sign a letter saying that I had been administered the drug. If a good system is in place, there is no need for hoarding of drugs and this loot.” Another colleague who is on the verge of losing a 30 year old cousin interrupts to say he paid Rs 42000 the previous night for one dose. “If I had stayed in Varanasi, I am sure some of us would have died. This is a second life for us.” he concludes.
My friends who have relatives in the villages have even more terrifying tales to say. There is hardly a semblance of infrastructure in the hospitals there. And facilities for testing are non-existent. And the rumour in the villages is that anyone who visits a hospital will not make it back alive. And so they prefer to die at home, where at least they will be given a dignified departure.
As I am coming to terms with these morbid stories, I get bombarded with forwarded messages telling me to think positive. Clearly you recognize a carefully designed ‘positive post’ when you read one. Indeed, the only positives we are worried about are the positive RTPCR reports. I am berated for spreading ‘doom and gloom’. ‘Leave the gloomy ones alone’ goes one message. I would if they didn’t matter to me. Tomorrow that person could be me. Can I ignore this? And while the numbers are said to be dwindling according to news reports, the news of deaths in the neighbourhood doesn’t cease. The disease has spread to the villages. But then the Great Middle Class has never been concerned about anyone but themselves. One gentleman suggests that vaccines must be given to tax payers before the undeserving others. How noble is that thought indeed! Who cares to count how many die in the villages? In any case, those people never even existed in the periphery of our vision.
This ‘manufactured positivity’ when people are dying is not just insensitive, but macabre. To a person who has lost a member of the family, no amount of doctored statistics can bring consolation or reassurance. Especially when the death was preventable if dealt properly. The hype is media created, we are told. Until the media is in your control and you create news, it is not called hype. Even now the emphasis is on controlling the media, rather than tackling the disease and its consequences.
It is so easy to blindfold yourself and believe that the world is a bed of roses. Well, it is certainly easier than going back and re-examining your convictions which border on blind faith. Today, the options you have are between burying your head in the sand and repeating the japmala (nay jumla) that your supreme leader preaches in his singsong style. Or burying your loved ones in the sand and not expecting anyone else to care for you in this crisis.
Choose. There will not be a second time to regret.