What a dark, dismal time. There is a shroud of fear enveloping the country, as we huddle in our homes beaten into submission by a virus that we cannot seem to control or even comprehend. We have spent most of last year in a similar state, but the scale of panic that we are experiencing today is of a different order altogether.
Most of us thought that the disaster was behind us, that we had paid our dues and that things could only get better. Vaccination had started and there were many among us fortunate enough to have got at least one shot of protection. And then the second wave crashed into us. With a ferocity and suddenness that we had left ourselves unprepared for. What we have today is a country cowed down by a sense of despair that most of us have no previous experience of.
Two weeks inside the Covid cauldron gives one some perspective. Like almost all families, 3 of us went down with Covid. While we all have recovered with more or less mild symptoms, it is clear that this outcome can only be attributed to blind dumb luck. For in its current form, Covid offers little room for understanding; only for fear, and for those lucky to get away relatively unscathed, relief once one is on the other side of it.
First there is the disease itself. In its current avatar, it is a beast that slithered its way into our lives in a mystifyingly efficient way. We thought we had taken all precautions, we believed that we were more paranoid that almost everyone we knew. And yet that proved to be of no avail. This is not a singular story, but a shared experience of so many. We have perhaps not fully grasped what an airborne virus is capable of doing.
If in its first appearance, it followed some rules- focusing on the older more vulnerable sections, attacking those with co-morbidities, this time around, it seemed to have dispensed with those niceties. Anyone regardless of age and physical fitness could get the more severe form of the disease. Also, this time around, getting a negative test has meant little. We find ourselves in the curious situation where there is enormous pressure on testing because of the sheer numbers involved. Simultaneously, the tests in themselves have become far less meaningful because, going by what doctors have been saying, there is about 30% incidence of false negatives. Given the fact that results come in after a few days, one begins the Covid journey flying blind.
All of this is enough to make anyone who gets Covid very fearful indeed. But the real source of anxiety in these last few weeks came from what was happening outside. Social media was full tales of mayhem and the most unimaginable tragedies that seems to well up around us. Every collective group be it a family, a workplace, condominium or colony, whatsapp group, everyone had horror stories to relate. The shortage of oxygen, of hospital beds, of essential medicines, the desperate search for ICUs and ventilators, people were dying not of disease but of being unable to access what should been a rudimentary right. The ability to breathe. This is what has made a sense of dread the default emotion experienced in the country, for no one feels any measure of safety.
For most educated middle-class Indians, this kind of hopelessness is a new experience. This is a privileged group where almost everyone ‘knows someone’- one could be highly connected at the level of the government, or just happen to know influential doctors or someone at a hospital. Except this time even senior people with vast networks found themselves unable to manage a cylinder of oxygen. And hospital beds were impossible to find regardless of who you were and who you knew.
But the truth is that even this level of helplessness hides an enormous of privilege that is not available to millions of others. The access to knowledge, to basic medical infrastructure like tests and oximeters, the ability to use social media networks, all of these are facilities beyond the reach of those outside a small charmed circle. As the pandemic spreads to rural India, the nightmare that is unfolding is beyond description. No hospital infrastructure, the absence of adequate number of trained healthcare professionals, no facilities for testing, a lack of availability of medicines and basic devices like reliable oximeters, and you have a dystopia in the making that we have only begun to glimpse of..
The starkest absence during this catastrophe has been that of the administration, particularly the one at the Centre. There is a startling lack of interest in addressing the issue. Indeed, many of its actions have directly contributed to the scale of the problem. Acts of omission, like the failure to secure adequate supplies be they of vaccines, oxygen cylinders, ventilators or hospital beds, and acts of commission including the ridiculous decision to allow gatherings of vast numbers in the name of politics and religion.
The saving grace has been the people themselves who have come together to try and find answers after finding themselves abandoned by those who should taken responsibility. The informal networks of young and old people that have come together selflessly to help utter strangers in dire need is a testimony to the resilience that people regardless of their leaders.
But the country will ask questions, as it must. For this is a failure of a colossal kind, and one that no amount narrative-building can hide. For now, one can only pray that the virus begins to lose its sting, and that its spread into the rural hinterland is somehow checked before it becomes apocalyptic. One can be personally grateful for being fortunate enough to have got away relatively easily, but the shared pain of a country in distress is unlikely to recede anytime soon.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
END OF ARTICLE