Living through the pandemic in India
On April 12th 2021, I was boarding the flight back to India after 2.5 years away. My trip was long overdue. I needed to see my parents after they were hit with COVID-19 last month. My brother and I lived in America, so flying cross country last year whilst America was suffering from the pandemic seemed like a no go. But when we heard that our parents weren’t keeping well, you could imagine the guilt that crept over my brother and I for not being there.
Nothing felt right than being within the comfort of my parents. So I made the decision to head back home for good. Plus there were a number of exciting things lined up, including my brother’s wedding in May.
So my grandmother and I decided to make the trek out to India. And you bet we had all our battle gear prepared. Double mask? Check. Face shield? Check. Crap ton of sanitizers and wipes? Check. Potential Duty Free pitstop to stock up the home bar in case shit hits the fence in India? Hell yaas!
All set, we nervously sat on the 16 hour plane ride from San Francisco to Delhi. Thankfully the flight wasn’t packed. My grandmother occasionally complained that she couldn’t breathe with all the PPE, but I had to remind her that we needed to get through this safely. We were both vaccinated, but in reality, we were paranoid about everything. Meals were served at a designated hour and we were only given about 20 minutes to chow down whatever we got. My hands got dry by the amount of times I used the sanitizer. And I don’t even want to get into the trauma of using a common bathroom shared by some 15 rows on the flight.
I had a strange mix of emotions when we landed in Delhi. “I’m on the home turf!!” I thought. We still had another flight to catch, but I was finally in the motherland. But quickly those happy emotions turned sour. I had to come to terms with the reality of how disorganized the Delhi airport was. No one maintained 6ft distance. Masks were underneath people’s noses. The airport staff was trying their best to create some calm but couldn’t help thanks to sheer chaos. All of this at 3 AM!
I panicked. In a normal world, I was used to this. But considering the current pandemic and the fact that I was travelling with a 75+ year old, of course I was livid at how poorly it was all managed. So I did the most predictable thing a 20 something would do- fully ranted on my family WhatsApp group with minute to minute updates! Yes. I know. Very mature!
We somehow get home to Chennai and I felt SOME peace when I saw my parents. They didn’t hug me though.
My dad said, “I haven’t seen my daughter in 2 years and I can’t even hug her!”.
“In due time dad… let me quarantine and test negative. Things will get back to normal. Don’t worry!”. I said.
Things never got better. Over the course of the next few days a lot of things unfolded. On the one hand, the second wave was upon us. Social media was going ham, per usual. Individual state governments were imposing curfews and lockdowns. But then on the other hand, we were hearing devastating stories of covid deaths, no room for cremations, hospitals being understaffed and the lack of oxygen cylinders.
On a personal note, it was all very hard to process. Sometimes I don’t even think I processed anything at all and that there is a volcano of emotions just waiting to erupt. This time last year, I was frightened to step out in America because COVID cases were at a peak there. This year, just when I made it home thinking it is good for my mental sanity, all hell breaks lose again!
What’s more? With Biden banning all flights from India, my brothers wedding was temporarily on pause. For obvious reasons, everyone in the family is currently struggling to make sense of what’s next and where we should look for some positive news.
What my family is going through isn’t even half as devastating as for some other families. I cannot imagine the pain behind the loss of lives. But I can imagine the frustration of the people as they sit through for another round of lockdowns and case spikes.
I remember last year thinking, “Man, America has got to enforce lockdowns like India did to curb this damn thing!”. Lo and behold now, I struggle to understand how did we go from doing real good to the absolute opposite as a nation.
Do I think what’s happening now is the sum total of the overconfidence of our leadership sending out mixed signals to the public and some irresponsible people going lax thanks to the ease in restrictions? Yes. Absolutely.
I could document about where we went wrong as a nation but what good would that bring? We’re a country of 1.4bn people AKA 17.7% of the world’s population. And that fraction is wounded. Severely.
I am writing this as my state is going through a 14 day lockdown. We’re seeing a dip in cases now, but we’re far from the finish line. There are about 400k cases every day. Vaccine supplies are running short. And MANY people I know who’ve been getting hit from the pandemic. I tell myself, “I cannot get emotional about what is out of my control. I NEED to stay safe!”. But I can’t help but feel absolutely helpless thanks to the somber news everywhere.
People of my generation already understand that anything any government says has to be taken with a grain (or several grains) of salt. We deserve accountability, but more immediately we need help.
Without sounding too much like politicians campaigning with empty promises and fake inspirational speeches, I really think this is the time we must manifest “WE” over “I”. And we are. Slowly.
It is very heartwarming to see so many people reaching out to each other, trying to pull every string to help another in need. Many countries are also contributing their resources to us. Trust me, we need every ounce of it.
If you want to help on an individual level, donate to these organizations. But also urge everyone in your respective countries to be as vigilant as they can, because the pandemic very much still exists. Don’t celebrate yet, even if you are vaccinated. This fight continues until the world fully recovers
So as a parting request, I only tell you this- We’re all hurting. Keeping tabs on the news is depressing. If you are in India reading this- Stay safe and STAY INSIDE. That’s all you need to do. And to my people outside the country- We’re all global citizens more than anything. So help in any way you can.
Because remember- The pandemic isn’t over until the entire world recovers.