This particular month has been hard. A friend and I just wrapped up a series on grief and loss – a series that we did for a platform that we host together.
For the series, we invited people to write about facing loss and bereavement and how they coped with it, and how it shaped them. We had several first-person accounts. From a husband who lost his wife to cancer, and is raising their twin daughters on his own. From a mother who lost her only child to a freak allergy incident, and thereafter faced the breakdown of her marriage. From an artist and sculptor who writes about loss, 19 years after she lost her husband. Her daughter was only a year and half then.
And as we closed the series, the second wave hit of Covid-19 hit India.
Hospital beds are hard to find. Vaccines seem to be in short supply. People are dying – left, right and centre. Patients and their families are running around, sometimes in vain, to try and find medicines, injections, medical care. It is mayhem.
I experienced a great deal of anxiety as my home town where my 80 plus legally blind mother lives, was and is also in a state of turmoil. I worried for her; sleep ghosted me and I kept the volume on my mobile phone on the loudest mode when I switched off the lights in our bedroom in the night. A sense of terror engulfed me, and the best I can explain what it feels like is by using the analogy of Vikram and Betal.
Vikram and Betal is an Indian mythological series that was aired on national television (DD National) in India in 1985 and again in 1988. It featured a king called Vikram and a ghost that he carries on his shoulder called Betal.
I felt as if an invisible ghost was always on my shoulders – no matter what I did. Dark and brooding, this ghost of mine was the anxiety that had taken hold of me.
But it is not just about me. My anxiety regarding the safety of my loved ones is natural. Like many in the Indian diaspora, I live away from home and with the long list of restrictions and rules regarding international travel, it is not easy to catch a flight and head back home if your loved ones need you so. A lot of Indians across the world share this anxiety. It is the price of immigration or the expat life.
What has really really shook me is the kind of death and devastation that is happening across India. What is going to be the impact of such loss? People who lost their loved ones due to Covid, or more so because timely treatment wasn’t available to them – can you imagine the scars they would carry for life?
The kind of grief and guilt they would encounter and be encumbered with.
Who will tend to their grief and loss?
Today, my colleague sent me a photograph. In it, a mother sits in a rickshaw with a mobile phone in her hand and at her feet is her dead, young son. The story carried along with the photograph tells us that her son fell sick and they tried to get him medical help; and while they were turned away from one hospital to another – the son died at her feet.
Can you imagine the grief of that mother? She is also poor. She would never have the access to, or the money for grief counselling.
How are we going to cope with the loss and grief of such mothers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters?
What do we do, as individuals and as a nation to help each other?
I apologise for the photograph that I have posted. I know it is difficult to view it or weed it out from your memory once you have seen it, but these are our people, these are people who have faced such tremendous loss and in such conditions – how do we not tell their stories?