Keep your heart in a box for now. Protect it from shattering every day,” I wrote to a friend this week. A journalist on the frontline of reporting and analysing news, he has been struck by Covid-19 himself and is gearing up to return to work.
“I don’t know what to do,” he replied. “Where do I start from?”
“When you are in front of the camera again, the words will come on their own. Grief shows us the way.”
In my head I continued this conversation as I returned to my own rhythm of recovering from Covid-19 at home. Grief debilitates us but it also illuminates the path ahead, inspiring us to find purpose in our loss. Rage offers the burst of energy to smash through seemingly immovable barriers. Disease brings a temporary loss of agency, but it also reminds us of the privilege of being well and our responsibility to be useful when we are strong.
While the systems have always been dysfunctional and are now being exposed as apathetic and criminal as well, the shock of witnessing large-scale devastation during this second wave of Covid-19 in India offers us a chance to evaluate our own willing participation in a world order that has always excluded the poor, the underprivileged and minority communities. Many of us are experiencing the helplessness of loss of privilege for the first time. Our loved ones are sick, but we cannot be by their side physically. We may have health insurance and be able to afford medical interventions, but our country’s lack of preparedness has left us gasping for breath.
Doctors and analysts remind us that during this second wave, the bigger killer is not the virus, it is lack of basic healthcare facilities — the most glaring among them being access to medical oxygen. The record-breaking infection rates and mass deaths in India have been triggered by super-spreader events like election rallies, the Kumbh mela and other gatherings like weddings and pilgrimages.
The best news that we can get amidst this avoidable tragedy is that civil society has stepped up across the nation in solidarity with each other. Gurdwaras, mosques and churches have been converted into makeshift medical centres. Social media platforms have become the communication channel that people in crisis and volunteers are using to create support networks and exchange life-saving information about hospital beds and oxygen availability. Civil society groups are coordinating efforts to create the medical infrastructure that the working poor in urban and rural areas can access. Ambulances, oxygen concentrators and oxygen kits are being acquired by citizens and distributed to those in desperate need.
The worrying news is that experts predict that a third wave may be even deadlier than the first two. What are the abiding lessons we must take forward from here?
We need to keep pressuring our government, both at the local and national level, to wake up from their callous apathy and ramp up facilities equitably. We also need to stay alert and participatory as citizens of any working democracy must. We cannot afford to let our guard slip again. We must subvert attempts to distract us from real issues of governance with communal and divisive messaging.
We are living in the season of our greatest despair, but this is also a time that has shaken us out of our helplessness. We have the right to be angry. We also have the right to be happy, to protect and nurture ourselves. One does not cancel out the other. Despite being oppressed by death, fear, helplessness and lies, we must seize the fundamental right to be well. To be kind and patient with each other. To come together again as communities of support. To enjoy moments and laugh out loud.
Still recovering from my own bout of Covid-19, I had worried that I may not be able to submit this column. A voice from within reminded me that I must show up, despite the fatigue, the aching body and a general sense of disrepair. In a crisis, we learn to compartmentalise. We owe it to each other to speak up with clarity. To remind, to reassure, to recover. To live to fight another day.
— The writer is a filmmaker and author. [email protected]
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