CONNECTING IN THE TIMES OF CORONA…

How I survive and what I learn!

IT is truly the worst of times. Most of us never even imagined the kind of slippery life or death scenarios we’re currently seeing around us in India. Say at the very least the powers-that-be in government could have taken stock of the pandemic abroad and at home and picked up enough cues to put some essential systems in place — to make a difference for the better! Alas, hindsight is no wisdom as it is useless, a story of real regret or crocodile tears, do crocodiles cry and weep tears?
The result is what we’re seeing all around us today with the very quickly infectious double mutant Indian covid19 corona catching vast sections of the Indian people unawares…and in unimaginable dire straits. A docter out in Chicago in a conversation tells me, “People come in and just drop dead!”
This is how mysteriously bad the pandemic Covid-19 is. It’s a story of impossible demands and shortages everywhere. Be it hospitals and hospital beds, oxygen, medicines, supporting medical staff…there are the urban scenarios and then there are the rural scenarios to make one’s blood run cold as the diabolical pandemic presumably continues to spawn deadlier mutations and take a toll of life in double quick time. The country is burning up with the fires of acrimony and the blame game as reams and reams of verbal abuse sweeps through social media as people still struggle to come to terms with how vulnerable everybody is…at ground level.
To break the stress levels we thought it would be useful to do a quick poll of viewpoints, to offer a platform to let off steam and spark inspiration to keep at the least the mind alive and kicking, to connect is the only way to perhaps salvage this pandemic of monstrous proportions.

MITA SEN,
housewife, 70 years ‘ONLY connect’ were the words M Forster used to sum up his panacea for the vicissitudes of modern life. And as I look back on the last 14 months, when life as we knew it fell apart, I realize that `connecting’ is one of the significant ways I have kept sane and alive. First and foremost, connecting with people, with family and friends, with my neighbors which whom I hadn’t even exchanged a hello in months. Always too busy, always juggling with too many things to do, most of which in retrospect seem so trivial. I chatted with elderly relatives much to their delight, something I plan to do constantly but sadly, keep postponing, and then feel an intense shaft of regret and guilt when they depart! I speak to the young members of my extended family too, asked about their hopes and dreams and frustrations, and was pleasantly surprised to discover how the young think alike in many respects, though we belong to dramatically different generations, indeed, different worlds. Friends and I were constantly in touch sharing information about the wretched virus (an info overload if you ask me), sharing jokes and recipes and hilarious memories sometimes dating back fifty years. That’s the incomparable blessing of having old friends. And the isolation was redeemed by this connecting, and made even more rewarding when I reconnected with friends somehow lost down the way. And finally, I looked at the people who have been providing me essential services all these years, saw them as fellow sufferers, found out the subzi-wallah’s name, how many children he had, and shared similar little details which make us comrades in life’s adventures….these are just some of my random musings during these trial and tribulation times which seem to be never ending but I am sure this too shall pass. At least my mami who is covid positive and in hospital since yesterday and with a whole lot of comorbidities including lung problems…is getting treated and has oxygen! So terribly worried and can’t think straight as I am writing this in bits and pieces to produce something readable. I pray my mami will live a little more to entertain us with her stories of youth in an impossibly large joint family supported by just one doctor in the army at one point of time in Calcutta, my father Dr Roy, he was a busy surgeon in the army and a most conscientious human being. Oh, I miss both my ma and pa sorely in such times!
PANKAJBALA R PATEL, media person, 71 years
AT first I lived in denial and thought it was a huge joke, refused to take this menace of coronavirus seriously! Media is in the dog house in the country unless you become part of the PRgiri media singing hosannas to the ruling dispensation through all its sins of omission and commission. Then came last year’s first lockdown and it impacted small media more harshly as advertising dried up and readers swallowing the rumor that newspapers carry the covid19 contagion. Life is become terribly overwhelmingly virtual and I hate it. The younger generation has shifted wholesale to catching everything on their smartphone online news, WhatsUp, Facebook, Twitter, any number of circulating videos salacious and not so salacious keeping them spellbound for hours on end. Entertainment galore and anyone might think social media is incarnate truth, but along with the easy vanity social banter I’m discovering the serious online media papers about a changing world. I don’t care about virtual life even more home bound and sedentary than ever before! I have grown up living more outdoors than indoors…I don’t want to die indoors, let me drop dead somewhere outside as in gone with the wind in a moment, and don’t even let anyone find my body! A lot of media people are out of job or working for a pittance from home. I took stock of how much money I had in my bank account, and all the things I could sell off hopefully at half rates at least…but where are the takers? It’s easier to give away things for free and I parted with this and that to whoever wanted it from my maid to colleagues to friends and friends of friends. We manage to keep our heads above water all the while wondering how long we will be alive? Two people growing old together and often getting on each other’s nerves – with no children as reference points — is no way to live especially during covid infested times! The far more serious spread of the new double mutant covi19 virus is worrying. There are all these shocking and impossible to believe numbers of those tested, those positive and those dying for want of medicines, oxygen, a bit of comfort…as matters escalate tempers also rise, from the woodwork of corruption emerge these annoying stories of political graft, massive kick-offs vis-a-vis vital medical equipment. In India it is always a good time to exploit every tragedy…moral values, what’s that? Some NGOs and social bodies are trying to make up for the lackadaisical failures of whatever healthcare system we have (unprepared to cope with a pandemic of such shocking proportion and manners), bless them. We Indians have a tendency to wake up too late and then justify all failures with fairy tales of various hue! Insensitive to the fact that even partial lockdowns affect small people’s livelihood. Economic freedom is the first freedom even in a collapsing democracy, damn it. If you don’t work and get some money to stay alive what do you do? The half-educated and literate small fry are more vulnerable for they get punished more for taking chances stepping out to do some work and some dopey policeman catching them without mask or helmet, pay fine. Governments can find such cheapskate ways to make money. At times the situations piling up seem so dismal first thing in the morning as I get up wondering if the choice now is to die of covid19 or hunger – both material and mental. More mental maybe. There are the moments when I panic and brood and think who can I call up in an emergency, who will pick up the phone even in the middle of the night and instead of giving me a gaali, come to my help? So it goes. Go corono, go, go back to China! Don’t hang around here too long please. Wishful thinking.
LORNA FERNANDES, researcher-activist, Cuncolim, 50 years
HOW I survive covid and what I continue to learn? It’s been a difficult time for most people but for me it has been God sent because I have greatly appreciated the “me time” that it has provided during the stay home periods of the lockdown. As by nature I am a loner! I’ve been catching up on reading, caring for my pets, tending to my garden, growing fruits and vegetables and of course, sleeping. This also helps in keeping me sane and calm. The books that I read are on spirituality, biographies of various people who inspire me, and surrounding myself with my postal stamp collection which brings be so much joy. One can also learn a lot from the documentaries on television news channels about what is going on in the world, apart from covid-19. Reading the newspapers with all that is going on around in the world with regards to covid, especially now in India, is depressing and disheartening. It affects me greatly and I feel the pain and sorrow of my brethren of this country. It is always in the back of my mind. I have not observed any festivities this past year in solidarity with the people who are suffering, instead donating to people that I know who are struggling. I do go to the local shops to get essentials when I run out but that is perhaps once in two weeks or even longer. My work with the Cuncolim Civic and Consumer Forum, the Goa Women’s Forum and the GOACAN Complaints Cell in taking up issues that are reported in the newspapers, complaints received from consumers, writing to the appropriate authorities, following them up on the phone and trying to find solutions and putting systems in place also takes up some of my time. Through GOACAN, we organised along with the Directorate of Agriculture three programs on Urban Organic Gardening with an emphasis on growing fruits and vegetables in pots. I am also in touch with the people who attended the programs and we share photographs of our produce and discuss our challenges. I do urge kids and adults to take up some hobbies during this pandemic if they have no hobbies, it is not just during the pandemic but otherwise too because it is good for the mental health of everyone. I am blessed that I have some resources to keep me going without struggling but feel sad and upset that I am not able to do more to help others financially. I am ever so grateful that people who do have resources to help are doing so and I admire them greatly. My only hope is that we come out of this pandemic and the sooner the better. I send out lots of positive thoughts to all of the people in Goa and the country who have lost a loved one, be it a family member, friend, relative or neighbour to keep them strong in these trying times.
TASNEEM SHEIKH, grandmother, ageless
FOLLOWING covid protocol is a major issue for me and my fellow Goans in more ways than one. It is not only about masking oneself, sanitizing or keeping social distances. More than a year has passed since all of us were thrown into this turmoil. Ever since then it’s been either personal experiences shared on social media or plenty of suggestions to erase and eliminate this constantly mutating corona virus pandemic. Campaign drives are on ways to build up our immunity system to fight the infection and when medical care is not easily accessible. I have learned tips to manage at home if the infection is mild. Everyone by now has more or less enough practical knowledge to recognize symptoms and tackle the after effects of this viral infection. The corona virus pandemic experience has surely made me more resilient and strong, I feel! Some kind-hearted people are learning to take the initiative by serving complete meals to covid patients at home free of charge or providing grocery deliveries at the doorstop of someone quarantined at home. There is no political party ruling in Goa! Only compassion and care must come to the fore. May God give us all strength to combat this and emerge victorious at the end of it. All of us are getting together to solve our covid emergency and dealing with the queries coming up amongst ourselves. Be it the availability of caretakers and nurses at affordable rates or telephonic consultations with online medical guideline sites…there are also various covid helpdesks where teams of professionals help assist and offer effective ways to deal and treat this infection. Let us make Goa covid free as soon as possible and a beautiful place to live in once again!
SUBHASHREE RAGHAVAN, working woman, 53 years
NEVER has my mind dwelt so much on death as it has done these last few months in the times of covid-19! Every satisfactory breath I exhale, I dub as “God’s breath” and say thanks. Because there was a point in July last when for reasons unknown I would get breathless as I lay down to sleep. The first and foremost lesson I am still learning in this pandemic is that life can go in a snap, there are no guarantees that if you have a normal today, tomorrow will also be the same. If it is you have no idea how lucky you are. Such truths we always knew but it took a corona virus to hammer it home. Did we ask for the story of Buddha and Kisa Gautami to be brought home to us in this manner? Every night as the lights go out, I try to recall all the friends we once knew, now snatched away by coronavirus…all the cousins who went in 2019, 2018 and 2015, and even before we knew of the virus’ existence. I hope you’re in a better place, I tell them. I make it a point to pause and say, I pray for you are all right, each time I hear an ambulance siren whiz by outside on the streets — which is ever so often, each day, in Mumbai where I live. Covid-19 has snatched the girl with the lovely smile. The quiet young man with shy smile — my husband’s friend from childhood, both we knew from our college days and now they’re gone, just like that. Also gone, my only remaining maternal uncle, who suddenly left us between two vaccinations. My father cried like a child on the phone over a brother-in-law he had been so fond of and how we both worried about how to break the news to my mother? Like a coward I behaved each time I visited her, unable to find a right way to tell her, and my father had told her that her brother was in hospital. It was well after a month that he finally told her, her brother was no more. Another childhood friend of my husband’s gone after having been missed on their WhatsApp groups for a few weeks. A couple we knew were gone within weeks of each other, leaving their young son orphaned. In what frame of mind will the lad pick up the threads of his academic life abroad, we wonder. Two former neighbours from our old days. One of my father’s few surviving friends and his wife, within months of each other, in last year’s lockdown. A beloved schoolfriend of mine in Dubai and her mother who contracted the virus after two relatives stopped by on a flight layover to visit them. Her mother had to be hospitalised and was still there when I last checked…it’s one new complication after another and she’s going to need years of physical rehab if she makes it, my friend sighs. In retrospect the last 11 months I’ve spent to-ing and fro-ing back and forth from my parents’ home to ours, helping them out with chores every day, seem to have been the easiest part of my life! Sitting and repairing our face masks on my day off is somehow therapeutic. My father laments: So many I know are gone, so why am I still here? I have no answers.
Munswami Moiler, Barista coffee specialist, 43 years
During the time of coronavirus infection outbreakI was in Kuwait and didn’t have any person with whom I could chat or speak. Even my family was hardly able to talk to me, at such times it was hard for me as I was staying alone and all kinds of viruses spreading around. It was so scary! Every commercial and every news on social media like Facebook, Instagram was about corona virus! Every time I went to check on my friends on social network it was corona, corona, which made me go under depression. I was scared and it made me sick. I had high fever and didn’t leave my room almost for a week thinking I might get infected or I might infect others if I had infection. It was like self-imposed isolation. More than the virus I was scared of dying a lonely death in another country away from my family. Finally, I made my mind said, no matter what, I will come out of this situation and overcome my depression. I tried motivating myself with positive thoughts and diverting my mind on other things (like I used to do in my childhood) like drawing, writing, clicking pictures etc. I starting posting about my fears and my thoughts on social media; not to preach or publicise what is happening in my life, but to divert my mind. I started exercising, taking long walks and admiring nature. Gradually I started feeling strong in mind and health. After ups and downs finally, I am home in Goa, together with my kids. I feel rejuvenated. As if I have got a new life and this time I feel I can overcome any obstacles in my life. Finally, I want to say that living in these covid times is similar to staying inside the washroom to get cleaned and which doesn’t last for hours! This too will get over soon. I am trying to be optimistic about the whole situation. If death has to come it will come anytime. Why worry about it now and spoil today? I am sure we will breathe fresh air again without mask on!

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