COVID-19: On the Death of My Nana Papa, and How the State Failed Him

Dystopia is now our reality. I speak on behalf of my beloved family who just lost its most precious and delicate member. Yes, the novel coronavirus succeeded in shattering yet another family – and once again, the state failed to fulfil its duty.

My grandfather, Mr Niamat Hussain, had been a significant part of the Jamia Millia Islamia (New Delhi) fraternity since its inception. He was the first registrar of the prestigious university, where I have been studying for the past four years.

My Nana Papa lived behind the university for over 50 years and it meant everything to him. He would never stop sharing stories from the time when the university had only handful of employees and I would listen keenly.

Jamia, for me, was more than just a university.

I visited my grandparents on May 23, 2020 for some time because I had not seen them in a while. I had a little chat with Nana Papa about Jamia and his younger days, and I promised to take him and Nani Ammid (my grandmother) to the campus some day to sit in a canteen and talk about his Jamia days over tea and biscuits.

I never, in my worst nightmare, imagined that it would be the last time I spoke to him, the last time he would share his past experiences with sparkling yet teary eyes and a bright smile. If only had I known, if only the world had given us the slightest heads up before snatching away our most beloved family member. He wasn’t just a grandparent, he was a friend – a very good friend at that.

Two days later, May 25, 2020 – it was Eid.

I was about to leave for my grandparents’ house when my mother told me that Nana Papa has a fever and that I should refrain from going to their place as he could have contracted the virus. It was a terrifying thought because if at all it was the deadly coronavirus, the condition would be severe – my Nana Papa was fragile; he was 82.

A week passed, but he did not get better. He was hospitalised at Al Shifa, a hospital located in Okhla, New Delhi, and was kept in the intensive care unit (ICU), where he was being taken care of. Some of us visited him during the day, covered from head to toe, and some of us stayed at the hospital all night.

This was by far the most difficult time I have ever faced in my life.

We were also waiting for the test report. It took three days for the reports to come and it showed what we feared. He tested positive for coronavirus on June 5. It was heart wrenching. I knew only a miracle could save my grandfather now.

You know how our government tells us that India has all the facilities to look after thousands of coronavirus patients at once and claims to provide the best care?

That isn’t true.

The condition of healthcare in the country is alarming right now. Hospital staff is giving up on patients, for which they cannot be completely held accountable since they are overworked, understaffed and haven’t been given the required protections.

The moment the reports arrived, the Al Shifa staff kept nagging us to take our patient off the hospital premises. They did not refer him to any other hospital. They did not even try to help us. The just asked us to take the patient anywhere – as soon as we could.

We tried several hospitals, and all of them refused (?) to admit the patient, some said they did not have the ICU facility and others said they were “full”.

My uncle (Mamu), who is the youngest in the family, had to take Nana Papa from the hospital without having any surety whether he would get admitted anywhere else. He spoke to a staff member of Safdarjung Hospital and confirmed that they would admit the patient.

My uncle took Nana Papa to Safdarjung, Ansari Nagar East, 13 km away from Al Shifa hospital. However, upon reaching Safdarjung, the doctors and staff of the hospital did not allow the entry of the patient. Getting Nana Papa admitted was a luxury, Safdarjung hospital did not even let them step inside.

My uncle kept informing us on the family Whats App group, where all of us were trying to reach out with as much help as we could. All this chaos was happening at 9:22 pm.

Four minutes later, at 9:26 pm, my mother played a recording that was sent by my aunt (Khala) on the Whats App group.

She was crying inconsolably, “Papa ka inteqal hogaya (Papa passed away)”.

That moment killed something inside of us, it took away the light of our house, the happiness behind our gatherings and the colours behind our festivals.

Nana Papa had gone. I told you he was fragile.

The staff of Safdarjung was apathetic, they refused to help cover the body as he had tested positive for COVID-19. No one helped my uncle cover the body in the plastic, he had to do it all by himself.

The youngest son had to put his dead father in a body bag, alone, right in front of India’s largest central government hospital.

Beyond the heartache, there is anger and fear. We have witnessed first hand how India’s healthcare system is flawed. Once you reach the hospital, you will be on your own. To be honest, I was initially not as terrified of the situation as I am now. I had thought, even if the situation was not entirely under control, at least the government knew the gravity of the situation and was taking steps accordingly.

However, it is now clear that besides poor healthcare facilities, the system also lacks humanity. They don’t care about you, they only care about their economy.

The government has opened up malls, religious sites and other places when the situation is far more dangerous than what it was three months ago. From expensive paid quarantine rooms at the airports to private hospitals demanding a minimum of Rs 3 lakh to admit patients as government hospitals turn them away – it’s clear that we have to be our own saviours at this time as relying on the government will only ends in pain and heartbreak.

Losing a family member is the worst kind of pain a person can go through in life, but losing a family member due to coronavirus is an insufferable loss. We are locked up in our homes, crying to ourselves, unable to comfort our aged grandmother who just lost her husband.

Because no matter how much we crave each other’s support and presence right now – coronavirus is still highly contagious and India is still incapable of saving us.

Verda Subzwari is a journalism student at AJK Mass Communication and Research Center, Jamia Millia Islamia.

Featured image credit: Daan Stevens/Unsplash