‘Not a single soul visible,’ I thought as I gazed at the park through the window with a desire to step out to stare at the limitless sky – a pleasure I took for granted before. Greyish clouds covered the cold, dull morning sky and threatened of impending rain. Nature is healing. The birds cooed whilst outside my cocoon, the dying continued.
Frightened by the howling wind, I checked my mobile and started doomscrolling. “Help! My parents are in dire need of oxygen beds. I’m alone, don’t know what to do,” cried a 17-year-old girl in utter despair in one of many such videos. All social media platforms were flooded with people begging for beds and oxygen cylinders. It seemed like one was standing at a chaotic hospital.
Feeling helpless, I logged out.
I collected the newspaper and glanced at the abysmal headlines while sipping some Dalgona coffee. Newspapers had become numbers, reporting fresh statistics of the death toll that rose stratospherically every day. Only the date and the number of cases changed. The news stayed the same. In the 5,000 something deaths, one of them was someone I knew. They had become a number. Immediately, I put the paper away. That was the only way one could live during such times. Unaware.
One day, we clanged plates and spoons as we were told it would honour our heroes – doctors who had to treat patients despite inadequate oxygen supply and equipment for their own safety. Another day, diyas were lit across houses to express solidarity.
We had taken off to an unknown destination in terrible weather. Fortunately, we landed safely as cases plummeted in a few months. We could finally see the light emerging at the end of the tunnel. The man on the television declared victory against the deadly disease, which had ravaged the entire world, as he addressed the nation.
Little did we know what lay ahead when celebrations took place to welcome the new year with open arms. “2021 will be our year”, we said with unfounded optimism. It wasn’t. The nightmare reoccurred as governments struggled to contain the virus. Summer brought more deaths. It scythed through our euphoric expectations. It took people from us in ways both quiet and garish. We were incessantly reminded of the inevitable every single moment. Cemeteries began running out of space to bury more people. Crematoriums were overburdened and their metal furnaces melted as the flames of apathy engulfed the dead. Grim images of mass cremations beggared belief, etched in our memories forever.
Distraught scenes of people suffering in this apocalyptic situation were unfathomable. Hospitals looked like war zones. The air was filled with melancholy. The degree of fear, worries and concern people had was inexplicable. Metaphorically, we were in a boat, hoping to stay afloat in a sea of uncertainties.
I turned on the television and IPL matches were being aired to provide entertainment. For whom? I had no clue. The matches were held in Delhi, hardly a few metres away from a hospital where patients died due to lack of oxygen. If the world is a theatre, these two plays were juxtaposed simultaneously. Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. I changed to a news channel. “Come, join me to pray for the recovery of your uncle,” my mom said.
Pictures of thousands of devotees gathering to wash away their past sins in Ganga flashed on the screen as we prayed at our home in silence for the wellbeing of our relatives. It didn’t help. We lost him due to shortage of oxygen. I tried to console my tormented cousin but no amount of sympathy or condolences could ease the pain of a family consumed by grief as they lost and saw their loved ones gasping for breath.
Stress, anxiety, depression, breakdown aren’t enough words to describe the immense emotional turmoil people faced. Ambitions and goals appeared to be meaningless and inconsequential in the larger sphere of life. The realisation of the impermanency and transient nature of human life suddenly dawned upon us, refusing to go anytime soon. If life is a journey, it had been halted by this catastrophic crisis.
Almost everyone is carrying a little suitcase of sadness as they have lost someone close to them too soon. How will history remember this? Will there be more crying-out-loud moments at parties? How do I grieve the loss of people I could have met? How much darkness will we have to endure before dispelling it? Have people died only due to COVID-19? If oxygen was made available, ambulances had reached on time, information was provided promptly, how many people would have survived?
To divert from these dismal thoughts, I went out in search of the world outside the four walls I was trapped in. I ended up at the park. This time the weather was pleasant and vibrant with children gleefully enjoying the drizzling. The birds were chirping rather joyously. A ray of shimmering sunlight fell from the sky, instilling hope. They say time heals everything. Will time provide answers to these questions we are too broken to demand?
Only time will tell.
Ishita Mehal is a student who passionately writes to process feelings while petting four kittens, her only friends.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty