The Collectiveness of Suffering

It has been 11 days into Ramadan and as I stand and fry pakode 15 minutes before the entire family gears up to break the fast. I think of the friend who lost both his parents ten days before and how he would never taste his mother’s food again. My tears cause the oil to splatter and I let the pakode burn.

Opening Instagram and Facebook feel like swiping left and right on oxygen cylinders and plasma donors. The second wave of the pandemic in India has completely devoured any last strain of mental or physical energy we had mustered to live. My mother tunes in her headphones and prays loudly. Pre-pandemic, I would have rudely objected to her self care. But now, I stay quiet. She is doing what she needs to do to stay sane while her phone continues to receive messages of her friends dying. Never before has death been reduced to names and numbers for us like this.

Early in March 2021, my news app would regularly provide notifications of rising COVID-19 cases. At that moment, I would be somewhere with my friends, just two weeks back into an empty campus that was yet to revive itself completely. But at least I was here, I would tell myself and these cases were far away in Maharashtra – far away from me. Not 20 days later, I was packing my suitcases as Lucknow started to record fresh 5,000 cases each day and the city was starting to gasp for oxygen and hospital beds.

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Tucked in the confines of our homes, and the privilege of staying comfortably locked inside, WhatsApp groups are filled with updates of relatives and friends succumbing to the deadly second wave. The pandemic has created a terrifying, nebulous haze of suffering and grief all around us. Half of us are working to the point of burning out, wearing PPE kits and running around with sick family members. Many others, who are still protected, have been rendered completely helpless.

My best friend, 378 kilometres away, panics on text as her mother falls suddenly ill. I stare at the screen, completely helpless. What can I do to help her except offer her consolation even though neither she nor I know who will survive this and whether her mother will recover or not.

We are all collectively united by our suffering.

This suffering extends beyond the first point of contact. For most of us, it is shining in front of our eyes, as our loved ones fall sick and are in pain. The rest of us are burdened by the knowledge that although, at this point, we are safe, somewhere someone is not. We carry the weight of our guilt, while we continue to live our everyday life as if the world we know isn’t crumbling around us.

What we as Indians are going through is extremely saddening. We may have passed the previous year with little hope, 2021 is exhausting any that is left. At this stage, people like me, who are still untouched by the first point of contact, should allow themselves to feel what little joy they can muster without letting your guilt eat that up. And then, to use it to reach out to friends, digitally of course, who need you to call and ask for cylinders, or need someone to check up on them. Or simply, become a place to vent and cry. That is the least we can do but also the most we can do right now.

Adeeba Lari is a media graduate trying to find courage to let out her words out as often as she can.

Featured image: Reuters/Francis Mascarenhas