March 21, 2023

Living through India’s pandemic: ‘Oxygen is the new currency’

As India is devastated by a crippling second wave of coronavirus, its leaders’ response to...

As India is devastated by a crippling second wave of coronavirus, its leaders’ response to the pandemic is causing anguish and disbelief, writes author Jeet Thayil

  • ‘We are witnessing a crime against humanity’: Arundhati Roy on India’s Covid catastrophe

When the second wave began, we woke each day with a premonition of dread and as the days passed, and the toll climbed, taking our family members, our friends, our acquaintances and colleagues, the dread became ever present, like the dead, who took up residence in our hearts. Then came the fear, which crippled us even when the fever did not. We thought ourselves lucky if we did not fall ill, knowing it was only a matter of time before it would be us on the pavement outside a crowded, underfunded hospital, begging for a bed from the overwhelmed orderlies and nurses.

People spoke in metaphors. They spoke of apocalypse and its bearded saffron-clad horsemen, of inferno and the pyres of hell that burned in parking lots, in open fields, in the streets adjoining graveyards and crematoria. They spoke of life during wartime. But instead of air raid sirens we heard ambulances, day and night. There were curfews and lockdowns and shortages. There were hoarders and black marketers. Oxygen and medicine became the new currency. The cries of the stricken appeared on our social feeds, asking for a cylinder of oxygen, a vial of remdesivir, a hospital bed, home remedies, any kind of advice or solace. And it was on social media that we found help, and if not help then sympathy. We found others who shared the nightmare to which we woke. Strangers stepped forward to set up their own networks of rescue, beyond bureaucracy, religion and politics, complete strangers who cooked for the sick and checked up on them, who spent entire days arranging a bed or medication, who found care for the small children orphaned overnight. This miracle began in a matter of days, just as soon as we understood that those we had elected to protect us had failed us at the time of our greatest need.

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