Four tales of life and death in Covid times

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Allahabad: “Theek hai yaar. Koi baat nahin![i] Don’t worry. I will make some alternative arrangement”.

Nihal Mishra was putting on a brave, courteous face while getting blunt refusals from three of his friends in Delhi, whom he had requested for a place to stay.

He was going to Delhi to get his wife admitted at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) for Covid-19. As a well-to-do transporter close to a state minister in Uttar Pradesh, he had helped all three of them on different occasions. They were now refusing to reciprocate. Covid has indeed distorted human relations and made many friendships meaningless.

Thanks to the minister’s help, he could get a bed at the AIIMS for his wife as admitting her in the sole Corona ward at Allahabad General Hospital could have meant sure death, as even oxygen was not available there. They were forced to leave their two children behind and go but had to talk to them at least 4 times a day.

“Papa, Pandey-ji ka khana achcha nahin hai[ii]”, his 12-year-old daughter had complained about the food Mishra had arranged for his children at a friend’s house in the neighbourhood. The boy, aged 6 was upset about his sister bullying him. After 15 days, his wife had a relapse. Around the same time his daughter’s school had suddenly announced exams online and she was finding it difficult to cope. From afar, they could not console her. Covid-19 has torn apart families and disrupted normal life. Even political clout and a good bank balance are of no help. His wife’s condition is now critical.

Ever exuberant and jovial Ravi Rai, a senior journalist had lost his job in a TV channel a year ago and started his own YouTube news stream. Rama, his wife was terrified by what she saw and heard about the Covid—19 pandemic. Despite her objections, Ravi went to cover the farmers’ protest in New Delhi and then went to West Bengal to cover the poll campaign right when the second wave was peaking. He came back with Covid.

“Ghar me hee dekhbal karlenge[iii]”, Rama was insisting. But Ravi’s brothers prevailed and admitted him to a private hospital in Delhi. She had no say. Rama had to spend Rs.3 lakh for six doses of Remdesivir, which was in the end of no benefit. After some improvement, his oxygen level suddenly fell below 80 and his friends shifted him to a star hospital in Gurgaon. But Ravi’s blood pressure shot up rapidly.

Rama had to borrow Rs.5 lakh more from a moneylender at a high interest rate to pay for the treatment. Ravi had already borrowed Rs.30 lakh earlier to buy a house in Delhi and that loan was still being cleared.  She also had to worry constantly about the safety of their daughter working with an IT firm in Bangalore and staying in a paying guest accommodation. On 1 January 2021, Ravi had a heart attack and died. Outwardly, the middle class may seem better placed to cope with the crisis. But higher the status, the bigger the fall due to the current Covid-19 crisis. Rama’s future today looks dark. Without any earnings of her own, she has to live a lower middle class life, losing her dignity before her relatives and friends.

“Dekh rahein na! Bijinezz sattar pratishat down ho gaya, beta. Paisa nahin hein abhi![iv]” Ramesh Kushwaha, was lamenting to his unemployed son, desperate to set up a photography-videography shop. Ramesh lost his job in an industry he was working in due to the economic slowdown. He sold one of the two acres of agricultural land he owned back in the village and set up a provision shop after investing Rs.8 lakhs. Covid-19 landed like a bombshell. He could do no business for four months due to the lockdown and when he reopened the shop, he  himself got sick with Covid. His wife, his son, and his daughter—all got the infection from him. Recovering first, the son stayed back to take care of the shop while he went with the others to his in-laws’ place in the village.

“Hum logon ko bhi Corona de ne ke liya, yahen aagaya kya?[v] The hosts turned hostile and made them feel unwanted. Medical attention was virtually absent and he had to pay Rs.5000 per visit to a doctor nearby. He desperately called 20 or 30 of his friends to look for the prescribed medicines. Back in the town, his bank account got depleted and no savings were left. He had to sell a two-wheeler and his wife’s jewelry for a song. Sales at his shop were down by 75% as many customers had started ordering provisions online. His family recovered from Covid but recovering from the new poverty could take a few years.

‘Arre, yeh Corona…Varona sub bukwaas hai![vi]”. Shahab, a sweeper with the Allahabad municipality had been pooh-poohing Covid-19 to his friends…until his wife got it. She was already suffering from breast cancer. After a long wait, he managed to admit her in the city’s Bailey Hospital. The hospital charges only Rs.1 for admission but almost every day the doctors there gave him a new prescription and asked him to buy the drugs from outside and also get a CT-scan done. Many co-workers came and donated, but not more than Rs.100 and Rs.200 each, as they were also poor. The scan alone cost Rs.5000 and he had no money for the medicines. He had never cooked before and his three young children often had to go hungry.

Shahab had to beg everyone he knew but in vain as in his social setting, all were devastated by the same pandemic. His wife was writhing in unbearable pain as the painkillers were not available. He had searched for them in eight different pharmacies. He himself found solace only in a daily dose of Rs.75-a-pack arrack.

Yogi-ji ne achcha kiya, daru ka dukan khol diya[vii]”. Shahab was in the midst of praising the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath when the shocking news arrived that his wife had died due to heavy bleeding. He had no money for her burial but finally, the local Jamaat, helped out.  Along with his wife all his hopes of a normal life also got buried.

Note: All the four case studies above are based on real stories of individuals. Names have been changed to protect their privacy

B.Sivaraman is an independent researcher based in Allahabad. He can be reached at [email protected]

[i] That’s Ok mate. No worries

[ii] Papa! The food from Mr Pandey’s house is no good

[iii] We will look after him at home

[iv] See my dear son! Business is down by 70 percent! I have no money to give you.

[v] Have you come to pass on your Covid to us too?

[vi] This talk of Corona-Varona is a lot of nonsense!

[vii] The Chief Minister Yogi did a good thing by opening many liquor stores!

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