The Pandemic Is Surging In India — And My Father And Sister Have Both Tested Positive

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woman getting a vaccine in india while a crowd watches

My father and sister in India have both tested positive for Covid-19. Antiviral medication and steroids are keeping them stable physically, but emotionally, it's another story. 

The phrase that keeps spinning around in my head is, "how do you mend broken hearts?"

A few months ago, it was reported that India had the fewest deaths from Covid infections. The question asked was “Why?”

Many said, it’s the ginger in their diet; some said, it must be the turmeric; a few even said that it must be the prayers of the spiritual folks that are keeping India safe from Covid.

Well, all those theories can get tossed now, because India is trying hard to beat the U.S. and take on first place on the planet with maximum infections and deaths.

The media is portraying graphic details so I won’t get into it here. All I will say is that the figures reported are less than the actual cases and deaths. Those dying at home or on the road are not part of the statistics.

For me, what is happening to India right now, the massive loss of life and lack of resources for the sick, is personal.

When the pandemic came to India

Last year, in 2020, when the first case was reported in the papers, I was in India. The month was January. It was called the Wuhan Virus then. Indian students who were studying medicine in China flew back to India in droves.

Three people arrived in three cities in Kerala, and the virus arrived with them. that was when India joined the list of nations afflicted by the pandemic.

With this knowledge in mind, I traveled through India in January and February of 2020. At a train station, I saw a few people with masks on. I thought to myself, this is overkill.

A friend gifted me a pink mask. Her nephew works at Merck Pharmaceuticals, and so they had extra. I smiled and thought, “Cute!”

The news kept reporting an increasing number of cases on a daily basis. My brother-in-law wanted to talk about the virus each time we gathered at the dining table.

I experienced mild-to-moderate irritation. One day I said, “I can’t come to eat if all you want to do is talk about a virus.”

He replied, “My kids aren’t home, all I care about is that they are safe.”

I thought, at that moment, that he was being selfish. 

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Traditions and belief systems

For most people, the epitome of life is spending the last few days amidst loved ones.

I grew up believing a better death to be in your own bed, asleep, surrounded by those who love you. Through pure osmosis, I took on the belief system that says it’s sad to die abroad among strangers.

India began flying back its citizens from China using Air India. Even a military plane was sent to fly back Indians en masse from China. India wanted its people home.

After my visit to India was over, one of the recommended movies on my flight home was Contagion. After watching the movie I wondered if this would be the state of the world soon.

Personal protocol

A few weeks later, Italy was leading the world in cases. Again, India sent planes to Italy to bring home her children. 

In India, our nation is the motherland, and the citizens are her children. Legally we are citizens, emotionally we are children of "Bharat-Mata," or mother "Bharat." "Mata" means mother in Sanskrit. "Bharat" was the name of our nation before we were colonized by Europeans.

India underwent total lockdown from March until May 2020. The consequences were drastic.

All transportation was stopped. Daily wage earners had no work and hence no food. They sleep on the sidewalks of city streets.

Those three months were harsh. The migrant workers had to walk home, from cities to villages, hundreds and thousands of miles on their bare feet or wearing only flip-flops.  

Many said they wanted to die at home, but in reality, many died on the roadside, fatigued, hungry, and thirsty. When a few caring hands tried to help, they were called names. Show-offs, political stunts, etc. were a few of the names used. Life got harder and harder for those at home as well as for those who were not.

My sister continued depositing salaries for her household employees even though they weren’t working. She wanted her maid and gardener to have food to eat while they were at home during the lockdown.

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Power plays

On March 15th, my sister and her husband were served a notice by their employers that they would have to vacate by the end of the month. The reason being, the boss wanted to use their home as his guest house.

My sister and her husband had to find a new house, pack, and move in fifteen days. 

The morphing of societal structures and personal responsibilities

My dad suffered a stroke in February of 2019. He’s 82-years-old. Since then he even began exhibiting symptoms of dementia. Since my mom passed away in 2009, my sister has been his primary caregiver. 

My dad has been hard of hearing since we were in elementary school. Over the years, it has become worse.

India is a patriarchal society, in which a man is the boss at home. So, when my sister asks him to do something, he can’t hear. Even if he hears, he ignores it. This makes it worse for my sister to do what she needs to do to keep the house functioning.

In the twenty-first century, I have noticed that those in the age range of 45-65 years of age are raising their children and their parents at the same time. I call our generation the sandwich generation. It’s like a candle burning at both ends and this takes its toll. 

Since I returned from India, I call my dad every morning and night to cheer him up. I would jokingly say that my sister is responsible for my dad’s physical wellbeing, and me for his emotional wellbeing.

India and its economic explosion

After a year, India had the second-highest death toll from Covid. India has become a prosperous nation over the past thirty years, due to a variety of reasons. 

Many engineers from my generation left India physically while holding onto memories from a distance.

The sacrifice an immigrant makes, only an immigrant knows.

Some send money home every month, or build homes in India for their parents to live in, and promise that one day they will return to join them. A hope that keeps immigrants going but rarely ever comes to fruition. 

India opened up its gates to foreign investors in the late 1980s. Twenty years later, India was flooded with new jobs for telemarketers, support staff, and engineers working for western companies at home.

The economy improved but at a heavy price. Fields were converted into malls, forests were converted into factories, and progress in the name of natural destruction was rampant.

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India, the land of karma

There’s a saying in India, “people come to India to work out their karma.”

When it came to getting the vaccines, something slipped. Instead of wearing facemasks, people walked around with the masks hanging around their mouth or chin. Lockdown was lifted.

When the doctors can’t help a patient anymore, they are sent home or asked to go to another hospital. The patient usually takes their last breath while traveling from hospital to hospital. Such a person is not counted as a casualty from Covid. The cause of death in these cases is declared as pneumonia or respiratory failure.

A friend of mine lost her sister-in-law, who was 51 years old, to pneumonia, a couple of days ago. They are affluent people who live quite well. How does a 51-year-old get pneumonia?

Many questions can be asked, and many are getting silenced, so I shall not say anymore. If you are curious, do a little digging and you’ll see.

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Many people I know haven’t been vaccinated at all or only got one shot. Unlike the U.S., vaccines aren’t free for all in India.

The Indian variant of the virus was first reported on October 5th, 2020. 

India is called the karma-bhoomi, the land of karma, for a reason.

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Covid and the daily suffering of caregivers 

Today, my sister and our father are quarantined for testing positive. My sister is dealing with our father and his new normal. 

The hospital has elevators for those in wheelchairs and for doctors. Covid has affected my sister's ability to breathe. On a CT Scan, images of her left lung show up as if it’s filled with glass shards. With this weakened lung, my sister has to climb up and down the stairs, with a father who feels the mask is a bother. Every other minute he forgets my sister has been ill longer than he has.

On one of her trips up the stairs, my sister’s blood pressure plummeted. Thanks to the crowd in the stairwell, she escaped a fall and any injuries that could have added to her woes.

My sister has to visit more than one pharmacy, at times two, sometimes three, to get her prescriptions filled. Since the medications are for Covid, she needs to fill out forms declaring which ward she is a resident of, so proper statistics can be maintained. Usually, people do not know the ward number where they live.

As part of modernization and digitization in India, every citizen is issued an Adhar card. When buying the medications, she has to submit two copies of her Adhar card at each pharmacy. At times, she’s run out of copies of her card, so she had to find a photocopying center and wait in line. A photocopying center may be a kilometer away or more, and she has to find it in the scorching summer heat. Although she drives a car, she may not find parking, so she cannot use her car to get to the photocopying center and back to the pharmacy.

The only one who knows of these daily struggles is the one who endures them.

For the rest of us, it is the story to be narrated and read of a citizen stuck in a nation where no one is being spared from the pandemic.  

Our father has not been told that he tested positive for Covid and is being treated. He thinks of his medication as part of his regular regimen and takes whatever my sister hands him.

He likes to eat tasty food and in small morsels every couple of hours. Due to his mental state, he acts out and my sister has to deal with it. 

People tell her from a distance what she should do, but she has to do it on her own. So, I wish that people would keep quiet.

Caregivers need to be heard with patience. They need emotional and physical caregiving too. 

In India, middle-class people are used to having household help, and now are having to live without them. Everything adds up.

I wish I was there to share her responsibilities. My needs in life are less than most people’s. I am having to learn to live at a distance and watch, be patient, and pray.

Living in surrender

I have become supersaturated with news of the Covid and its casualties. It reminds me of the bubonic plague in the 1300s in Europe and Asia. Today, in India, there is hardly a person who has not lost someone to Covid.

I have told my friends and relatives not to talk to me anymore about this disease.

Right now, I am learning to pray from a state of surrender. I know my sister will recover because she has things to do. 

Our dad keeps saying he wants to die. Should I pray for his life? Or should I pray for his wishes to come true?

I pray “may thy will be done, forgive us all for we know not what we do, may there be love, peace, kindness, and calm.”

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Keya Murthy, M.S., works as a Clinical Hypnotherapist and Spiritual Life Coach at the Ventura Healing Center. She is also an author and her books are available on Amazon.