As an Indian residing in the United States, it’s hard to truly know the extent of your ancestral country’s hardships…that is until you are caught in the middle of one. The COVID-19 pandemic had struck the world hard in 2020, leaving most to hope 2021 would be better. Well, we’re in April of 2021, and India is in absolute despair due to a sudden outburst of the virus that is running rampant throughout the country and breaking all pandemic records till date. Innocently, I was traveling to India for urgent reasons and to spend time with my grandparents & family, knowing the pandemic could take anyone we loved without discrimination at any time. Having taken all necessary precautions advised – negative tests before traveling & on arrival, masks on masks for protection, and various hand sanitizers and disinfectants always handy – it seemed the trip would go as expected. My trip began and everything was seemingly going as planned, when suddenly reports came rushing through that India was seeing record increases in COVID cases and the High Court sent notices to all states imploring them to take significant actions to control the aggressively worsening situation.

Stranded in the Middle of a Biological Conquest

At the time I was heading to Delhi, my usual residence because my grandparents and most of my family resides in and surrounding the Capitol, when we were informed that the city was implementing strict curfews and considering a full lockdown. With optimism, I continued my journey to Delhi in hopes that the curfew would be manageable and the condition would improve as it had in 2020. Needless to say, that is not how things progressed. Within days the situation worsened, forcing the capital of Delhi and the states of Uttar Pradesh (UP), Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh (MP), and Karnataka were entering full lockdowns for the rest of the month until they could reassess the situation. If that wasn’t terrifying enough for someone in the middle of interstate transit, we received word that my grandmother, my Nani, was down with COVID along with a few other family members. As per the pandemic restrictions, my destination was now inaccessible because we could not enter Delhi and my reason for coming was postponed because my Nani’s house and all individuals living there would get locked down until officials determined it was clear of the virus. So as I sat in my Haryana hotel, I realized that I was potentially stranded in a country rampant with the pandemic.

…I had to get home without stopping, all the while observing the India I love react to its present conqueror.

They say that trauma survivors live in survival mode and that it’s not a way to live, yet what kicks in during a time like this are those exact survival instincts. What people deem as paranoia or overly-cautious become necessary perspectives and precautions in order to make it through such a situation. In the middle of a pandemic, in a country where women are not safe in normal scenarios such as on the highways (definitely not at night), and in a situation where lockdowns mean increased poverty for those who can’t run their businesses and resort to thievery, survival instincts come in the form of do-what-you-need-to-in-order-to-survive-worry-about-everything-else-later. I was already considering a break from the world because of almost-burnout from my work life (first world issues of course), but the situation made the choice that much clearer – I needed to step away from the world and focus on making it through physically and mentally however I needed to. Rather than enjoy my transit by reading my e-books or listening to music, I managed my battery-life purely for GPS and emergency purposes for the lengthy drive I had to get home without stopping, all the while observing the India I love react to its present conqueror.

As I travelled through the country, I took away two things: 1) India is unrecognizable when its people are nowhere to be seen and falling apart and 2) somehow people retain their humanity and are still able to enjoy life in the midst of it all.

The India I Cannot Recognize

Since the onset of the pandemic, many countries have imposed “lockdowns”, but not all have been quite as strict in their rules around these lockdowns as others. India is an interesting case because it falls within both perspectives on lockdown methods. There are states which imposed the lockdown and enforce it with armed guards, fines, and police brutality (the brutality varying depending on your state and what lockdown rule you broke). Then there are states that are more worried about the stereotypical perspective of “log kya kehenge” (translation: what will people say) that they are hiding the true impact of the pandemic on the state in question by not reporting the true number of cases and deaths, and leave the lockdown/curfew enforcements up to each municipality. The latter method almost always resulting in many villages and smaller towns closing some institutions but not all, not actively enforcing masks, and definitely not restricting large gatherings in marketplaces during non-curfew times.

What’s worse is that these states and their people would like to abide by the procedures and guidelines, but not all can. Those villages and smaller towns are actually grateful that they are not being forced to follow lockdown rules because they can’t afford it. If they did, the people would not necessarily survive irrespective of the virus. The farmer who is already run down by the months of aggravated agricultural regulation upheavals from the current administration must continue to work on the farm to keep one’s family alive with the food from the fields and the money it brings in by bringing the goods to the big cities and selling them in open markets. Not continuing their work would result in more harm to more people and they need the exceptions or leeway their state allows.

It almost feels like the scene in Sholay just before Gabbar makes his entry to attack the village; the calm before the proverbial storm.

Sholay is considered among the best Hindi films of all time – Hindustan Times

At the same time, if you were to enter an area fully enforcing the lockdown or during the strict curfew hours, it’s as though the world as we know it has disappeared. The streets are empty, besides a bull, cow, or dog casually roaming the seemingly abandoned vicinity. The store fronts are locked shut and all the lights are out. The wind blows the dust around the streets uninterrupted, not a being for miles at a stretch, and you can see the heat of an Indian summer reflecting off the highway with barely a vehicle in sight. It’s as though the human race has disappeared altogether. It almost feels like the scene in Sholay just before Gabbar makes his entry to attack the village; the calm before the proverbial storm (See the epic Bollywood movie to understand the reference).

The only places where things get lively as they never did before are at the highway toll booths where delivery trucks are showing their lockdown exception passes, waiting for interstate transit approval, and around medical facilities. Pre-pandemic, these facilities only ever had a security guard or two to perform the usual checks before entry – standard vehicle and bag scans. Now in the face of a pandemic on steroids, the larger facilities have police support and the surrounding streets of major cities have armored vehicles because the facilities are getting out of hand. It’s one thing to hear of the impacts of the virus on one’s community in a place you remember so beautifully, and entirely another to experience its devastation first hand.

Indians Always Remember the Importance of Life

Even as the pandemic rears its very ugly head, the worst of situations still has the country buzzing with communal support and moments of pure joy. I have travelled to various countries, and nowhere have I seen people come together for humanity, try to survive together, while still finding time to truly enjoy happy moments, as they have here.

As the cases in India rise, the community response has simultaneously increased domestically and internationally. Every news channel, media outlet, and individual social media presence is actively sharing the latest status and resources. The resources ranging from domestic information on where oxygen tanks have become available to international sponsorship & donations to send more supplies. It is amazing to see how the global South Asian community has banded together in one nation’s time of need to send not only money & medical devices, but also advocate and lobby their respective governments to stand with humanity and support India however they can.

The South Asian diaspora is known to be full of diverse traditions and colorful celebrations across regions, languages, and religious beliefs, and in this country that represents so many of the aforementioned, the brilliance of the cultures remains vibrant even during such a dreadful time. Although the Indian government could do a MUCH better job of providing strict guidelines around how to celebrate key traditions and religious/sporting/personal events to contain the spread of the virus, the Indian people are finding ways to still celebrate the happy moments amongst the madness. From the safety and comfort of my hotel room, I can hear nearby homes and people rumbling with pure exaltation when their favorite team excels in the Cricket IPL, or the grace and joy of coming together with the family they still have for iftaar, or even gleefully enjoying the time they finally have with the people they love while watching their sitcoms and latest Bollywood movies. Many are gratefully following protocol with their masks and social distancing, while others have rested their full faith on their religions in choosing to assemble within protocols, knowing full well that they are taking a risk, all in the belief that these moments with their loved ones – for what could be the last time – is worth it. Either way, in the midst of the traumatic state of the country, there is some joy and it is beautiful to witness.

What Needs to Be Done & How You Can Help

As the news in India rages on about the pending government elections (the least of priorities from a humanitarian standpoint), followed by the rampage of immoral folks blasphemously stealing and selling oxygen machines & necessary medicine on the black market, Indians are faced with the pandemic survival dilemma: stay in and follow lockdown/curfew procedures or risk losing the people you love because you need to earn an income or need to get them medical support to survive any way you can. The result is that people are communicating almost by the minute that someone they love or know has passed away either from the virus or because of a separate, easily treatable medical issue that didn’t get the attention it normally would have. The medical infrastructure of a country inhabited by 1.4 billion people has been brutally exposed to the point that hotels and private institutions have been mandated by the government to act as hospital extensions to house more patients and medical services, and the nation must rely on allies to send support.

We’re losing people not just to the virus itself but also to the lack of services and medical equipment. India needs help and it needs it now. Here’s what you can do today:

If you’re in India

FACE THE FACTS & CHANGE THE COURSE

India has reached this point because many things failed – the government’s leadership, the medical infrastructure, and everyone’s common sense during a pandemic with regard to the importance of precautionary & proactive measures. It is time that each individual realize that their individual choices to forego the pandemic protocol can affect the nation.

  • Follow lockdown protocol. For starters, please take this straightforward approach. The protocols are put in place to protect you AND the people around you. If you are able to, stay home.
  • Take ALL precautions. If you need to leave your home for whatever reason, wear a mask, wash your hands as directed, and sanitize frequently. If you have been to a location where you were at risk, quarantine yourself for the next 14 days to ensure you don’t contribute to spreading the virus. DO NOT STOP doing taking these precautions because you have received a vaccine or because you think the location is sanitary. Even the experts don’t understand the virus and it’s variants enough to take such risks. Stay cautious.
  • Share resources. If you have information about local resources that can help someone, share it as far and wide as you can. You don’t know who needs it, and many do. Use your networks and platforms to share the information you have or have come across to spread it further. (see the list of resources below to get started)

If you’re outside of India

YOU CAN STILL HELP & YOU SHOULD

The world has enjoyed the knowledge and culture of India for eons and it is time to save that very same part of the world everyone has enjoyed for their own benefits.

  • Support/Donate. There are many Indian or South Asian organizations that are pooling funds to purchase medical equipment to send to India and to support families that do not have the funds to survive. Use the resources outlined below to guide you to the option that works best for you.
  • Advocate. Reach out to your elected officials and request their support for India. Your voice has an impact and can make a difference.

Resources


Dum hai is mitti mein
Jo humare ragon mein dhodta hai
Toh kaisa toofan hai yeh
Jo dum ko thodne pe tula hai

Inteha hai is yug ki
Mat jhuko mere yaar
Waqt hai saath mein ladne ka
Mil ke hi jeetenge is baar

Translation (adjusted for meaning):
There is strength in this earth
That runs through our veins
So what kind of storm is this
Hell bent on breaking this strength

This is a test of this era
So don’t bow down just yet friend
It’s time to fight together
For together is the only way to win

– Akiti –

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