Covidaze: The Spring of 2021
This is a journal of a person experiencing the reality of COVID-19 as a new wave hit Kolkata, India in the early part of the summer of 2021, while the author was at his home in the suburb of Salt Lake. An associated video can be viewed here.
You can find the most recent segments of the story in my journal, but be sure to read the back story here to understand the context of the narrative.
50% of the people being tested are positive
You are on your own supported only by science
Fear is the key
April 25, 2021 Commentary from AC 140, Salt Lake: I have never seen my block in Salt Lake like this. I live across from the block’s community center. Sunday nights there is usually no place to park in front of my house. The place is empty. Not a car in sight, not a human on the street. I was sitting on my veranda and usually I enjoy this activity.
The warm summer breeze and the gentle clamor of people in the park across my house, the flow of people on the road, the usual honking of horns, the voices of people. Tonight it is deadly quiet, went outside and saw the full moon, not sure what the full moon is for today, soon we will see “eid ka chand” but life in my neighborhood has come to a screeching stop. Lockdown without a lockdown. People are scared. “Times of India” reported today that 50% of the people being tested are positive. I have never ever sat at home by myself on a Sunday evening when I am at home. For the past few nights that has become routine. I did not experience the lockdown of last year, but here I am today choosing to lockdown. May be this will break the chain. The next few weeks will be telling. Will neighborhoods like mine self-regulate and show the way of how to beat this.
April 26, 2021 Commentary from AC 140: In a speech on May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush announced “Mission Accomplished” in reference to the war in Iraq. Unfortunately, it was premature. The war that dragged on after the speech claimed more casualties then the mission itself. Politicians have a flair for the hyperbole and sometimes their claims do not turn out to be as prophetic as they wished it to be. The equivalent of the Mission Accomplished speech read, “Today, India is among countries that have succeeded in saving the maximum lives. The country, which comprises of 18% of the world’s population, has saved the world from disaster by bringing the situation under control.” That was on January 28, 2021. I was at AC 140 on that day and it seemed to be true. Even as Public Health professional I believed in it. I went out, met friends, attended gatherings, and felt like we had indeed saved the World from disaster. Even as a scientist, I had let down my guard and made the cardinal mistake of not pointing it out when many around me let down their guards. Indeed, I said facetiously, “Kolkatar mukhosh khule geche.” I stand corrected. What I should have realized is that nature has a way. Another wave was imminent, and I am as much to blame for it as anyone else in Calcutta. Now I realize everything I did wrong. I had let caution go out the window. And no one reminded me not to do so, even though as a professional I should have remembered. Tonight’s silence in my block at AC 140 is simply a reminder of my error. I do hope all recognize this error. There is still time to correct this and reduce the misery. No one will come to your help. You are on your own supported only by science. Spread the word. The only one who is powerful now is you and your advocacy to spread the word that simple things matter — mask, sanitize, and keep the distance. Break the chain.
April 27, 2021 Commentary from AC 140: Another day of terror. Sheer terror. The plague is around us, creeping into the homes of neighbors. I am back on the verandah. It is 7 pm and the April night is hot (93F) and somber. The silence of the neighborhood is broken only by the distant wailing of the ambulances at the Ultadanga crossing ferrying who knows whom where for what. Two of my friends, four houses down the street, now have it. I spent part of my day working the keyboard and the phone trying to procure a life-saving injection for someone and oxygen for someone else. There are so many of us trying to do what we can in the face of the Delhi leadership that seems to be relying on us to make our decisions. A market voluntarily went into curfew today in Baranagar as my city sees the steepest spike in cases in India, and thus possibly the World. Hunkered down. The phone and the keyboard are the only connections to the World that now stretches from worried families in Texas to frantic calls of a daughter from Girish Park pinning hopes on me to procure some oxygen. Oxygen. There is no oxygen in the city. My auto-rickshaw driver called in to say that there may be some tanks near the airport. Grab them, now. How is it to be transported to Girish Park? He volunteers to take it in his auto. Medicines being procured through a network that stretches from Chennai to Mumbai to Kolkata. I and thousands of others are working the WA to get some action. The infrastructure has failed us, and we are scared. Perhaps it is the scare that will work. Fear is the key.
April 28, 2021 Commentary from AC 140: Another day. Inactive. I did not leave the house today at all. I feel more settled. I have the music system set up; the TV is working well. Got the groceries delivered. Wrote a little bit. Walked around the house, just pacing, biding time. Waiting. For what? Things will take time to change. The few phone calls with friends, the uninterrupted WA, and the early morning call with Swati. I realized that there is no reason to even change clothes. Pajamas all day. This is different from the lockdown of last year in Winston. I used to go out every day — get a loaf of bread early in the morning from Lowe’s, go for a drive around the quite city. We are used to isolation in small-town America. Here at home, isolation is debilitating. I have close friends just a short distance from my house, but we are WAing each other. I eventually screamed out on WA: “I cannot believe I am 10 minutes away and we are WAing — I might as well have been in Winston.” Confusing times. Scary times. It is only 9 pm and the street dogs are already howling. They too are confused. There is no one on the streets in my neighborhood, they probably think it is much later than what it actually is. The silence is resounding. I miss the noise, the sounds of life. It is as if life has been sucked out of my neighborhood, perhaps my city. Tomorrow is an important day — the last round of elections in my state — then we will know on May 2, which variety of incompetence we will be left with and how we must cope on our own.
Life has been sucked out of my neighborhood
Americans are fleeing India. Leaving behind sick relatives. Run.
People will stay indoors because we do not know what will happen if we go out
April 29, 2021 Commentary from AC 140: A little different today. I did venture out. In my dedicated autorickshaw. My trusted driver Devdas. I needed to go to Mahavir Vikas, the house has been shut down for nearly a week. When it is this hot, and this humid, things begin to smell. It was a hot day, but Devdas took me there safely. The autorickshaw offers a level of safety not offered by a car. It is an open transport — the hot air hits you in the face and as we sped through the empty roads of Salt Lake; I realized that things are about to change after the election results are announced on May 2. Today was voting day, the last of the eight-phase electoral process in my state, and there was a suspense in the air. Now, at 8:30pm the exit polls are being announced on TV, have not watched yet, will tune in soon. Perhaps the outcome will make a change; many are dying there is much anxiety, my friend in Chennai had to admitted because of low saturation levels, whoever thought of saturation levels even a year ago. Today I learnt that even the simple medicines are scarce — Doxycycline — I was looking for it, just to keep some on hand. Four medicine shops later my neighborhood pharmacy was able to get one strip — one full dose — he said “Dada paoa jachche na, got one just for you.” Who is hoarding Doxy? Or O2? Or anything? Mahavir Vikas has gone into lockdown. A housing estate for retired military officers, and Swati’s father bought a place there. Today they said that they are in total lockdown. No Swiggy, no Pizza Hut delivery, so had to walk over to the gate to get my Pizza Hut order for lunch. It was 100F. I think the pizza was cooler than the air outside. But there is a peace in Salt Lake that I have rarely seen before. Devdas said there is no business, no riders, he dropped me off at noon, told him to go home. I took an Uber back. Remember the research from last year, the air flows from the back window to the front — counter-intuitive, but that is physics for you. Sat behind the driver, the safest place in a car. The ride was under 15 minutes — the magic number for viral load. They are saying on ABP Bangla that TMC is ahead. Time will tell — when the real numbers come in on May 2. In the meantime, scared Americans are fleeing India — CDC has told them to. Leaving behind sick relatives. Run. You are on your own. Dylan on my mind, “How many…” you all know the rest.
April 30, 2021 Commentary from AC 140: A small axe has fallen. Calcutta is going into a “sotto lockdown.” The details are important and telling. Malls closed, social congregations barred, restricted times for bazaars. But I should still be able to go out for a walk. It says nothing about what I can or cannot do as a person who does not go to malls, or have my groceries delivered in any case, and really am rarely invited to social events. The order does, however, promise dire consequences for those who go for victory rallies or congregate around voting booths since the election results will be announced on May 2. Curiouser and curiouser. There is also no end date to the order. It is only for the “time being.” Ambiguity is the most powerful tool for managers. Keep ’em guessing and they will forever remain uncertain and the anxiety will eventually lead to depression and then inaction. People will stay indoors because we do not know what will happen if we go out. No one has told me not to go out, no one has told me what will happen if I go out. It might be best if I do not go out. Lockdown without a lockdown. And quite a free hand for disciplining those who go out. My day will still be the way it has been. I will probably go to Mahavir Vikas, finish the half-eaten pizza and the left-over Pepsi, take a nap, and then come back to AC. This will air out the stuffiness in the house, and the cloudiness in my brain as I bide my time — for the “time being.” Perhaps if I go early before the bazaars are supposed to close I will not draw attention. Wonder what I will say if I am stopped. I had to play my “American card” once already when the police stopped for a NOTA checking (look this up if you are confused). Or maybe act dumb — “lockdown hoecehe, tai, shuni ni to,” or actually apologize and keep walking. Keep walking. That is a good metaphor for life now — init?
The flirtation with two places, nearly 8,500 miles apart, is not easy
We just have little choice which storm we will be made to ride on
I am learning to live with the inability to say, “Here I am” when the call for “Where are you?” is recoiling in my mind.
May 1, 2021 Commentary from AC 140: Today is an important day in most parts of the World except the USA. In a hyper-capitalism fueled by the military-industrial-medical complex the rather “socialist” notion of May Day. Being born of the 1889 Paris meeting of the Second International, this was rather unsavory for America which instead has its own Labor Day in September. For me it was just another day at home. The markets shut down at 10 am as directed under the current system of the lockdown. I mostly stayed at home barring a little outing to a neighborhood store to pick up some sauces. I generally do not like to cook, but the boredom is getting to me and I realized that I actually have a nice convection oven at home and will experiment with some pies tomorrow. Shephard’s pie, the good old southern (as in Country Roads Take Me Home) staple of a meat loaf. I wish I had the right meat for it, but a bird will have to suffice instead of the other meat. Depending on who forms the government in my state some meats might disappear from the market. There will be changes we are told. The virus has taken a back seat as a heavy suspense hangs over the city to see what the actual vote counts will be like tomorrow. There are rumors and fears and hopes. At times I feel disconnected from it all. The flirtation with two places, nearly 8,500 miles apart, is not easy. At last night’s meeting, Polly came from her backyard at 4 pm, it was 1:30 am here, and I could see the majestic pines swaying in the gentle spring breeze while I sat outside on my verandah and let the remnants of the unfulfilled promises of a kalbishakhi blow through the quiet night interrupted by the howling of the street dogs. The meeting went till 4:00 am and I was zoomed back to Winston, listening to my friends there, colleagues as they are planning a gathering at Al’s backyard. Tonight I will be videoed in with friends who are 4 kilometers from me as well as those in LA. Where exactly am I? Never before have I been away from my family for this long, and never before, sifting through hundreds of old photographs this afternoon have I felt so intimately connected to a continuum of time and space where the self “worm holes: between real and virtual spaces transcending time zones and time periods. As Pink Floyd said, “The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older. Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.”
May 2, 2021 Commentary from AC 140: I am sitting on the verandah. An impending electric storm, we call then Kaal Baisakhi, is coming. There is lighting in the air, the temperature has dropped. As it has in many different ways in my city and state. A deadly election month has come to an end, and the crescendo of lightning competes with the firecrackers that celebrate a decisive rejection of an ideology that seeks to divide than unite. In one fell sweep, a landslide of sorts, the people of my state turned it green (green is the American blue) and now I live simultaneously in a red state and a blue state. In NC we were unable to reject the politics of hate whereas in WB we have the opportunity to rethink who we are as a nation and people. Who are still dying? Everyone took a day off from Corona today in Calcutta. No one wanted to talk about it. As if the virus was also watching the election breaking news on the ABP Bangla TV channel and was so spellbound by the election results that Corona forgot to ravish us. One daydreams. My day was spent stuck to the TV, watching the results roll in as I was visited by friends from across the World in the zoom room I had opened up to do an election watch gathering. We, however, talked mostly about Corona and our friends who are down with it, and what we must do to help them. The commentators on TV sprouted undeserving wisdom in shrill voices while we discussed on zoom the relative merits of steroid inhalers, CT scans and how to watch for the cytokine storm in our loved ones. The juxtaposition is amazing, as it is right now in the combination of high energy fireworks placed against the Kaal Baisakhi while the news of Corona will disappear for a few days and then return with cruel intensity bringing another storm with it, perhaps on Wednesday. In the end, we are all “riders on the storm” as memorialized by The Doors. Unfortunately, frequently, we just have little choice which storm we will be made to ride on.
May 3, 2021 Commentary from AC 140: Eventually a numbness sets in. The daily routine kicks in. I have found a rhythm. The early mornings are on the verandah when the cacophony of the crows and the cooler breeze sets the tone of the morning. I write in the mornings, that is when the energy is different. I realized today when I was fixing my coffee that I am running out of my trusted Starbucks little packets of instant coffee. Had gone by Starbucks at City Center 1 yesterday. Everything was closed. I need to figure out how to get the coffee bought online. I think Amazon sells everything. I need to get the coffee. Did mostly nothing all day. Attempted to go through the old photographs and catalog them but quickly lost interest. The inactivity is leading to a reduction in attention span. I want to flit from one activity to another. Invent new things to keep myself busy with. So, met with a challenge today. Yesterday’s meat loaf was a success, I liked it, but I want to make a shepherd’s pie, and I cannot find good chicken broth. So part of my day was scouring the Internet for chicken broth — trying to block out the worries and anxieties of people I know still battling Corona. It seemed that chicken broth was the answer. I could not find it. I know I cannot do much for the suffering of the inflicted, but now I had a solvable problem — find chicken broth to be delivered online. We engineers are trained to be problem solvers, but we seem to pick the problems we have a finite expectation of solving — at least I do. Yet, I was as stumped by chicken broth as I have been with O2. I guess my shepherd’s pie will be done without broth, as many are living life without the necessary medicines and vaccines. The perversion in this statement is criminal, but the mind works in a strange way when it can no longer angst over what would happen to a friend who has the plague, and I am helpless to do anything. Perhaps the chicken broth is the answer. Maybe I can make a pie for my friend. I am learning to live with the inability to say, “Here I am” when the call for “Where are you?” is recoiling in my mind. The medicine for the 80-year old grandmother on ventilator has still not arrived. And the person from Girish Park has not called for O2 anymore. I was unsuccessful on two counts. I have one strike left (this is a baseball metaphor). At times I feel like Kenny Roger’s gambler “There will be time enough for counting when the dealin’s done.” When will the dealin be done in my city?
May 4, 2021 Commentary from AC 140: Another day. Last night’s Kaal Baisakhi thundered through the night and came in with ferocity in the morning. I could keep my windows open and let the gusts flow over my body. It was a pleasant 80F at night and there was no need for the air conditioner. The morning was split with lightnings that came too close to home. My uncle was killed by lightning many years ago, so it is a sore point in our family. I sat on the verandah in the morning letting the cool breeze and the splashes from the torrent soothe the soul. Then the day began. Medicines. We are running out. Methyl Prednisone injection 250 mg. Nowhere to be found. I have run out of my zinc supplement. Nowhere to be found. Remdesivir is only available through hospitals. Flaviflu is not in the market. A dear friend, a physician, wrote me a prescription in October 2020 when I was in Calcutta, I am holding on to that dose. It is an endless search for medicines, for friends, friend of friends, people I do not even know but in times like this you do not ask “who is it for?” Everyone is human. In the meantime the storm went on and flooded out the balcony at Mahavir Vikas. Went there in the afternoon to clean up the place. Fell asleep there in the cool comfort of a darkened drawing room with the gentle buzz of the split A/C. Had a nightmare. Imagining the people I care for here in Calcutta falling ill and me in Winston helpless to do anything. A similar nightmare still lingers, what happens if the people I care for in Winston fall ill with Corona and I am in Calcutta. In a moment of anxiety I realized, like many others, I am living in a bad movie that does not want to end. But help came in the form of old albums and call from my cousin sister — she reminded me about the important things in life — the memories we carry and how our ancestors are our strength. Rode in Uber today again. The desperation in the drivers is grossly infectious. Tomorrow we form the government in West Bengal. The anticipation of a harsh lockdown, lost wages, lost lives, and lost opportunities hang heavy in the air. But now, at 8 pm, the night is quiet. Like all the other nights, the streets are empty, the noises have subsided, and it feels nice sitting on the verandah. I am sure we will get out of this. But in the meantime Simon and Garfunkel sings on Alexa: “Hello darkness my old friend.”
I am living in a bad movie that does not want to end
In the city of Calcutta nearly 30 to 40 hospitals were either completely unreachable or did not have a single ICU bed
The West looks upon us with disdain and publishes meaningless news stories about how bad our medicine is over here
May 5, 2021 Commentary from AC 140: One of the most useful apps on my relatively cheap Android phone is called “Auto Redial.” It does a simple thing. When a number is fed into it, the app will continue to dial the number until someone answers it. Was a most valuable tool today. Early in the morning I was hit with two pieces of news. In Winston, Swati and her mother were unable to leave the house with a tree blocking the driveway that fell during the storm and was sitting on the power line creating a hazard. A Calcutta a friend’s friend needed to be moved to a hospital immediately with saturation levels falling sharply. Living in two Worlds. The tree issue was addressed with a few WA messages to friends in Winston, a couple of phone calls to the power company who promised they would come out and take care of the problem. Finding the bed was a whole different story. The phone calls started in the morning. My friend wisely crowdsourced the effort. Divided up the places to call amongst a bunch of people. The people who were calling did not even know each other but were all pulled together by my friend. The information was propagated on numerous WA groups and we each took turns. Kept on hitting a lot of busy numbers and then put the number on auto dial and eventually someone would answer. Evidently there was not a single ICU bed in the hospitals I was calling. Not a single. The words from the hospitals were heartbreaking. “Ki korbo dada ektao bed nei.” “We are completely out of beds.” Some promised to call back in case a bed became available — one shudders to think how the bed would become available. A kind soul from a TV station, with some influence, tried her best and we both realized and lamented that we are in a city where for several hours there was not a single ICU bed for a person who might need ventilation. Not a single bed. I had tried nearly ten hospitals. With a bunch of us calling we must have attempted about 30 or 40 hospitals. Let that sink in — for some hours on Cinco de Mayo in the city of Calcutta nearly 30 to 40 hospitals were either completely unreachable or did not have a single ICU bed. This was not news on the tube, or a headline in the newspaper. This was actually me on the phone on auto dial trying to reach people. When I did reach someone the conversations were poignant. Remember, I did not personally know the person who needed the bed, all I had was some medical information about the person. One of the hospitals, which did not have a bed, asked, “How are you related to the patient?” I was at a loss for a second, and said, “bondhu.” A word in Bengali that is much more expansive in meaning than the English word “friend.” A bondhu can mean anything from hearing about a person over a coffee to a life-long connection between soul mates. It is a perfect catch-all that only Bengalis understand, and we understand that in context. Right now in the Calcutta context there are a lot of bondhus who are doing what they can, in the true spirit of Calcutta, while the deadly refrain of Queen haunts in the background, “Another one bites the dust.”
May 6, 2021 Commentary from AC 140: In COVID-19-infested Calcutta even natural death is complicated. The request came early in the morning. Need O2. Here we go again. Started the calls, spoke to Devdas, he said his auto was broken down and was in the repair shop, but he will try. Put it out on the WA network, received some lists. Shared the list. The calling started. The usual responses — phone is switched off or there is no oxygen. This continued for a while. And then the call came. O2 was no longer needed. Then we as a community of grievers realized what the daughter said, “There is no time to even grieve…..” Indeed there is no time. Because any death now must be cleared as a non-COVID-19 death in the Death Certificate. And if it is suspected to be a COVID-19 death then a whole complicated protocol sets in, and some families have to keep their loved ones in ice, at home, until the system catches up and the cremation happens. Yes, again, let that sink in. I called around to some places where a body can be stored, and many of these places were full. One place, in a rather cavalier tone, said, “Haan hobe, poisa laagbe.” I asked how much and the amount in USD (which is how I still think) was not much but the entire commodification of death was troubling. The afternoon dragged on its 100F temperature as well-meaning people put in their best effort, often way beyond the call of duty, to ease the pain of the family and go through the “paperwork.” I had slipped off in a little slumber only to be wakened by the persistent “What’s App Message” notification on my phone. I had set it up as a lark, but never thought how vital it would be one day — like today. What I saw today, again, is the power of community. When people come together, and when they know there is no one to help, people innovate, and try harder. As we all did today. Now, I will have a lone canister of portable O2 arrive on Saturday, ordered in urgency through Amazon India, for a person who has no more need for it. But perhaps it will be useful for someone else. To the grieving family, I would remind them to listen to Floyd’s “Shine on you crazy diamond…”
May 7, 2021 Commentary from AC 140: After some time nothing happened today. There were no calls for O2, or medicines, or Death Certificates, or anything at all. It was a dull day, which seems odd to say. I did not venture out of the house. The newspaper reported that positivity rate in my state stands at around 30%, higher in Calcutta I am told. The neighborhood was quiet. It was a hot day. The Kaal Baisakhis have passed and sitting on the verandah, now at 7 pm, it is hot and muggy and silent. Today, I had time to introspect, not having to work the WA contacts or run auto redial on the phone. One of my friends has reached the 12th day mark of the disease and fingers remain crossed. Speedy recovery. Perhaps a 14th day subdued celebration. Now seeing the disease face to face I realize how debilitating it can be and how suddenly things can turn bad. In the past few days I have learnt a lot about the tests and the medicines — many of which are unique to India. The West looks upon us with disdain and publishes meaningless news stories about how bad our medicine is over here. Annoying at the least and infuriating at the most. I get these forwarded messages and I read them with amusement. Yet, there is little response from the West — for instance seeking advice on medication and treatment — we are obviously doing everything wrong here and thus it is not even worthy of a response. Unless the West can be the “savior” they stand back and watch the carnage. Amusing how this was true when I published my book on this matter in 1999 (India Through the Western Lens) and how it is still true today. But I digress, the focus is on Calcutta, and there is still no evidence of the curve turning, there are rumors in the bazaar (yes I did go to the bazaar to pick up more Ivermectin) that a harsh lockdown is on its way. There are rumors about everything — “gao mey lakho maar rahe hai.” I was told from a person from Bihar where evidently thousands are dying in the villages. No statistics. Only rumors. I listen and at times I feel like the “Fool on the Hill” immortalized by the Beatles.
I was tired already, and it was only noon
If I sound angry and frustrated, it is because I am, why have some chosen to abandon their place of origin?
I remain humble in gratitude to the COVID-19 survivor whose loyalty to friends trumped the risk to self
May 8, 2021 Commentary from AC 140: A bondhu told me on WA “Tk a break.” Good advice. Much needed, so I went back to the USA. In a dark room with a projection system I went back to Chicago of 1968. Chicago of Hayden and Hoffman (Abbie and the judge). That was an anxiety-provoking break, watching the helplessness of some people in the 1960s Chicago, a city which I have come to love over the years. Now I am back on the verandah in Calcutta, soft Rabindra sangeet floating in on the air from some home where people are trapped in their homes. Like the Chicago 7 were after the Chicago riots before the Convention in Chicago in 1968. We are trapped as well. In a quagmire of scarcity — O2, beds in hospitals, medicines. The story started last night. Before going to bed a bondhu said that there was again a need for O2. The person had just lost one parent two days ago. And now on to the other parent. I will recount the story the way Hayden read the names of the 5,000 dead in Vietnam at the time of the trial in Chicago. He was just reading 5,000 names, in precision, as I will try to record what happened today. In the morning there was a dual need. First, O2, and then a hospital bed. The patient was elderly, most likely COVID-19 positive. Many of us, again crowdsourcing, got on the phones — I sound like a broken record — but again lots of dead ends, no answers and phones switched off. Then a ray of hope, which the Chicago 7 was not ever offered by the judge, and there was one tank of O2 available. Those on the ground in Calcutta (my bondhu, whose parents were the patients, is not in India) mobilized and the tank of O2 was picked up. Next began the quest for the correct appendage to administer the O2 to the patient. Three medicine shops later we knew this particular appendage was not available in Salt Lake. I felt a certain frustration that I saw channeled by Kunstler, the defense lawyer for the Chicago 7, who slammed the book down in frustration with the judge. For me there was no book and no judge — just frustration. There was nothing to do but administer the O2 through the tubes. Nothing to do. I was tired already, and it was only noon. Meanwhile people across the World were working the frustrating numbers for a hospital bed. And then there was a piece of good news, there was a bed available, at 2 pm. And it was grabbed. By 5 pm the patient was in the hospital. Success. Just like the Chicago 7, thousands in Calcutta are fighting a failing system, and sometimes there is success, just like the Chicago 7 eventually went free. They protested an unfair system, and they were successful, I am living in an unfair system, and tiny successes like today’s, earns me what my bondhu said — take a break. Indeed as I sit on the verandah I swerve between the lilting works of the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore and the 1969 warning from Credence Clearwater — “There is a bad moon on the rise.” [Footnote: I was re-watching segments of the Oscar Nominated movie called “Trial of the Chicago 7”]
May 9, 2021 Commentary from AC 140: If you live outside India and claim India to be a place of your origin, you would not like this commentary. Today life offered me a mixed day. Some of my bondhus reached the 14th Day. They are still recovering. Called for a subdued celebration. Simultaneously, a need for another family was met. And I lost a person who was in school with me at Calcutta Boys’ School. To know that the 14th Day people are OK was exhilarating. To hear of the death was debilitating. This is the swing we are in now. Some success and some failure. But there was more good news. A cousin of mine, in UK, was kind enough to support with examining medical reports and prescriptions. Give some general medical advice. This is how the network grows. Because we know we are on our own and the Cow Belt would rather die than act. I wish more people of Indian origin would do what my cousin did from UK. I have been sorely disappointed with a small community of Indian Americans in the USA. I sent a frantic request for help to a WA group and there was a deadly silence. A simple ask, “Where are you?” and a cruel silence. There was a prescription that needed review and my physician friends in India came back with overwhelming reports (sometimes contradictory, as is expected) but the US was silent. As if we in India do not matter. Die. It is disheartening to see how the complacence of the US could be the leveler in the end. Americans, this is not over yet. You have no idea what is about to hit you and your arrogance will not help. At the same time, people of Indian origin all over the World need to respond to the call for acknowledgement. My ask was simple, a prescription and the question — “Boss another question, different patient. C+ now on 10th day (approx.). 7 days ago D-dimer was 312 (that is 3 days into symptoms) and 7 days into symptoms D-Dimer is 461. Worry?” A resounding silence was the answer. Wish you all well in the US. The storm is not over yet. If I sound angry and frustrated, it is because I am, why have some chosen to abandon their place of origin? You are in the US/UK/whatever other place outside of India, now because India made it possible. How quickly we forget. How easily we walk away. As Queen said, “All Dead.”
May 10, 2021, Commentary from AC 140: Today I was reminded of the goodness of people. The day started as expected — a call for a bed, then a call for a medicine. The call came from a bondhu who has just recovered from COVID-19. The network, growing stronger by the day, kicked in. I told the COVID-19 recovering bondhu that I will start working on the asks. But this is where the goodness of a person kicks in. The selfless nature of my bondhu became clear, when I heard that even before I was able to get the medicines lined up, the person had gone to a medicine shop and managed to obtain the medicines. Only those who have had COVID-19 will know how much effort it takes to even walk when the COVID-19 episode was over. This person went to a medicine shop to help another bondhu. That got me thinking. The amazing courage (and perhaps a little recklessness) of the person came into focus when I saw that there were O2 concentrators on sale, again information sent by another bondhu in the network. I thought if I had the money (these cost $1,250 each) I would get a few and then set up a system to make them available to people in need. I needed money. Who could I turn to? And quite naturally, I thought of the people I have spent my professional life with — my friends and colleagues in the Department of Communication at Wake Forest and a few other people I feel truly close to — who live in America. I suddenly remembered I am from America, I am an American, and I should turn, in a personal way to my community of support at Wake Forest University. I have been a student there; I have taught there for 27 years. These are my people as much as everyone in Calcutta that I know. Remember, I am the worm hole that connects India with Wake Forest. Along with my wife. The call, “Where are you” was met with such an overwhelming response that I realized how generous and well-meaning the people of Wake Forest can be. Their collective generosity will go a long way to help my people in Calcutta. People like me bridge the two Worlds, even if Kipling insisted, “the twain shall never meet.” And in that bridging, perhaps there will be a point where we realize that to the virus we are all the same, and it will kill with “equal opportunity” as it did a 11-year old a few days ago as recounted by a dear friend who witnessed the child’s passing. At this moment, I actually disagree with Floyd when they said, “Money — it’s a gas.” No. The generosity of the folks in Winston-Salem, tucked away in the foothills of the Appalachians, will save some lives in the Hooghly Delta city of Calcutta. I remain humble in gratitude to the COVID-19 survivor whose loyalty to friends trumped the risk to self and the many many bondhus at Wake Forest.
There was a morning rush for AB+ plasma. I was told to see if I could find the plasma
There is hope. There is goodness. There is death.
The initiatives supported by Wake are well under way
May 11, 2021 Commentary. Place does not matter: People do. I saw two things today that I would say are life changing. First, I saw a community in Winston Salem come together in solidarity with the people in Calcutta. Second, I saw COVID-19 survivor in Calcutta working the phones to find care for people. In a moment of hopeful exhilaration I saw the heroes, coming forth some 8,500 miles away in North Carolina, and another in Calcutta, still coughing from a receding COVID-19, a person selflessly helping just as my colleagues and friends at Wake Forest pledging for unknown faces. I am in the middle. And it is a heavy burden to bear. For the person in Calcutta I was in the middle trying to connect with people I know who can offer the support the person needed. For the people in Winston I bear the vital and weighty responsibility of applying their pledges for the best I can do for Calcutta. I stand humbled before all in Winston and the survivor in Calcutta. This is why I removed the place marker, because wherever I am I promise I will always be here. I will remain a WA message away or a phone call away. “Are you there?” And my failure to answer the question will be the sure sign that I am no longer of consequence. Yes, I introspect, because today was a day like that. There was a morning rush for AB+ plasma. I was told to see if I could find the plasma. My first instinct was me. I am vaccinated, I must have antibodies and I may be able to offer it. That is when I realized I did not know my blood type. I shot off a hurried message to my doctor in Winston, “what is my blood group.” A stunning response came about 12 hours later, “We do not obtain that information on patients outside of pregnancy as it is not of any relevance and not covered by insurance.” Let that sink in. It is not covered by insurance. Health care in America. Welcome to the nightmare. So, I was not a candidate for plasma; that ask was soon followed by a need for home care for an elderly person living alone and needing care. That took some time. But success. A moment of joy. Yes, someone will come for 7 days. The person will be cared for if the family agrees. The COVID-19 survivor who set it up came back frustrated later in the day, “now the family wants to wait.” All the work down the drain. Such are the challenges of volunteering, I shot off a few words of encouragement and then I turned my face into the ferocious Kaal Baisakhi that stormed through Calcutta this afternoon — the cleansing of the City — and now at 8 pm in the evening I have to make a dreaded phone call to a dear friend about his wife, “what was the test result?” Led Zep’s words echo on the Stairway to Heaven, “And a new day will dawn for those who stand long, and the forests will echo with laughter Remember laughter?”
May 12, 2021 Commentary from someplace: On the verandah again, 8:30 pm. There is a little more noise tonight. There are people standing in front of the community center and talking. There is a TV on somewhere I can hear some melodramatic Bengali serial drifting through the air. A cyclist goes by. The air is fragrant with some sweet-smelling flower from the garden — I am not good with this — I do not know plants so well. But I do know death a little better now. Last night a friend had called for O2. An elderly person, COPD, and post-COVID-19 O2 issues. It is difficult to find O2 in the evenings. This morning my bondhu let me know that the person had died in the night. There were no other asks today. I spent a quiet day. Went to Mahavir Vikas for a bit. Needed to get away. I find Mahavir Vikas (you need to have followed the narrative to know what I am referring to) a nice peaceful getaway. My phone is on the Airtel network which offers no coverage in the Mahavir Vikas area. When I enter that house I am cut off from the World. Sometimes it is a good thing. Disconnected but not disoriented. I had time to think. I had time to plan for an ethical, responsible, and effective use of the generosity of my bondhus at Wake Forest. Earlier, I had spoken to people. Some came up with amazing ideas. In the process I had an opportunity to rethink what we mean by trust. Who can I trust with the responsibility of offering what is one of the greatest needs in Calcutta now — oxygen. But then, as I talked, I realized that there are other needs — food for families where the primary revenue generator has been furloughed because of the sotto lockdown, medicines, just plain old reliable phone number to call for O2. And then the breakthroughs started coming. I received a message from three generous souls in Calcutta. People who have stepped up to the plate to offer much-needed service. Youngsters all off them. Students I have worked with, all in Universities in Calcutta. Pursuing their chosen professions in communication, but not forgetting that there is a life out there that is desperately saying, “Where Are You?” And these three are ready to respond with “Here I am.” For whatever the little I can do, they say, which is much more than nothing. Just like my COVID-19 survivor bondhu who continues to support and grows stronger every day. There is hope. There is goodness. There is death. After a long time, after a long phone conversation with a bondhu, I feel good, there is still much to be done and it will be done, because people are coming together. There are communes being built. Even if Delhi remains quiet and pictures of bodies floating in rivers is displayed as COVID-19-porn on international TV screens to earn additional advertising Dollars — we will make it here in Calcutta, because of the people who are energized, from a humble Devdas, my auto rickshaw driver, to a Member of the Legislative Assembly of the newly elected government in Bengal who wants to meet with me, it seems in their own ways everyone wants to act — because as Phil Collins said, “I can feel it coming in the air tonight, (Oh lord)/And I’ve been waiting for this moment, for all my life, (Oh lord)/Can you feel it coming in the air tonight, oh lord, (Oh lord),” while another cleansing Kal Baisakhi sweeps through Calcutta cooling the soul.
May 13, 2021 Commentary from someplace: A good day. No one in my larger circle died. Even better. My COVID-19 surviving bondhu is getting stronger by the day. But there is still a lot of deaths in Calcutta, and in my state. Although the numbers are always less than what reality may be, the fact remains the numbers are still not turning downwards, in fact, some “experts” are claiming that we have not peaked in West Bengal yet. The word “peaked” had such a pleasant meaning for a person who has spent most of his life in the foothills of the Appalachian — the bright orange and yellow colors of oak and maple peak in October and people rush to my state, North Carolina, to see the peaking colors. Now in my state, West Bengal, we are waiting for the peaking of deaths, and in a few months, I will still ride up the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the other peaking. This duality of my existence was perhaps the fountainhead for what happened in the connection between Wake Forest and Salt Lake, as one bondhu said, “Salt Lake and Wake Forest must co-exist.” An indeed we will. Today was an important day for that. The initiatives supported by Wake are well under way. Spent the day setting up the sourcing and supply chain for care packages for a set of families who have lost income due to the lockdown. Now we are in the execution phase, the process will begin on Monday. In another conversation was able to talk to three dedicated young people who will be the seeds of the oxygen call center while I completed a registration form. It was real work, not planning, but doing. The virtual call center will go online on Monday as well. Then ventured into Calcutta, after many days, in a cab and went to Rowdon street to collect the oxygen concentrators. Realized something. In the suburban Salt Lake we seem to pay attention to details of a lockdown, but central Calcutta is different. Everything was open in the predominantly Muslim neighborhood of Park Circus, after all it is the weekend of Eid, shops were also open on Park Street. The shop I visited to collect the concentrators was shockingly full. Masked but not distanced. In the relatively tiny shop there were a lot of people. All masked. The air conditioning was running at full blast. I handed over the credit card and stepped outside. But then they insisted on demonstrating how to use the concentrator. So back inside. I said seven minutes is all they have to show me how to use it. This was really unnecessary because I had read the manual and watched the video. But they had their protocol. I was out in 5 minutes, back in the car and back home. Then another generosity was showered on me. My cousin brother, now stuck in Delhi, had his car delivered to me for me to use. I have wheels. I feel like a teenager (with white hair). I can now go anywhere, in an air-conditioned car, by myself. Today I am Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” and I “Never wanna die.” Amazing what a car can do to an American in Salt Lake City.
The virtual call center will go online on Monday
Their dignity need not be compromised by help
No cars, no taxis, no autos, no buses — no transportation
May 14, 2021 Commentary from somewhere: First my humble thanks to my loyal readers. I am honored to know that there are some who read these ramblings every day. Indeed, I was told that when I am late in my postings a reader wonders why I have not posted yet. This is gratifying and the best accolade a writer can expect. Others have encouraged me to keep writing. That too is the lifeblood for writers. That said, today was a productive day. There was no more bad news from my immediate circle. Indeed, it was constructive news. The three people that have come forward to set up the call center have self-organized and have an organizational structure in mind. This is what is most admirable of the youngsters — those who are capable and actually keep promises — they tend to work things out and need little supervision. I am really proud of this team and hoping to see good things come out of this — simple things — connect a family with oxygen. In no alternate universe did I imagine that there will have to be an effort where people need to be connected to oxygen. The headlines in Ananda Bazaar Patrika keep on stating the grating news of the mismanagement of oxygen distribution and the havoc it is creating. Yet, some of this is artificial. This is why our team is focusing on finding the reliable numbers and the vendors who would actually be able to help. Help. Such a nasty word. What gives me the right or privilege to help — it carries a Missionary notion of saving the “natives.” Actually, I do not need help, I need support. I need to know that I can turn to someone when I need additional resources to cope. This is the strategy for offering support to the families who are struggling with COVID-19 related income loss. They are not looking for help. Their dignity need not be compromised by help. Thus the plan is to create a network of families who will all make a few calls when there is a frantic demand for O2 to support the call center. There is no free lunch. This is how we build community, symbiotic. Everyone looking out for everyone else. Thus, Devdas and I tolerated the mid-day sun in May in Calcutta and trekked out to Muchibazzar to procure the staples for the families at a wholesale rate to be responsible with the money so graciously offered by many at Wake.
Muchibazaar is usually a busy wholesale market, but thankfully, being the day of Eid, it was not terribly crowded. We collected bags of rice, daal, soybean protein, and potatoes all packed in the auto-rickshaw. Tomorrow the packaging, and on Monday is the first round of the bi-weekly distribution. In return is the ardent expectation that the cellphones of the recipient families will be available to say, “here I am” when someone calls their number looking for O2. It is the real-life version in Calcutta of what Stevie Wonder and many others said, “lean on me.”
May 15, 2015 Commentary from someplace: It was a different kind of day. The morning was quiet. Relatively unbusy. I was waiting for the calls for different needs. Instead I got a call from a stranger. I did not recognize the number but went ahead and answered it. This also coincided with the inevitable call for O2. But today I was prepared. I could say that if the O2 was crucial then there was a O2C on hand and it would be a matter of setting up the logistics. But the person who called was acknowledging the fact that he had heard of the tiny efforts that I was involved and was extending a helping hand. Much needed and much appreciated. We exchanged notes and agreed to collaborate. We agreed to meet in the evening. But things changed rapidly today. Early in the afternoon, the state government made a quick decision in the face of the growing COVID-19 numbers — a stricter lockdown starting on May 16. Tomorrow. I am now definitely not allowed to leave my home. The car I was so excited about will now lie useless. No cars, no taxis, no autos, no buses — no transportation. The shop hours are more restricted, and a night curfew starting at 9 pm on Sunday till 5 am the day after. How will I go to Mahavir Vikas? How will we distribute the food, or transport the O2 concentrators? This was maddening. The answer seemed to lie with my auto rickshaw driver. I called him and told him I was coming to see him. I decided to go for a drive — the last one for some time. The drive took me through most of Salt Lake leading me to the Eastern Bypass leading me into the high rises of New Town. I have been on this road hundreds of times. Today the road was empty, even for a Saturday it was empty. The sotto lockdown and the anticipation of the big one seemed to have slowed the city even further. I did not have an address for the destination. Devdas had suggested it would be complicated for me to find the place. He met me on his motorbike outside of one my known landmarks — Nazrul Mancha. And then I was led into the most revealing drive of my recent life. We left the high rises behind, and the modernity of New Town gave way to what lower middle-class Calcutta looks like. The boulevard narrowed to roads, and then lanes crowded with two-wheelers, street hawkers and we finally reached a part of Calcutta where many in Calcutta might not even go. There are many such places like this in Calcutta, almost a Dickensian place which is often unknown to the ones in the high rises. People from these communities actually go to the malls and parlors and restaurants that populate New Town and work in these places. Most often these two Worlds do not meet other than in transactional settings. Today I was there, this is the place, Gobindapur, where the food would be distributed.
This is the home of Devdas, this is where he came from every day to give me the rides on his auto in Salt Lake and New Town. And now, he was offering another solution. He assured me that he will get a special permit to ply his autorickshaw during the impending lockdown and we will keep our operation going. I needed that boost, and as I drove back the words of Aerosmith were in my mind, “Don’t get mad, get even.” Lockdown? Bring it on.
A Dickensian place which is often unknown to the ones in the high rises
There are rumors that Calcutta will be in lockdown for several weeks
The terror of Calcutta seems to clash with the complacency of Winston
May 16, 2021 Commentary from someplace else: First day of lockdown.
If you all know me, I am very troubled when anyone tells me that I can or cannot do something. I was told that I cannot drive my car. That is the last thing you want to say to an American. The car is my life. I know a bondhu who spent two years living in the car. Thus, the dictum that I cannot drive my car, or lose my mobility, is a terrifying concept to me. But the lockdown had its small dividends. Sitting on the verandah this morning I heard more birds than I have heard before, there were few other sounds. The shunting of the good trains at Ultadanga Junction, the occasional roar of a flight coming into Calcutta or whisking people away from the stricken city were the distractions. There was a solitary man doing Pranayama Yoga in the park, the usual Sunday morning martial arts group was not there. The morning hawkers with their fresh fish, the mangoes, and the occasional vegetables were not out. My trusted newspaper man, with whom I always exchange niceties, handed me the paper, as he does every day as I sip my coffee on the verandah, and we lamented of the woes that face us. My mobility was still on my mind. When I am in Winston, I usually shower early in the morning and get ready to face the day, when I am in Calcutta, I usually wait till it gets nice and hot and take a leisurely shower. Today was different. I wanted to test the lockdown. Got into the car with an O2 concentrator and a shopping back and ventured out, the appendages were to offer a plausible story to the police if I was stopped. The roads were empty. There were hardly any cars on the street. Salt Lake looked different. Drove around a bit, felt nice. Not being able to get out would have been debilitating. Later, it turned out to be a hot afternoon. An ideal Sunday to put on some tunes and sort of laze the afternoon. The evening was no different. A few phone calls, a zoom gathering, some drivel about deaths in India on CNN, and the Hunt for Red October. In the middle of this, the work went on. The O2Cs will soon find a rightful use, the call center will come online next week and Devdas and I worked out the food distribution. I will not be able to attend, but they will take care of the distribution and WhatsApp video me into it. The isolation is tough, the constant WA existence and the yearning for human contact is tricky to deal with. But this will go on for a while. Now it is night. It is quite in the neighborhood and another night is on the City. The deaths go on, as if a bye line in our existence. There are rumors that the curve is turning at the national level. There are rumors that Calcutta will be in lockdown for several weeks. And in the meantime, Shibani, the lady who cleans Mahavir Vikas, called and said that she is still working and wanted to know when I will be able to come and open the house. Someday next week, as long as I allowed to drive and go places. Drive. It is the old refrain from Beatles, “You can be a star of the street.” But now, after 9 pm, we are in a state-wide curfew.
May 17, 2021 Commentary from some special place: Lockdown day 2. Quiet. The morning birds chirped. There were no calls for O2 or plasma or beds. It is not that people do not need it, but in my circle there is a sense of peace. A couple I am close to, elderly, are experiencing the disease, but they are stable. There might actually be a sense of resignation in Calcutta about this. There is a presumption that we will all get it. In some form. And then we will be OK. At least some of us. Bad news seems to come in clumps, a week ago there was complete mayhem in my circle. Today it was peaceful. Tomorrow could open up a torrent of needs. Salt Lake is quiet. There are hardly any cars on the road. I drove around a bit. To kill the boredom of the morning, after I had caught up with the emails and other work. Things started to happen in the afternoon. One of the O2C had a home. A quick agreement had to be drawn up, conversations and arrangements for pickup of the machine to be engaged immediately for offering relief, courtesy Wake Forest colleagues. The team at the virtual call center are energized and we have a plan of action to authenticate the tons of O2 supplier numbers we have gathered and create a list of reliable vendors. Within this mundane is hidden the terrifying reality of continuing illness. In Salt Lake we may not see it clearly but there are reports of violation of the lockdown rules as well, the rules haves left many loopholes. I did not see a single police pickets or any attempt to curb my driving as I roamed around the empty streets of the suburb. Reminded me a little of Winston, where I will have to be soon, leaving behind, temporarily, the initiatives here. Which are now underway. Thanks to the generosity of people in Winston, today, 50 families in Gobindapur received some basic sustenance as we all struggle through the lockdown. It has offered more time without a doubt. I used that time to go to the USA. Watched some CNN in the afternoon when America sleeps, and CNN regurgitates the pointless drivel about political infighting. But this is a way to reconnect. Eventually went to New York via Pelham 123 and I was immersed in America for a bit in the darkened projection room. When I exited the cocoon of the cool room I stepped outside into a 100F summer sun. Two Worlds. Two realities. And trying to negotiate them. An old bondhu called from UK. We talked about my life in India. The driving. The nostalgic familiarity of the room of my youth was juxtaposed with the lived reality of the Appalachians, where I heard the weather is pleasant and masks are off. A cold sweat run down my back as I learn about the risky move in America — only a third vaccinated — and masks are coming off. The terror of Calcutta seems to clash with the complacency of Winston. I am seeing what complacency has done to Calcutta. Hopefully, it will not happen in Winston. These are confusing times of unknown peril. This plague has no bias and neither any logic. A husband may die, but the wife might not even test positive. Puzzles we may take a long time to solve. And you want to ask, as the words from Jesus Christ Superstar plays in the background, “What’s the buzz, tell me what’s a-happening?”
May 18, 2021 Commentary from the road: The heat is on. It was a scorching day. My simple pleasure of sipping a cup of coffee outside is being challenged by the heat. Even early in the morning. The birds have even gone quiet. Yet early this morning I had to do a quick tutoring on the use of an O2C. It is a curious machine. It makes O2 in some magical way. The person who picked it up called me about 30 minutes later after picking it up and was anxious that he had neglected to pick up the O2 tank. There is no tank, I said, the machine extracts O2 from the air and water of which there is plenty. It needs no help other than water, the air around us, and electricity. There is plenty of O2 in the air and in water. The machine just takes that abundance and provides the life-giving whiff. Actually, there is plenty of many things in the COVID-19 infested India, but there is no machine in Delhi to extract that goodness and channel it. Just like the O2C, a stand-alone unit, we are all standalone units. Humans who must extract goodness from the abundance of care we have around us. This is what Devdas and his team had done yesterday. But there is a lot of duplicity as well. The call center team was hard at work today, I must confess I have not done my part of my duties for the call center yet. But one of the “Wake O2 Angels,” yes, that is what these young volunteers are being called, did her part and the sad thing is that out of the numbers tried, only 40% are genuine. The rest are fake. There is a lot of fake numbers for O2 and other things circulating in the community. WhatsApp is replete with these numbers, leading to immense frustration among people who are desperately seeking help. Hopefully, the support from my colleagues from Wake Forest University will create a genuine set of numbers, at least for O2 and then we will move on to other needs. Information is what we need. Where are the medicines, where is O2, where are the beds? Someone in my larger circle died today. I hear it, I send a note of condolence and I move on. I went on a drive in the evening. The roads are thankfully empty. I just drove around looking for something. Not sure what I was looking for, but some sign of hope in the shuttered down Salt Lake. A few stray cars, the dogs on the street roaming freely. A cat crossed my path. My superstitions kicked in. Stopped the car, reversed, waited, and went on, still a little apprehensive. A cat crossing your path is never good news. The comfort of the lie that I was delivering a O2C was absent, so I was doubly apprehensive. The O2C is no longer with me. I had some medicines in a bag, just in case I was stopped, I could claim that I was picking up medicines. The night got dark quickly, and I came back. I am hoping the cat that crossed my path was not Richard’s Devil Woman, “cat with them evil eyes.” I do not know what Yash has in store for us.
A cat crossed my path
Nothing will be the same again even though there is this maddening fixation to return to the pre-COVID-19 days
I saw the desperation in families over WA
May 19, 2021 Commentary from a screen: The night is still. Gruesome hot. A humid air hang on us. Perhaps a precursor of the storm forming in the distant waters. My bondhu said that there is uncertainty about the storm. It can go in any of many directions. I sit in my airconditioned cocoon, which I have made into, what another bondhu said, “a cinema hall” a throwback to the days of single screen small cinema halls in cities all over the World. In the hall I was in America — watching the continuing drivel handed out to dumbed down audiences by important-sounding “pundits” pontificating on pointless things. The important things are different. Those concern the lived lives, where the news does not matter, but the reality of 70% O2 saturation matters. How does one pull out of a 70% saturation? My trusted contractor/builder, Saidul, recorded a 70%. He had to be rushed to the hospital and now his community is pulling together to save a life. Abdul and I spoke today. He lamented that he had not thought of informing me earlier when the symptoms started. A hurried set of WA messages, a long list of medicines sent to me. “Are these OK?” “What should we do?” Keep him alive. That is all. I looked through the list. Having done this for some time, I know what to look for. Whoever the doctor is, seems to be following the correct regimen. I would only add some blood thinners. Hurried exchange of messages. Has a D-Dimer been done? A scan? No, should these be done? I am not a doctor and I feel helpless, the man gave me a new home, I am indebted to him. This is a man with a family, just had his grandchild born in February. I had reprimanded him for neglecting the work, until he finally confessed, “Babu hospital e chilaam, natni hoeche.” Congratulations, a granddaughter. We did a little celebration. Then Eid was around the corner as Ramadan was coming to an end. He came by to see me about 2 weeks ago, promised to bring me some halim and firni. Eid came and went, no halim nor any firni. I had forgotten about it — had got busied up with other things. And then the news today. On his eighth day, and still needing O2 all the time. Abdul said he had access to O2. Relax. The balancing act was the steady recovery of the wife of another bondhu, now past the 14th day. In what life did we ever imagine that the 14th day would be such an important marker. The separation between wellness and anxiety. COVID-19 has indeed changed everything. It is like the World War 2, a time of inflexion — a time to realize we are changed forever. Nothing will be the same again even though there is this maddening fixation to return to the pre-COVID-19 days. Did the World ever want to return to the pre-1939 days? Why do we so hanker for the pre-COVID-19 days and not honor the fallen and accept a new way of doing everything? As Joel said, “we didn’t start the fire, but we tried to fight it.” Perhaps, it is time to look past this fire and build a post-COVID-19 world and not claw back to a pre-COVID-19 world.
May 20, 2021 Commentary from a keyboard: Good news. Saidul is getting better. An interesting situation. When I posted the story about him, there was an outpouring of concerns from my physician bondhus only in India. Many came forward and asked for the medicine regimen and many offered suggestions that might save a life. What I am starting to realize that proximity is crucial. Those far away read these things with perhaps detached disinterest. Those on the ground understand what it means, and the challenges. That is the real good news — the response to the call, “where are you?” and some come forward immediately. The morning was different, the sky was a little bit clearer, and a strange wind was blowing. The storm is on the way. Date unspecified, but something in brewing in the Bay. I spent the day indoors, pondering over what we have experienced over the last several months. I feel like I am in a different place now and going back to the old ways of Pre-COVID-19 will be tricky. Much has changed. Not just the deaths that have stretched across the globe, but also the horrendous mistakes made by governments and us all. I witnessed what happens to someone who gets the disease, up front, and not as a doctor, who have witnessed the horrors. I was a mere bystander. I answered the frantic calls, I saw the desperation in families over WA. And not just me, many many people in India experienced this over the last month, as did people in Rome, Naples, New York (the list is endless) did at other times. How can we say that there is no lesson? How can some people ignore the calls? I did that last year sitting in the comfort of a cocoon called Winston-Salem and now I feel guilty in how little we did. But there are still people in such cocoons who would rather be comfortable than take the risk — go out and do something. Something because people will die, while you remain cloistered and scared in your cocoon, people you love could die. The cruelly amusing part are the death numbers. The real and reported are so distant from each other that is almost macabrely comical. There is so much bad data that the impact of the disease seems to have been accentuated by a slew of bad information. Majority of the phone numbers circulated on WA are bad numbers, the medical advice on “WA Hospital” can be dubious, and realities are built around what people are seeing on WA. My work in communication once celebrated (in the late 1990s) the building of virtual communities and today we stand at a point where we really do not know what to trust in these communities as information gets forwards thousands of times bringing more confusion than support. And the spirit of Beatles reverberates in my head, “I read the news today, oh boy.” Indeed it is a A Day In the Life (or Death).
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