NAVIGATING NETWORKS

Covid affected someone close to me, and that’s when it got real. For some context, Z is my childhood best friend. I have known her since we were about four and five years old- and since she is a year younger than me, I always called her my little sister. We grew up like that over the last two decades. And her family is mine and mine hers. We remain inseparable. It was a whirlwind, to say the least. Her boyfriend called me and said, I don’t know if you’ve spoken to her, but her dadi is admitted to the hospital. I asked him if it was Covid-19, which back then was still something we didn’t fully understand- I don’t think we do even now, almost a year from then- and he said they don’t know, but maybe. I called her that evening, we spoke on the phone for some 20 minutes where she told me that her grandmom was currently on her way to the Covid centre at Worli, where their doctor said it would be best to keep her, just to be safe. They were still waiting for the results, but that her grandmom was doing fine and they were just going to monitor her. Obviously with there being a lockdown imposed and that it was a Covid centre, none of them could go check on her. I just remember being really scared since lockdown began. I think we all disassociated a little bit, looked for distractions and ways to not engage with what was happening outside. That it was too much of upheaval and too uncertain to be able to handle, and the only way to cope was to not think about it. This pandemic started to feel real again when it happened to her family and pushed it to the forefront when it affected someone so close to me. What if it was Covid? We still tried to tell ourselves it wasn’t and that we would wait and see. We had all read the articles, heard the stories, we knew how bad it was out there. But seeing her so helpless, knowing that there was nothing we could do except make do in this situation made that a long night. I tried calling her again that night but she slept. I remember the next morning, I was doing an online course, mainly as a way for me to feel productive- but I got a call from her mom and dropped everything. That’s when I got the first text from her- saying she got a call from their doctor saying she’s crashing and that she doesn’t know what that means. Worse, hospitals were out of beds, or they needed a Covid test result before they could admit her. I called a relative’s daughter who just graduated as a doctor and worked at KEM hospital, who tried her best. After scrambling for hospitals for close to two hours- trying to find personal contacts, sending SOS messages on other groups, broadcasting it on social media as a last resort and making calls to acquaintances and friends- she texted me ‘dadi passed away’. It was so fast. And we all felt so helpless. There was nothing we could do, and we tried our absolute best. It was the next day, and of course, the nightmare didn’t end. They had already isolated themselves at home- and were maintaining social distancing as much as they could in their 2-BHK. They still had to get the test results back, and her entire family had also gotten tested to be safe. They also had to do the burial- without the family being allowed to be present. All in one day. All while dealing with this loss. I remember there being a prayer meet held, that too on zoom. Amidst all of this, Z and her sister tested positive along with her dadi, and her parents tested negative. Which meant that her parents needed a spare house to stay in since they couldn’t stay together. Z’s nani’s house was an option for her parents, but those neighbours were suddenly not okay with them staying in the same building- even though they tested negative. There was a lot of fear of Covid in general, and it just so happened that her family was the first one who got tested and informed everyone that this was what had happened. But the neighbours in that building were not comfortable with them there, even after leveraging long-established relationships. Z and I had conversations at length about how fear drives people- even people you shared the same space with- but the fact that they were being driven to be completely inconsiderate and apathetic was something we never really expected. I just needed her and her family to catch a break. The next two days were spent trying to find accommodation for her parents while the sisters quarantined in their house. We called friends, spoke to our parents, our parent’s friends, trying to find any viable option or to see if anyone was willing to cut us a personal favour. When that got sorted out, it sunk in that these two had to do everything on her own for the next month- not just household chores, but also take care of themselves. And then there was another unnecessary annoyance, the neighbour who complained to the BMC using some networks, saying that they should not be allowed to home quarantine and that they should be taken to the centre. They refused and negotiated their way out; they knew they weren’t showing severe symptoms and would rather let the beds be there for someone who needed it. And the BMC knew that there was no substance to that complaint. I just remember spending my days being angry- angry for them, angry that they weren’t given a chance to even mourn death peacefully, angry that people were simply being terrible all around and making life difficult. But there was someone who gave us some hope. There was one neighbour in the building, who would drop hot food off outside their door every day- breakfast, lunch and dinner. The other neighbours chastised this lady for trying to help, saying she was putting all of them at risk, but she didn’t back down. And I’m so glad- even in moments of complete fear, there was someone who cared enough to think beyond themselves- be there for them, through the smallest acts of kindness.

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