20 May, 2021 – Kankroli, Rajasthan, India

By Bhumika Soni

It’s been more than a year since I last wrote here.  While I felt the first wave of COVID in India mostly as a digital experience, through news and online content, the second feels closer. It feels like the second round of an unlucky lottery in which COVID has made a point of reaching deeper into the hinterlands of the country.

From first to second wave, a lot of things have changed for me. I quit my corporate job to pursue my academic interests. I have been attending my classes online since last December. I moved from a metro city to a small town, and consequences seem much closer.  In Bangalore, I lived in an apartment and interacted with just one neighbor.  A COVID positive case in the society was just another whatsapp update. But here, back home, it is different. Everyone knows everyone; you can’t live in a silo. There are no online delivery services and, even taking precautions, you have to go out of the house to buy your essentials.

Every day I sit at my computer to try and get a slot for vaccination.  But each day, the limited slots are filled in a second. It’s a game of fastest fingers first as there is only one health centre that is vaccinating people in the 18-45 age group. My friends and I crib about it for some time and then share memes about vaccination procedure, happy to be safe and sound so far.

Near my home, lives a Dalit community. Our settlements are built on hilly ground, theirs above ours. We have a temple in our colony and some families join us for evening prayers from their windows and terraces. Over the years I have seen their small houses turn into sturdier structures, as younger generations were able to access education and better jobs.  Yet the divide remains, we are neighbours at a distance, and most members of the community still work as janitors in government departments, the municipality and public hospitals.

 This morning I heard voices crying. My mother told me that someone has died and probably it is because he or she was a cleaner in the government hospital, with no choice but to perform their duties. This is not the first death in that community. A few days back, another woman died. She too was a government servant. These are helpless cries. Every time I hear such news my heart stops for a second. I feel sad and selfishly relieved at the same time. I thank God I was not the one picked in this unlucky lottery. I become a silent witness of this apocalypse with its fangs protruding ever deeper.

I got to hear about the death of a close cousin’s husband, leaving behind his wife, 2 year old son and aged parents. What kind of deaths are these where you can’t even see the person and bid last goodbyes? The body is packed in the PPE kit and is discarded like rotten vegetables. 

 What were just numbers and headlines in the newspaper turn out to be somebody close, somebody you had known, somebody you had watched distantly in your daily routine. A link in that chain is disconnected – the milkman, the newspaper guy, the cleaners, everyone working essential services. I fear for the vendors who pass daily – if they don’t die from the virus, they’ll probably die from hunger. They are not even in the lottery. They service the game itself; the game of life and death the country has fallen into. I hope this ends soon.