Two Conversations

The first was with an old friend who now lives in the United States. We go back 35 years, studied journalism together and shared an apartment for some years.

We have, what my wife says, “venting calls” ever so often. Both he and I belong to a different time and are mostly unable to comprehend why we as people are the way we are when we always have had the option of being otherwise.We make predictions — political and economic — and they mostly come true.

Not so long back we had discussed the possibility of the Covid virus hitting India hard and mutually agreed we could potentially witness a catastrophe. We predicted reasons that would lead India into a dark tunnel where the only light would be those of many pyres. I don’t want to list them, but they all came true.

The other morning we spoke again and tried to not despair even as we talked about what this latest surge was doing to India and Indians — friends, families, colleagues, acquaintances, neighbours and even strangers. He told me he had lost a few relatives to Covid and his elder brother was in the ICU for the past five days. I told him about the challenges we as a people, a nation, were facing. He was sounding brave, but I knew he was rattled.

There is little he can do sitting far except worry. He said he had hardly been able to focus on work in the past 10 days because of the deaths in his family.We spoke about our journey as journalists, worried over the current state of the media and wondered when and where this would end.

He told me to get my sons out of the country, reminding me of a story about one of his relatives who always said he believed in the “Quit India Movement” and had, therefore, first sent his children overseas and then followed them.We also tried to look for funny things in these dire times and laughed nervous laughs.

At one point he got distracted, as his wife called out from another part of his house as he laughed. “No, no I am not crying” he told his wife.

We got to start getting very worried when our laughs begin to sound like sobs. Also when Supreme Court judges and children of politicians die, friends and relatives don’t get oxygen and common people have to be cremated by the roadside because cremation grounds have run out of space.My second conversation was with someone who had a role in saving my life when I was struck by Covid and had to be hospitalised back in December.She’s a nurse at the hospital I was admitted to.

I don’t know what she looks like as everybody was wrapped in PPE suits, but she had dancing eyes and her voice was always calm. She was around for the first seven days of my stay in hospital and then she had a two-day break before she returned to bid me goodbye when I was discharged. “Don’t come back,” she said joyously, wagging a finger.

Large chunk of positivity

She had a steady hand and was happy to chat about her family and dreams and career as nurse. She became my source of information and there was a lot to learn from her about Covid, patient care, situation in the hospital, the tough cases and the deaths in the ward. She would also happily announce the number of patients who were recovering.

There was always a large chunk of positivity around her, which was welcome in an otherwise depressing place.

It struck me that she and her other colleagues who nursed me back to my feet and helped me get through a rather trying period would be in the midst of another battle as patients flowed in the second surge.I messaged her, asking how she was. I received a big smiley back.

“Haan ji, bilkul theek”, she wrote, asking me how I was doing. I asked her what it was like at the hospital, and she responded matter of factly.Patients are very critical. They are unable to hold oxygen (oxygen levels are volatile). Patients were much stable during the last surge.

This virus was definitely a new variant, she said.I asked her whether she was managing well and she said she was, that she was on night duty and asked me to look after myself.I then said I hoped her family was well. “I hope so,” she said, adding that her mother and younger brother had cough.

As always, I marvelled at her equanimity, her dedication to her work and the selflessness with which she cared for patients — stuck in that spacesuit and sweating under double masks and rubber gloves for many hours.I told her that I considered myself lucky that I survived. “Yessss,” she wrote back.

Her display picture on WhatsApp tells more about her. “Shukr hai rabba tune mainu dukh sehna sikhaya, kisi nu dukh dena nahin. She is just one of the tens of thousands of frontliners in this battle we are all waging. We should be grateful to people like her.

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