Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Not in my Name

December 6, 1992.
I was in the final year of college when karsevaks climbed the dome of the Babri Masjid and brought it down. I watched in shock and horror, but there was little else I could do.
The press condemned it, there were editorials written, but gradually it died down.
Everyone I knew condemned the demolition of the mosque, and I certainly believed that the people who had destroyed the structure were a fringe element.
What I didn't realise then was that the India I had grown up in was changing in ways I couldn't fathom.

A lot happened in the years since then.
Hindutva established itself as a mainstream political ideology. Vigilante crimes against Muslims got normalised. The Ayodhya case dragged on in the courts.
Through it all, I hoped that at least in the Court, justice would be done.

November 9, 2019
Like many others, I was following the judgement closely. I was shattered when the final ruling was read out.
It has been the last chance for the nation to apologise for a wrong committed, and the nation had chosen not to.

In the months after the Ayodhya verdict, the Muslim community has been targeted in many other ways. The 'otherisation' has been normalised. Nobody even bothers to put up a pretense of 'secularism' any more.
The India I thought I grew up in is no more.

August 5, 2020
In the numbness that follows grief, the Bhoomi Poojan of the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya is just one more nail in the already sealed coffin of secularism. I no longer even relate to it.
And yet, I will reiterate; the temple that comes up is not in my name.

Monday, July 27, 2020

After you hear, “I’m positive”

“I'm positive.”
The two words all of us have hoped we will not have to hear.
The two words that my husband uttered when I least expected it.
He had been quite ill the previous week. But the symptoms were of a regular viral fever, not of COVID.
I was dismissive when his boss told him to get the PCR test done. I'd told everyone it was not COVID.
It couldn't be.
Yet, it was.
"Are you sure?", I asked running over the symptoms all over again.
For a few moments, everything went blank, then the brain kicked in. His temperature which had been really high was now under control. He'd had his first proper meal an hour back. He was getting better.
But what the kids and me?
Since none of us had worn space suits, we were all at risk. We had all handled the microwave, the fridge and the TV remote. Though he'd been confined to his room most of the previous week, I had spent the whole weekend with him.
It was a scary thought.
"I don't think we should tell the kids."
"Of course we need to." I'd always involved them in decisions concerning all of us.
They were surprisingly stoic- "Papa is better, isn't he?"
And had the facts - "We shouldn't panic. Most cases don't involve hospitalisation."
What we chose not to discuss was that I had been running fever for two days, and both of them had been coughing since morning.

I got in touch with a doctor friend who gave invaluable advice. "Assume that all of you are positive. Track the vitals and treat the symptoms."
Luckily I'd already bought an oxymeter, and we had an extra thermometer, so all I had to do was to create a google spreadsheet to track the vitals. The kids were given access to the sheet with strict orders to keep it updated if I wasn't well enough to do so.
ATM cards and credit cards with PINs were also given to the kids for safe keeping, though I am not sure why.
And with that began the official quarantine. Inform the apartment complex. Ask the househelp not to come. Tell people at work. Dodge questions from relatives.

I'd been in the middle of putting a presentation together when the report came. Finishing that, and making a pitch to a potential partner was an effort of will. But the distance it required also put things in perspective; you just had to take it a minute at a time.
"One day at a time", became the motto when our neighbours were acting obnoxious. Every mealtime, every load of laundry, every pile of dishes became monumental when none of you was feeling well.
Small things were difficult- like teaching the dog to pee on a pile of newspapers.

But we really couldn't complain, because while we were all slightly unwell, our symptoms were mild.
While the medical response in Hyderabad had virtually collapsed, thankfully we didn't need it.
And the only thing we hoped for was that we would continue to not need it.

Two days after the test result, my husband's temperature returned to normal, and he complained that the adrakwali chai had too much ginger.
The kids had both stopped coughing, and my younger one and I were on a regular dose of paracetamol to keep out temperature in check.
We were having Vitamin C and Zinc tablets, and ensuring adequate fluid intake. And we ignored all the people who suggested homeopathic remedies and HCQ.
Eating healthy was not always possible because we depended on Swiggy to provide one meal every day. We just did our best.

His symptoms had gone by the time the three of us got our tests done. And in the three days it took for the results to come, my symptoms had worsened.
Very strangely, all three of us tested negative; it is too much of a coincidence that we all fell ill with a different virus at the same time.
We continued to assume we were every combination of positive and negative.
We kept tracking our vitals.
We tried to be in different rooms, wore masks when we came near each other. We washed our hands before touching things others might later touch, and sanitised surfaces.
And we laughed often at the irony of SARS CoV 2 entering our home when we were all so careful about masking, sanitising and physical distancing in public.
Till I found an article saying that amount of exposure could determine severity of infection, which justified masking up.

Right now, I am the only one who's ill. Fever, body ache, lethargy. But even I am getting better every day. In three days the official quarantine will be over. We would be deemed recovered. Life can go back to what we called 'normalcy' before the virus entered our lives.
If I could summarise our experience, it would be just this-
- arm yourself with facts so you know what to expect
- home quarantine is physically stressful, but better for mild cases
- tracking oxygen saturation three times a day is critical so you aren't caught unawares
- find a doctor you can trust, and who doesn't mind you bugging him with stupid fears.
- worrying doesn't help, nor does overthinking; just take it one day at a time (and this was a tough one for me)
- smile; it is not always as bad as we fear it could be

We might go for an antibody test to find out whether we actually had COVID. Or we may not. Either way, it would be an academic exercise. Mild cases do not provide immunity for more than 60 days, so we will continue as we did before- wear masks, maintain physical distance and practice hand hygiene. And SMILE.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

How do you react when someone in your Apartment tests positive

The way things are now going, it is only a matter of time before someone in your physical vicinity tests positive for COVID-19.
Rather than wait for the local authorities to lay down strategies after the results, it is best to prepare in advance.
Come up with a set of guidelines on the steps that would be taken, and get the buy-in of all the residents. When framing these strategies, make sure you also put yourself in the position of the household testing positive, and ensure their needs are covered.
Since there will be movement restrictions on all the people in the household where a person has tested positive, make sure enough thought is given to how they will have access to essential goods and services.
Procure any special products that may be needed in case a household needs to be sealed off.
Asking them to put out garbage in special bags meant for toxic waste will not be sufficient- the bags would have to be made available to them because they can't go out and get it.
If possible, run these guidelines through with those of the local municipality, to ensure they are aligned. This would ensure that quarantine measures can be put in place as early as possible.
All this should ideally be in place before the first case shows up.

Once the residents come to know that a person has tested positive, everyone shows concern and offers to help.
But vague offers are not very helpful. Especially in apartments where you don't really know your neighbours.
Be specific in what you can do to help.
"If you want something from the grocer, let me know", and "anytime you want chai, ask me or my kids", are two specific offers people have always taken me up on in the past.
(I know my limitations. If I attempt to feed them, I may end up poisoning them)
Food is a major concern in any house where there is a person/ persons self isolating. Household chores can be put off, but the family needs to eat.
If the residents in the apartment complex can get together and supply food, that would be an invaluable service.
Offering to make one trip per day to the grocer and/ or chemist is another tangible assistance that the residents can take turns in providing.
If there is a pet in the house, and you are willing, do offer to board the pet. That's one less hassle for the family to deal with
Also, do check in periodically. Ask about the patient. Ask about the other people in the house. Offer to help.
When the family is emotionally stressed, kindness does make a difference
If you think the household is violating the guidelines, be gentle in your tone when you remind them. They do not want to infect you any more than you want to be infected. Using an accusatory tone is not helpful in any way.
If there is an issue, talk it out and sort it out.
Always remember that today it is someone else, but tomorrow it could be you. Treat others like you would want to be treated. More importantly, when you test positive, a family that has already developed antibodies will be able to help you the most.
Make sure they will want to.

Friday, July 10, 2020

A slippery slope towards lawlessness

Seven months back, when the four people suspected of raping and killing Dr. Priyanka Reddy were killed in an encounter, many cheered. They thought the legal process was slow and and there is no guarantee that criminals will be punished. So rather than wait for justice to come, were happy that justice was delivered soon.
They wanted closure, and they got closure. But at what cost?
Vigilantism was normalised, by subverting the judicial process.

There are many crimes today that qualify as "rarest of rare". They are all heinous crimes. The criminals need to be punished. But due legal process has to be followed by the police and the judiciary. Evidence has to be collected, guilt has to be proved beyond any doubt, and the punishment should be as prescribed by law. If we think the process is slow, we should push for judicial reforms so the legal process is fast tracked in such cases.

But nothing can justify vigilantism.
The day we support one act of vigilantism, we forfeit the right to question other similar acts. And then we get on a slippery slope to lawlessness. We surrender all claims on any legal process.

Today, because you don't have the patience to wait for justice, you justify killing a rapist in an "encounter".
Tomorrow, the rapist's brother decides you are insulting him, and kills you.

The law cannot protect you, because you have neutralized the law by letting it be bypassed.

And who benefits when there is no law to protect?
The criminals.
The strongmen.
The people who have might.

Who loses?
The weak.
The marginalized.
The ones who require justice the most.

If you believe in justice, demand better laws and better implementation of existing laws.

Else, accept that you are partially responsible for all the crimes against the marginalized. Because you helped dismantle the laws that might have kept them safe.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

A whiff of Jasmine

A whiff of jasmine
I am five again.
Trotting beside my father.
The village temple
The warm granite courtyard
Pillars black with lamp soot.
A blast of cold air
Laden with scents-
Lamp oil
Tulsi leaves
And jasmine.
Always jasmine.
I inhale deep.
Jasmine. A thick garland
In life my father was austere
In death, covered with flowers.
Jasmine, rose, tuberose
A chain of tulsi leaves.
Nothing registers
Except the smell of jasmine.
He slides into the furnace.
The doors slam shut.
He is gone.

I am left with jasmine.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020


That thing you are taught to conquer. To deny.
The only thing you have to fear is fear itself you remind yourself when you face yet another situation you cannot control. You learn to manage the fear.
You make decision trees, you assess the risks, you assign weightages, and you tell yourself that even the worst isn’t as bad as the fear you have. You pat yourself on the head. You think you have conquered fear.
And yet, there days when you wake up at night, petrified for no reason. You are engulfed in fear, but you have no idea of what. Your normal strategies don’t work. You are paralysed. And you do not know why. This is primal fear.
You try hard not to think about it. It eventually fades away like a shadow does when the candle flickers out. And yet, you know the fear exists. And you know it will come back when you least expect it to.
And then Carrie Fisher comes along. “Stay afraid but do it anyway”, she says. That beautiful, flawed lady. The woman so different from the character she plays, yet so intrinsically linked to it. She tells you that your entire life was a myth. That you should be afraid.

Water terrifies me. It has since the time I nearly drowned when I was 7. Nobody ever spoke about the incident; most people I am sure forgot about it. But I never did. Even after I forced myself to learn to swim, I could never let myself go underwater. That moment of weightlessness when I dived wouldn’t last long. I’d come spluttering the surface. To safety.
I knew I had to go scuba diving. I had to tell my fear I was stronger than it was. The practice sessions were hard. Even though I knew very little could go wrong, I just couldn’t stay underwater.
Fear. My old friend refused to leave.
But Carrie Fisher was more persuasive. “Stay afraid but do it anyway”, whispered.
“Breathe continuously and never hold your breath.” The Golden Rule.
Breathe in and breathe out. Twelve meters down. Caught in school of fish rushing out of class at the ringing of a bell.
Breathe in and breathe out. That’s a pretty fish. Should we follow it home?
Breathe in and breathe out. Check the tank. Has it really been 30 minutes? Where did fear go?
You pause awhile at 3 meters. Breathe in and breathe out.
Then break out onto the surface. You cannot control your smile. That fear that ruled your life for 40 years is no more.
Yes, be afraid, but do it anyway. It is worth it.
You still fear fear. You know it may be back anytime. You know that all the knowledge and intellect cannot save you from fear. Yet you also know that fear need not stop you from doing anything.
You can be afraid and do it anyway.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Be Kind to Yourself

"The world does not revolve around you."
I don’t know who else needs to hear this, but I certainly do. There are days when I am almost paralyzed because of what is happening in the world around me.
Violence. Injustice. Poverty. Hopelessness.
A virus. Cyclones. Locusts.
A world seemingly spiraling out of control.
It breaks us. Every story of suffering. Of women giving birth and continuing on their journey. Of men almost reaching home after walking several hundred miles, and coming to hear of the death of a child. Of the wife who kept waiting for her husband to return, not knowing he had died and been cremated. Of the man who died of hunger because there was no food to be bought on train he was on.
We feel guilty because we cannot do enough.
But we need to realize that we have limited means, limited influence, limited time.
We can do our best, but that’s all we can do. We cannot feed every hungry person. We cannot bring back any of the lives lost to negligence. We certainly cannot change the direction of a cyclone so it expends it’s fury over the sea. We cannot reverse what has been done.
If we could, we would. But we can’t.
And beating ourselves up doesn’t help.
All it does is break us from within.

And then we feel guilty about feeling the way we do. We tell ourselves that others are worse off than us, and we have no right to feel broken or scared. It seems almost disloyal to acknowledge our helplessness. But the reality is that we are all overwhelmed, confused, worried.
Just because someone is worse off doesn't mean we cannot give in to our fears. Our feelings are real too. Very real.
We too are badly affected. And our emotional needs also count. Being kind to others is important, but before that, we need to be kind to ourselves too.
We should continue to be empathetic. Because empathy is what makes us what we are. But we should not allow our empathy to incapacitate us.


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