Friday, April 30, 2021

I can't breathe


She trashes underwater

Clawing for air

Feet weighed down. 


She can see the surface-

Her children, their dreams.

Nani. She wants to be a Nani.

She doesn’t want to go.

Her husband makes calls.

She needs but a simple molecule-

Two atoms of oxygen in an eternal waltz.

The bottom looms closer.

She sinks.



“I can’t breathe”.

Her husband punches numbers.

The phone rings, unanswered.

Powerless to cut the call, he hopes.

There are no numbers left.

Helpless, he dials again.

He can’t meet her eyes.

He’s failed her- 

She who he promised to protect.

Her eyes seek his out. 

Her wide, terrified eyes.

“Save me”, they plead.

He can’t.

She’s gone.




Grief is a Bloody Moon.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

The Batch of 2021

Saturday, March 14, 2020 was like any other day for my son. He went to school, took his exam, and returned home. Some of them planned to celebrate the end of the exams on Tuesday by going out for a milkshake, so the good byes were rather hurried. Little did any of them suspect how long it would be before they met again.

That weekend, the Telangana Government declared that all schools would be shut for two weeks. The exam was hastily postponed to March 31, and my kid grumbled at having to revise Science for two weeks instead of two days. Then lockdown was announced, and extended. Somewhere, the school authorities decided to promote the entire class.

Grade 10 started with online classes. A few weeks dragged into a few months, and then into the entire year. There was a project they were working on, which lay in school abandoned. Even if we wanted to rescue it, we couldn’t have.

My son never really spoke about his classmates, but you could see he was missing school. “I wonder if someone is feeding the rabbits?”, he asked once. We concluded that it would be the goat that most missed the students and the staple diet of cold rotis and subji that they fed it.

Mid term exams came and went. The second semester began. There was talk of Practical Classes being conducted in school, but to the delight of the teachers, the parents vetoed it. Instead they were given substitute experiments they could perform at home.

We had to go to school to fill up the forms for the Board Exams. There was awkwardness when they met their classmates. It was as if the masks established barriers of formalness, and they could only be themselves while interacting online.

The curriculum got over. The online classes were for revision purposes only. This was the time when they should have been having farewells, both formal and informal. When they should have bunking classes and playing their last basketball games in the grounds that had been home for six years. When they should have been watching the last cycle of tadpoles metamorphosis into frogs in the lily pond. When they should have been reading the last books two books left unread in the school library. When they should have been reliving old memories and creating new ones what would last a lifetime. They were isolated at home, instead.

My son’s batch has been luckier than most. None among them tested positive for Covid. The parents that did were largely asymptomatic. There were no major upheavals in any of their lives. Very few of them lost family members from the extended family. But a year back, would we have considered that ‘lucky’?

The batch was supposed to have their Board Exams this year- that rite of passage that marked our graduation from kids to young adults. Despite an academic year like none other, the Board Exams were going to be as conventional as they had always been, with the addition of face masks and sanitizers.

Then the Exams were cancelled. People said they were ‘lucky’ because they passed the exams without having to take them. But is that really luck? Despite all the uncertainty, they worked hard throughout the year. They self-motivated themselves and attended the classes even though they knew the teacher would not find out if they didn’t. They adapted to a teaching methodology as unfamiliar to the teachers as it was to them. They figured out ways to seek help from each other, despite being miles apart. They were denied a ‘normal’ year, yet they did what they had to. They were also denied a logical culmination to the year- despite having prepared for them, they would have no Exams.

They should have been chilling after taking the Board Exams, trying not to think about the results. Instead they are at home, cut off from each other, unofficially locked down. They can’t bring themselves to put their books away, and to look at their ugly school uniforms one last time. They are worrying about COVID. They are trying to help connect people to resources. They are trying to distract themselves with the IPL. They try to escape reality, and they try to pretend this is what is normal.

As a batch, they have coped with more uncertainty than any other. They have developed a resilience which even many adults do not have. They have grown as people. If the Board Exams are a rite of passage, the Batch of 2021 didn’t have it, but they have learnt so much more.

They had a farewell party on Friday. They should have worn their sarees and suits. Taken lots of photographs. Eaten and drunk and danced too much. The party was on Zoom. My son didn’t attend.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Flashback 2020

Struggling to cope with the Lockdown, and worrying about my mother living alone, I forget my kids. It is not easy for them. On March 16, one was going to start grade 12, and the other had the last exam of grade 9. Instead, the Lockdown was announced. Real life was paused.
For a week, they lived in a strange No Man's Land. Coming out of two months of study leave, the older one just wanted to spend physical time with his friends. He resented being kept indoors. The younger one had one exam to go. He wanted to relax, but couldn't.
Then one day, the younger one's WA group name changed from 9 to 10. The school had decided to promote the entire batch. But we still don't know whether to pack away the grade 9 books or not. One exam hasn’t yet been conducted, after all. Assignments for the new grade are sent daily. They have a new class teacher. But I worry about how the syllabus will be covered. They do need quality time with the teachers after all.

The older one has four hours of online classes every day. They see the teacher, and they can DM each other. My kid told me he sent a message to the entire class by mistake. "No profanity, I hope", I said. "No. But you don't mind?" Why should I? I passed messages in class too. We all did.
One day, I walked in and found them chattering away. Apparently the teacher had gone offline, and mayhem had erupted as it would in any normal class. But this is not normal. It cannot even be the new normal. Online classes will only increase the distance between us and them- those who can afford wifi and those who cannot.

But the Uncertainty! When will classes resume? How will the syllabus be covered? Will the Board Exams be conducted next year? What of this year's Board Exams that not all could take? How do adolescents cope with so much uncertainty?
They are already burdened with far more than they should. Their Insta stories are full of 'Fridays for Future' or Anti CAA/ NRC stuff. They are caught in a world that is changing too fast even for them to grasp. The last thing they need is to be in a middle of a pandemic.
And yet, that is where they are. Caught in a time pause at a time when they should be moving at full throttle. As parents, all we can do is to keep the pressure off. Reassure them that no matter what, we will get through it together. And then leave it to the teachers.
So when the world resumes, whenever it does, they will be ready to take on whatever new challenges are thrown at them. And till then, there is PubG! Without that, they may not survive.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Saree-clad Superhero Army

 "Not all superheros wear capes. Many wear sarees."

The line stuck in my head the moment I heard it.

ASHA workers, Anganwadi workers and other field level volunteers have emerged as true heros in the pandemic.

When I heard that two districts in Andhra Pradesh were running out of vaccine doses, my first thought was for my friend's octogenarian father. His second dose of CoviShield was due, and I hoped he would be able to get it.

Unfortunately, my fears were well founded. 

In the heat of an Indian summer, he travelled all the way to the PHC where he'd taken his first shot, only to be told that they had run out of doses.

My friend was worried- what if he didn't get the second dose at all?

"Don't worry about Tatagaru", the ASHA worker assured my friend. "I'll make sure he gets his second shot."

Two days later, she kept her promise. Through informal networks she came to know a PHC had received vaccine doses, and she took him there and got him vaccinated.

ASHA workers have a long list of duties to perform. They are constantly busy conducting awareness campaigns, monitoring expectant and new mothers, ensuring care to patients and dealing with emergencies.

Ensuring that residents receive COVID vaccination isn't one of them.

Yet, many of the ASHA workers have voluntarily taken on the burden of creating awareness, mobilizing people and taking them to PHCs to get them vaccinated.

They also end up tracking the second dose much more effectively than COWIN.

This is nothing new for them.

ASHA workers played a significant role in the success of the Polio Eradication campaign. 

People in rural areas trust ASHA workers. That can be leveraged to conduct community level vaccination drives to ensure optimal coverage.

Will it add to their existing burden? Not if the number of ASHA workers is increased. Right now, there is one ASHA worker for every 1,000 population (less if the habitations are small). That ratio can be improved by adding more ASHA workers. At this moment, there is more than enough work for all of them, and even after full vaccination, there will continue to be new things that come up to keep the additional ASHA workers engaged.

We do have a Superhero Army in Sarees. Why not use them?

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Enforcing the Mask Mandate

 A year after the WHO advisory to wear masks to prevent transmission, people still don't mask up. It is frustrating to see people brazenly flout the masking mandate. And one of the solutions has been to enforce by pretending to beat up people who are not masked. But is that what should be done?

However tempting it may seem, beating someone up for not wearing a mask is not the way to enforce mask wearing. Using violence to enforce anything is cannot be justified. Because once you normalize it, it will almost certainly be used to target the most vulnerable.

The vegetable vendor sitting on the pavement who pulls down her mask for 30 seconds to sip water gets beaten up.

The lady sipping a Starbucks venti is allowed to move maskless.

The driver who pulls down his mask because he is getting baked in the car park is beaten up.

His employer attends a meeting with 15 other maskless individuals in an air conditioned Board Room.

The orthopedically challenged person who's mask slips while he is trying to maneuver her wheelchair over a too narrow ramp is harassed.

The dude checking out his reflection on a storefront is ignored.

We are an inequitable society. It is the most vulnerable who are targeted.

Adhering to the mask mandate is important. But it is equally important not to give another reason to attack the marginalized.

"Sama, dama, dada, bheda", is the advice our ancestors give us. Though we had a year to communicate it, we have still not done a good job. Let us first exhaust the first two- awareness and incentives, before we think of moving to the next.


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