I am angry. Very angry. Just like millions of others in this country. Just when I need it the most, I feel abandoned by my country. Just like millions of others in this country.
And am distraught. Distraught at seeing people die from Covid. Distraught at the sight of people lining up in front of hospitals hoping that they can get a bed on which they can lie down and dream of the day when they can be back on their feet. Distraught at the sight of Covid patients, and their families, desperately searching for a cylinder full of life-giving oxygen, if not, at least a few whiffs of the gas in the desperate hope that just those few whiffs might give them an outside chance of beating the virus.
And distraught at the sheer audacity with which the country’s rulers have let down the people of India, by constantly being in a state of denial, creating hype and hoopla and trying to make people believe in mumbo jumbo, when all it needed was to have a Plan B, a Plan C, and a Plan D. That is what you do when you face an unknown enemy. Our leaders have failed us, and spectacularly at that, on this front.
For more than a year I have been reporting on all matters of Covid. I started writing about it for my employer Deccan Chronicle before it made its presence felt in India. And I have been writing ever since. On every aspect of the disease you can think of. And every day, I have been keeping a tally of the cases, the deaths, that Covid is leading to around us.
I have felt anger many times, at the sheer callousness with which the political classes did not care about the common people. I channeled my anger into a pursuit of reporting the truth. Truth about the real numbers of Covid victims. Of the faceless, nameless people packed away in plastic coveralls and carted away unceremoniously to graveyards and crematoria to get consigned to dust.
Sometimes, I get asked this question. “You are a journalist. Why can’t you speak the truth?” Many of us in the profession are relaying the truth, to the best we can dig it out from the obfuscating bureaucratese that Covid and its impact is buried under, day after day.
And sometimes, we journalists are accused of having lost our spines. It is just that a spine cannot survive on its own. It also needs the rest of the body structure, in this case, the rest of the society, be it fellow citizens, doctors, nurses, and everyone else battling this unseen miniscule enemy that has laid us low. As journalists, we continue to do what we do, report, write stories, and share with the world what we get to know. Make no mistake about that. And at great risk to ourselves. At last count, nearly 180 of my colleagues died from Covid in India. It might just be a number for many. But as someone who has been watching the devastation Covid is causing around me, I can vouch for one thing. It might not be long before it hits everyone. I wish, from every ounce of strength I have, and from the bottom of my heart, that no one will ever have to go through what I go through, day after day as I go about my job. And what I am going through today.
Today am angry again. Very angry. Not because I lost today yet another person I know, rather knew. Who I lost today, is not the first to succumb to Covid. An I know, will not be the last either.
Saleem, was a photographer. A photojournalist. A soft-spoken man. And he worked in the Telangana Legislative Assembly as the official photographer of the state Legislature. And he was a friend. Not the kind one would picture at the mention of the word friend. Not the kind with whom I would spend an evening with. But he was a friend I knew was there, always. Did I mention he passed away today from Covid?
It does not matter what his full name is. His career history does not matter. Suffice to say that many youngsters in the profession gained from his kindness, guidance and help. It does not matter because at the end of it all, as far as the State is concerned, he is just a number in a footnote of Covid statistics. But for those who knew him, his family, and friends, he leaves behind a void
Sometimes he would send me an official picture from some event at the Legislature. And call me. It was always a simple request. “Balu bhai, thoda ye photo carry karletey? Mereku thoda help hota.” As a photographer, in the Legislature, Saleem was way down on the totem. It was not his job to ensure that his bosses get some publicity by having their pictures published. But that was him. He would do his best.
And every time we met, mostly during the Assembly Media Committee meetings, (I am a member of the committee), he would take a lot of pictures of the meeting, and all the attendees. At the end of meetings as we dispersed, he would whisper to me “aap bhoth achcha boley. Main aapke photos bhejtun.”
Today, I wish I saved every picture he sent me.
Covid is hitting everyone hard. Gone are the days of seven degrees of separation. Today, everyone knows somebody who has lost his or her life to Covid. Everyone knows half-a-dozen others who caught the disease and made it out OK. And everyone is worried what would happen to them if they catch the disease, may be the second time. I caught Covid too, back last November and made it out safely. I might catch it again, and if that happens, I do not know what the outcome might be.
I am not scared. I am just angry. Angry at being let down by the government, which did precious little to keep people safe. For being more concerned about framing of the Covid narratives and giving false hopes to people that everything is alright. Everything is not alright. I can say that with certainty as a reporter who has been covering Covid in this country. The truth is buried, day after day, because people might get scared, or so goes the official tagline on the subject.
I lost to Covid many people I cared for. And in losing them, I lost many who cared for me. I am quite certain everyone around me feels the same way.
Tragedy can lay low the best of us. But tragedy can also give us strength to carry on, to do something to prevent it further. In the meanwhile, please stay safe and take care....