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Vacuum



I remember March 2020. I have an odd suspicion that we all do, despite how readily we’d like to forget those first lockdowns. In the early days of the pandemic, when most of us had yet to grasp the true scale and enormity of what this pandemic would come to be.

The naivety in thinking that it would all be behind us in a few months. Gentle whispers on the quiet streets and through the open windows in spring, “This might all be over, come fall.”

I remember walking around my neighbourhood in the early evenings with my friend Donnchadh. Talking of the world, what might be, just two friends navigating the uncharted streets of Ranelagh, taking in the quiet.


The bustle of Dunville Avenue over any given weekend, the vendors on the street, kids walking about with their parents and some music to be heard in the distance.

Naught but a distant memory.

The first lockdown felt like all life had been sucked out of it.

My vibrant neighbourhood felt lifeless.


I remember walking into town on Paddy's Day that year.

Part of me expected the same as every year, chaotic and energetic in equal measure. The Patrick's Day parade drowning any and every conversation, the city packed to the brim with beer and bodies.

March 16th, 2020 should have been no different. And yet, it was.


Quiet and deserted in equal measure.

The city centre a ghost town.

Even the annoying cackle of the seagulls was reduced to a rare interjection of my thoughts.

Dublin wasn't alone in its quiet.

In the early months of the pandemic, we were all witnesses to lifeless urban landscapes.

The stillness.

Streets empty as far as the eye could see. There was a certain serenity to seeing Dublin like this, as unnatural as it was.


Yet I’d take that quiet and paranoia to the horror that I would find myself in.


In April of 2021, I nearly lost my parents.

My father was the first to catch the delta variant and my mother swiftly followed. My sister and I, young and hosts of resilient anti-bodies, too fell prey to the virus in the days that followed. While at my worst, I struggled to make my bed, my mother drew shallow, laboured breaths. My sister, buried under the weight of her fatigue, and my father confined to his room, lying in his bed for days on end with the patches in his lungs showing no signs of a recession. I fought with ma the day before she nearly died. Confined in my room, I could do nothing but stew in my hurt and anger while she moved in and out of consciousness. Her being too tired to keep her tethered to the now. She made it through. We all did, and yet I’m not the same.

We have a farm away from the city, a patch of quiet away from the noise, smog and all ills urban.

The drive, about an hour, is most notable for the long stretch across the Ganga (Ganges). I’ve driven across that stretch multiple times, through receding shorelines to flooded plains. I have stood on the ghats along this stretch many times before; for a teacher once, for my grandparents. I know what a burning chita (pyre) looks like. I remember the crackling fire against the lapping of these holy waters, it's a hard feeling to describe. The weight of loss is in contrast to a certain serenity and peace that cremation offers. The Second Wave was a nightmarish landscape by comparison. Hundreds of chitas on the riverbanks, a wall of smoke masking the city beyond the bridge. And yet there is a privilege in my position. I get to recollect this from a room halfway across the world, confident in the knowledge that we, as a family made it through. That we had access to help and healthcare that got my parents through. That the walls of fire that are burned into my eyes were all witnessed from the safety of a car. I was a spectator, not an attendee. There were those that lost everyone. Those that saw their loved ones gasp for air in vain. Lost in a sea of pyres, not allowed the decency to observe the customary last rites.

My people witnessed a trauma that is hard to contain in words, and yet I have the luxury of trying. There were those who can’t, robbed of a life. With manuscripts left unfinished, dreams unrealized, a completely avoidable death.


I want to blame the government.

The administration.

For downplaying the risk, for not imposing lockdowns for Holi, for conducting political rallies knowing well enough that cases were on the rise. For prematurely declaring victory against Covid. I look at this from the lens of a political scientist and I can see the calculations. It sickens me. And worse still, there are those that have taken up the task of defending these cronies. Complicit in their support and silence, so blinded by partisanship that they’re desensitized to the collective and completely preventable trauma that we were subjected to. For them, it is all washed over by the promise of better days.

I am disappointed. I give no quarters about my disdain for the rise of right-wing Hindu nationalism in my motherland and yet I hoped, I did, that for all their claims of having beat covid, they could deliver on the one promise that is central to the very identity of their political organisation. The People’s Party of India failed its people. My people didn’t die because of Covid. They died of incompetence.

Of a failure to account for and accommodate the unpredictability of this virus. They’re still in power.

I fear they will be. And the horrors of April 2021 will be nothing but a distant memory for many. We voted them in at state elections for Uttar Pradesh with a bigger majority, and in the absence of any credible opposition at a national level, I can certainly predict that they will return in the next general elections. I fear for what that means for a country I have loved and love with all my heart. I worry for its future. We were once a nation of peaceful people that stood up for what was right and placed value on the lives of every single individual that called themself an Indian. Beyond creed, caste, race, or religion. I write this from a room, oceans away, recollecting a horror that I only scraped past, confident in the knowledge that we, as a family made it through. That I got to witness the wall of smoke from the safety of my car and not the shores of the holy river. There were those that lost everyone.

Millions, robbed of a tomorrow.

Millions still, blinded by their venom and hate, defending those that placed more value on their parliamentary seat than the constituents that got them there. There are those that live on with the memory of their loved ones, burned in their mind, gasping in vain. Our tragedy was unavoidable.


My people didn’t die because of Covid. They died of negligence.

Of incompetence. And we must remember. Now,

Tomorrow,

Every time a politician comes asking for a vote.

We must ask them, “What is the life of an Indian worth to you?”


Now,

Tomorrow,

For every tomorrow that millions were robbed of.



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