How India’s 2nd Covid wave made me feel Indian again

Image: Rohan Hande for the Atlantic

As Covid cases gently fall here in the UK and the sunshine falls on our doorstep reminding us of cheery summer days to come, I find myself unable to experience joy despite the fact that every ounce of my being wants to.

These are uncertain times and I have hesitant hopes for the future. I rush to sign up for outdoor activities, make plans to meet up with friends and dream up elaborate plans for travel in a post-Covid world.

But what undermines everything is news of the Covid 2nd wave ravishing India.

I come from a liberal, educated background and I have always considered myself a global citizen, human first. I considered myself to be cosmopolitan in outlook.

I’ve never had strong feelings of nationalism. Toward any place or country for that matter.

Perhaps I took my ‘Indianess' for granted.

I’d carried on reading about the divisive politics of my home country and pushed it towards one corner of my brain, like a distant family member whom you don’t quite have a meaningful relationship with anymore.

Despite having grown up in India, I’ve often felt irritated by the general state of Indian affairs. The indiscipline of the people, a land where personal connections count, where the rich can pay themselves out of almost every situation, and where the moral police exist.

More significantly, however, as a woman, I’ve enjoyed the relative freedom, autonomy, and security that living abroad offers me.

I live in a bubble, away from the traffic congestion, the smoke, the chaos, the land of bribes, heat, dust, power cuts, and mosquitoes.

Please forgive me for sounding like your average, annoying NRI.

Last year around this time when India was going through its first wave I found myself writing about the unique situation we all found ourselves in and reflected on how the pandemic had changed my life.

But, when the 2nd Covid wave hit India over the last weeks, I found myself in a different place.

The stories started filtering through on social media, and family and friends started talking about suffering and death on a daily basis.

I started to feel pangs. A weepy feeling. Indescribable sadness. Like a heartache.

For people. Specifically, Indian people.

This time for some reason, I don’t see them merely as the masses who lose their lives to a natural calamity, like a flood or tsunami, although those events are equally tragic.

This time it feels a lot more personal.

The Indian people are suffering in horrific ways.

They’re literally dying while waiting for a hospital bed and oxygen to breathe.

Images of 24/7 burning pyres, overflowing crematoriums, and grief-stricken people with simply no place to take their dead, are seared into my head.

In the midst of all the suffering are greedy hawkers who sell oxygen cylinders at exorbitant prices, essential medicines on the black market, and adulterated life-saving drugs.

I’m not the best person to dissect what lies beneath this blatant disregard for human life and dignity.

But there’s something extremely atrocious about the whole situation.

At it’s heart lies the arrogance of the ruling government. These leaders were warned, but they went ahead with their political rallies, and okay-ed religious gatherings anyway.

Who cares for their politics and ideology now that the very people who voted them into power are dropping dead like flies?

What comes to light is the truth, plain and simple.

What’s happening in India now is a result of deep-rooted incompetence and failure of leadership on every level.

They failed to listen to science, to safely roll out mass vaccinations in time and frustratingly managed to botch up the distribution of the millions received in aid.

There are numerous other examples that others have put it more eloquently than I.

Now the pandemic and lockdowns, force me to reflect and have inner conversations with myself.

I do feel inadequate and helpless from afar. My blood boils, and my heart aches from a distance.

I’m not sure why the story of countless suffering Indians today has become part of my story too.

It’s making me rethink my identity.

It’s making me reexamine what it means to belong to a group, a community and a people.

Despite all my previously held notions of cosmopolitanism, I find myself at odds with myself.

All it takes is a crisis of humanitarian proportions(!)to remind me that I’m not just a citizen of the world, I also belong to India.

And so after many years, I’m feeling Indian again.

Sporadic blogger, philosopher & poet.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store