Memories of Loss

A year after a summer of death, a COVID-19 survivor recalls trauma, helplessness and grief

30 June 2022
ILLUSTRATION BY PARMARTH RAI
ILLUSTRATION BY PARMARTH RAI

Between April and June 2021, India experienced the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a second wave swept across the country, India recorded more than half of its total COVID-19 fatalities. The estimates vary widely, with the most conservative figure being more than a quarter million deaths. It was a period of extreme loss, angst, helplessness, mayhem and grief. Vineeta Sharma writes a personal account of that time from Delhi, one of the worst affected cities in India, where hospitals were overfull, as were crematoria and burial grounds. Sharma writes a lived account—a story behind the numbers and facts about failed institutions—as she still seeks closure a year later.

In the second week of April 2021, my husband, our two children—one still a toddler—and I tested positive for COVID-19. We immediately started medication on the advice of a doctor friend. The city was under lockdown, which severely limited the availability of essentials and help with managing the household. In the smouldering heat of that summer, the decussate of multiple ambulance sirens outside turned into screaming alarms inside my head. It became the defining sound of those long days and weeks, as the number of casualties grew.

Till days before the second nationwide COVID-19 wave overtook the city, many people were dismissive of the virus, calling it a hoax. Others took the threat too lightly, relying on the supposedly robust immunity of Indians. Misinformation masqueraded as news, and opportunists touted ancient magical remedies. We had believed that the worst would not happen to us. That was before the pandemic struck my family.

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    Vineeta Sharma is an associate professor of economics at Kirori Mal college, University of Delhi. She also writes short stories and poems.

    Keywords: COVID-19 Deaths pandemic remdesivir coronavirus lockdown
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