Stigma


I feel compelled to write this blog to showcase what not to do when a family is in trouble and someone is dying of Covid.

My parents lived in an apartment building which has its own association and its president, secretary, treasurer as well as other office holders. Baba held some official position for a while and then retired from it. However, since he was a mechanical engineer, if any repair needed to be done, the technician always wanted to consult with him. For the most part, he was a respected member of the association.

That all changed when both he and my mother contacted Covid 19. While my parents were in the hospital and were fighting for their lives, the secretary of the building called up Gouri and Mashi, the two household helps and yelled at them that they will die of Covid. He prohibited them from leaving the apartment. When they fearfully relayed the conversation to me, I suggested they isolate themselves and get everything delivered, which they were doing anyway. The secretary’s concern was valid as both the women were exposed to the virus. Gouri went to the terrace to water the plants, I asked her to stop going to the terrace. The plants were watered by the guards.

Ma died after 5 days in the hospital. Baba came home after spending 12 days there. But he needed oxygen cylinders and bipap machine. I contacted someone who works in Kolkata police to preempt any trouble before baba came home. I had heard horror stories of recovering Covid patients being barred from entering their own homes due to fear of contamination. She suggested we bring baba home in a car instead of an ambulance for a show of normalcy. That is what we did.

But at home his oxygen saturation level dropped significantly and he needed constant supply of oxygen. The secretary of the building association tried to prevent the oxygen delivery men from delivering oxygen to our apartment in 5th floor. Gouri screamed at the guards and they let the delivery men pass.

The hospital brother could not find a heartbeat in Baba on the day he died. My cousins desperately tried to find a doctor to check him. When a doctor was found to write the death certificate, the security guards refused to let the doctor go up without the permission of the secretary. Again, Gouri screamed at them and took the doctor to our apartment. By this time Gouri and mashi were in isolation for more than 17 days.

After baba’s death, I asked a friend to arrange for a Covid test for the two women. A technician came home, collected sample and the result came to be negative. My friend sent me and Gouri the negative report. The secretary was told about this negative result. He said he does not believe the test was done properly and he would not let Gouri and Mashi out of the apartment till June 7th. Ma and baba started showing symptoms on May 2nd. So June 7th would be more than a month that the two women will be in isolation despite a negative covid test. The secretary is causing such trouble for our bereaved family because he is afraid and also because he can terrorize two women who can not stand up to him. When the municipality workers came to take baba’s body for cremation, he did not allow them to use the elevator. Instead they had to carry his body down 5 flight of stairs. If he is afraid of the virus, (and he should be) this was a dumb move because the elevator could have been easily sanitized, instead baba’s body traversed the 5 flights of the common area. If the virus was spreading after 17 days of his sickness, it would spread in the common area instead of being contained in the elevator which could be fumigated and sanitized.

All the bedding, pillows, baba’s clothes have been thrown away. Our whole apartment was sanitized by the Kolkata Municipality at quite a steep price paid by me. I am happy to do it for the good health of all. We want to be part of the solution, not the problem. However, the inhumanity of the secretary and the security guards of that apartment building has appalled me. While dealing with the death of both of my parents, I had to address the bullying of a few frightened individuals of two very frightened and sad women.

This unkind behavior is scum in the sea of kindness that I have experienced in our ordeal but I wrote about it to appeal to all to please be guided by science and practice empathy for people who are suffering from Covid. Please do not propagate the stigma. You never know who will breathe in this virus next.

Pandemic discussions


At the beginning of pandemic, we spent more time together than we do now. When work and schools closed, when Sahana returned home from her junior year abroad, we naively thought the crisis was going to be over soon. We played board games, cooked, listened to music and even danced together once in a while. Then the pandemic and isolation dragged on and we slowly retreated into our rooms, our books/emails/trainings/school work…… ourselves. Whenever possible though, we still try to eat a meal together or even if we were not eating we come out of our respective rooms to gather around. And we have conversations on several topics. Without sharing our private conversations, I thought it might be fun to document the topics that feature regularly as we break bread during pandemic or just sit together in our living room. This post will also be a reminder of 15 year old Ryan’s and 21 year old Sahana’s topics of interest at their respective ages. This is what we converse about (or the two siblings discuss, Sean and I mainly listen).

Stability of Y chromosomes…

Matrilineal DNA and height…

World history. A lot of world history. Here is a debate that Ryan wants to have with the world – the great wall of China is a reason for Western imperialism. Have a go at it. It is an ongoing debate in our household, no resolution has been reached.

Paradise lost. And Milton…

Politics, Donald Trump, democrats, republicans…

Race, equity, inclusiveness. A lot, I mean a real lot of conversations on this topic…

“In one of my anthro classes, we learnt….” some esoteric theory from Sahana about anthropology (I admit I tuned out sometimes).

More chromosome talk, DNA, heredity…

Astronomy….lot of discussions about astronomy, which includes getting energy from black hole, anti matter and other topics which escape me..

Food, recipe – a whole lot of food and recipe discussion…

Tik tok – l am made to watch cat and dog videos by both siblings on this forum. They make me laugh.

Pop culture, artists new and old…

Humanitarian assistance work – Sean loves to talk about this topic. I wonder why?

“When I traveled in Europe………” Sahana often begins her story of adventure or her lecture about a certain sight she saw or experience she had in Europe during her solo trip there last year. Ryan rolls his eyes…

Library classes…..and yes, customer experiences..

Climate change…

How long is human race going to last…

How is Ryan still single despite being so good looking (according to him) and our collective eye rolls.

There are other topics which I don’t recall now….

The senior in college who will graduate with double major in English and Anthropology has a LOT of facts/thoughts/knowledge to share. And she shares them freely, primarily to educate her brother but also her parents.

The sophomore in high school is VERY interested in world history, heredity, time travel, animals, politics, slapstick comedy, tik tok and conspiracy theories. He also has the compulsive desire to share his thoughts on those subjects and more. It almost bothers him physically if he can not verbalize his thoughts. He can not seem to hold his thoughts for he fears they will be gone from his head and how awful will that be? If we interrupt his monologs on Ghengis Khan or time travel or….any other topic of interest he says (almost vehemently) “Please…let me talk!”

I realize now that in life before pandemic, I got my kids in installments after they left their toddlerhood. There were school, work, extra curricular activities, sports, dinner, homework, sleep. We came together on weekends for occasional chats however most weekends were taken up with sports, music, homework and then getting ready for the following week. Most of our meaningful conversations happened during car rides from point A to point B. Thinking back on how busy our life was exhausts me. During the pandemic and enforced isolation when we were locked together without sports, activities, regular school, I got to peek into my children’s thoughts and interests. And I realized that while I was not looking their interests, depth of perception and comprehension, their ability to think critically, their debating prowess and ability to cite sources have all changed. They are adults…well, almost, and capable of holding stimulating conversations. This realization is bitter sweet (mostly sweet because they are interesting to listen to when I pay attention).

There is nothing positive about this pandemic however if I have to see a silver lining in all this, I would say I got this opportunity to ‘see’ and ‘hear ‘ my children without distraction. I got the time. A lot of it.