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.

I failed as an Indian parent.


I knew right away that I failed as an Indian parent when my 16 year old son sent us a video of Greatest Recorded Speeches in American History. Along with the link was a short message “cool stuff”. Instead of math and science, both my kids ended up loving liberal arts. My oldest is a Shakespeare nerd, a poet and writer. She is one semester away from graduating with double major in English and Anthropology. My son loves history and is thinking of pursuing political science. While he is good with numbers and can solve scarily long algebra equations with relative ease he does not spend all his time solving word problems and doing science experiments. He listens to discussions and likes to discuss the pros and cons of issues. He despises the divide in political beliefs that polarizes this country and wants to find a common ground. As I looked at his message of the recorded speeches, there went my hopes of either of my kids getting a 40 dollar an hour internship in a tech company while finishing college and a fat salaried job right out of college. As an Indian parent, I am a total failure. I did not steer my children to exclusively math and science like a parent from my part of the world who told me she wished her child could drop world history so he could take another science course.

The title of this blog is written in jest of course and I am doing a gross generalization of all Indian parents when I say they push their children towards science. However, till date many parents from where I come from, believe their child should study science to get ahead in life, including my father. It was clear from early on that I was a lover of literature. Yet, when I passed my 10th, my dad insisted I take up science in my 11th grade. I believe he still dreamed that I will excel in math, physics, chemistry and biology, sit for Joint Entrance Exam and finally get into med school. In reality, although I enjoyed biology, I struggled in all 3 other science subjects. My grades, as expected, at my school leaving exam were dismal and more importantly, I was very unhappy. My self esteem plummeted and self confidence took a nose dive. At that point, I took a stand and declared I wanted to study English. A degree in English literature was not very promising those days but my parents let me pursue my choice, for which, I am immensely grateful. I was lucky enough to attend a university that was not simply an educational institution, it somehow molded my outlook and view points and helped me become the person that I am today. And while I am never going to be rich, I have a job as a public library worker, where I can use my education and be happy with what I do.

The truth is, when I see Ryan enjoying the greatest speeches of famous men and women, when I see Sahana quoting Shakespeare verbatim, when Ryan discusses difficult issues of life with reason and logic, when Sahana writes beautiful poetry my heart rejoices. They are the progeny of two parents who pursued liberal arts. Instead of building robots in their childhood or conducting fun science experiments or doing mental math, we read to them, talked about Sean’s work about helping vulnerable communities become self reliant through out the world. We did not give them a boost towards science in their early childhood. In retrospect, science may have even taken a back seat because their primary care giver, me, did not enjoy science. That is on us. We should have made more of an effort to encourage them to explore science.

However, as a lover of liberal arts, I am thrilled at their curiosity to learn more about literature, philosophy, history, political science. I may be biased but I firmly believe we need a section of lovers of liberal arts to hold up half of the sky so our compatriots, the science lovers can hold up theirs. And by complementing each other we strive towards completion. It’s just that the other half will do the balancing act with much more bank balance than we will but hey, money can’t buy happiness, right?😜