Mom in Delhi, Dad in Kathmandu


Even as the pandemic spread across the Subcontinent last year, and one country after another went into lockdown, I lost my grandmother. She was 95, and spent her last days in an ICU bed at a hospital in Kathmandu where we saw her only for a few minutes each day.

The doctors briefed us outside, some days were good some days were bad. It was a time of stress and anxiety, as we sensed her slipping away. Despite her age, it was difficult to accept that a woman with such warmth and vitality was gone.

But life moves on, and I waited for a new beginning. Things were looking up in Nepal as the daily Covid-19 case count went down to the double digits in March, and there were days without a single fatality. I started making plans to visit Delhi, to meet my mother and sister whom I had not seen for two years, and also to report on stories.

Even the best-laid plans go awry. As the date of my flight to Delhi neared, we started hearing of the surge in Maharastra, and although cases in Delhi were also rising, it looked safe enough to travel.

The India connection in Nepal’s COVID-19 status, Nepali Times

I had my pre-flight PCR test 72 hours ahead of my departure on 17 April, and in the midst of a violent thunderstorm and power cut, we got the results. I was negative, but my father, step-mother and three-year-old step sister were positive.

They showed symptoms, and the disaster was unfolding in front me. The pressure was getting too much to handle. I had no choice but to become a guardian to my family, ensuring medicines, home isolation, finances and groceries before I flew off to Delhi the next day.

The flight is a blur. The departure area at Kathmandu airport was crammed with Indian nationals -- not flying to New Delhi as I first thought, but to Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong. Direct flights from India were suspended, so Indians were flying there via Kathmandu. This was also why my Delhi air fare was three times higher than normal.

I landed in Delhi to discover that my mother and sister were running high fever, and had all the Covid-19 symptoms. I could not go home to join them, and checked into a guest house nearby.

Cases were surging in New Delhi, hospitals were running out of beds and oxygen, and the crematoria were packed. PCR results took five days. Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal declared a one-week lockdown, which has since been extended by another week.

My mother’s condition got worse by the day, but even though I was only a block away in Defence Colony, all I could do was sit in the hotel room and talk to her on the phone. I tried reading books, but all kinds of scenarios kept playing out in my mind, and I could not concentrate. I just stared at the ceiling fan blowing hot air, as the temperature outside touched 42 degrees.

The news from Kathmandu was not good. My father’s oxygen level had gone down because of Covid-19 pneumonia, and he had to be admitted to hospital. I was always the one boosting my family’s morale, assuring them that things would be all right, but here in this hotel room, I broke down.

My father was in hospital in Kathmandu, my mother was alone in her room in New Delhi with high fever, my sisters were both sick, separated by 1,000km. And I was helpless in a hotel. I listened to them sob on the phone. I remembered my grandmother’s suffering, and it scared me to think that the worst might yet come.

Delhi’s online stores were overwhelmed, and could not deliver medicines and groceries. I put on a double mask and went out into the oven-like heat to buy provisions, and deliver them to my mother’s doorstep.

Today, 29 April, is two weeks since I arrived in Delhi. There are other British and American Indians in the hotel, also stranded. Their parents are also Covid-19 positive and they cannot visit them, nor can they fly back to the UK and America.

We talk every day, keeping our morale up. We have developed a special bond, the grief and uncertainty uniting us.

I try to think about the hundreds of thousands of families whose lives have been turned upside down by this emergency. We mentally prepare ourselves to lose our loved ones, but we must also celebrate their lives and accept that there is no reality harsher than death.

There is a call from Kathmandu. Thankfully, my father is discharged. His oxygen levels are up, he is weak but at least he is home. My mother is also doing better, but her fever has not gone down.

I report a story about the plight of Nepalis in India, interviewing them in Goa, Maharashtra and elsewhere. Compared to what the Tiruva family is going through in Goa, we are not so badly off. I interviewed Nepalis in Delhi who hired taxis to the Nepal border because they cannot find hospital beds here. Three Masters’ students went back to Nepal after their hostel was closed, as the virus spread among students.

I quiz Nepal’s ambassador to India Nilambar Acharya about why Kathmandu is asking New Delhi for oxygen and medical support when things are so bad in India itself. He tells me the Indian government has assured him it will put Nepal on a “priority” for Covishield vaccines.

Tears do not come to me easily since Granny’s passing. But the tragedies I have reported on this week have taken an emotional toll. There is not much more I can do as a journalist than to communicate the pain and danger to the public. This has become personal. It is not just a job anymore.

For those taking the disease lightly and complaining about lockdowns, let me tell you: this virus is ugly. It looks like it will get even uglier. If I was not in New Delhi now, or if my whole family had not been infected, I too might have been ignorant of the danger.

The constant wail of ambulances outside is a maddening reminder that the virus is still running amok out there.   

Read also: “Our health system can’t contain the pandemic”, Nepali Times

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