The Drone of Death Every Night
Lockdown. Everybody’s home. By day, those who have to go about their business, do; grocery shops are open till 6 pm and there’s enough traffic on the roads: hurried essential traffic and scurrying home traffic. Considering the usual Gurugram jams and sometimes chaos, this could actually be better.
But it is not.
Dread owns these roads now, in the form of ambulances. It wails in passing, and everyone gives way.
By night, dread’s ownership of the city’s roads is complete. The sirens punctuate the silent nights. The usual background hum of traffic, on the ground and in the air, is gone, and the contrast is only starker in the early hours.
Sometimes, covering the ears with one’s hands seems the only logical thing to do. And the nights pass into the daze of day. The ambulances keep going.
This is what the hum of a weaponised drone must be doing to ordinary people wherever America is bombing for democracy. This is what it must feel like when night falls with foreboding over entire cities. This is the shadow of death, and the background score is a siren’s ululating wail.
Every Gurgaon locality, from the tony high-rises east of the Jaipur highway to the dense older town and its all-new illegal warrens on the other, has been numbed by fear for over a month now. Beginning April, when the second wave took off in the National Capital Region to mid-May, Covid-19 has returned and exploded with an unimaginable vengeance.
From here, one of the older ‘sectors’ in what used to be a one-horse town on the way from the capital to the great Indian desert, it appears as a Biblical plague come to a town mentioned in the Mahabharata. The breath of death has caressed every house.
There is fever everywhere. The markets are shuttered, parking lots wide open.
All the hospitals are full. Cremation has become a logistical nightmare. Take a token and get (the body) in line.
Policemen in four-wheel drives guard the gates of containment zones. The classic Indian open stare has become a glare of suspicion above the mandatory mask. Rule 12.9 of the Indian Epidemic Act, 1897 is in effect: Pay a Rs 500 fine for “not wearing a mask/spitting in a public place”.
Three of the four persons in my home got struck by Covid. The PCR test, for which lots of calls and entreaties had to be made, was at home. Two days later, we had scored three on four. The Negative No. 4 wasn’t so sure either way.
I was No. 4, and it is divine mercy that I stayed healthy — or asymptomatic — through the two-week ordeal that unfolded then.
My mother is 81, strong and healthy but she does have high blood pressure and had to be hospitalized for a few days after a nosebleed this February. The other two are my sister, 56, and wife, 39.
I worried about my mother the most. The Covid infection hit her very hard, and I had gone sleepless looking after three patients, all running fever and racked by aches.
At that time, early May, the hospital and oxygen situation in the NCR was the worst of all the bad news. There were no beds to be had; a former ambassador died in a hospital parking lot after waiting hours for one, top hospitals in Delhi were losing patients every night because they had run out of oxygen. The terror of this possibility hung over my head all the time.
The doctor was being consulted over the phone; exotic cures and radical protocols were discussed. From Day 7 to Day 10 is the danger period, the Net told me. A nurse who works in a Covid ward said Day 10 is when most old persons develop chest trouble.
Oximeter readings and medicine dispensing became the markers of the day, my clock. I lived day by day, one day at a time. Same as everybody else, but different in that I focused on just getting through the day. One day at a time, I kept telling myself.
The days did go by, one at a time. The medicines worked, the patients recovered. I prayed for strength and deliverance then, I pray in gratitude now.
We’ve got through the worst, and can reasonably say it’s behind us now. But to be down with Covid in the midst of the nationwide catastrophe was a horror.
Out there, the horror is not over.
By Nardeep Singh Dahiya