Updated: Sep 2, 2021
Opening the fridge to devour the rasgullas my aunt had brought the day before had never led to a moment quite like this. I couldn’t taste it, not even a little bit of ras had registered. I thought back and counted all the times I couldn’t taste any food- one day and 3 meals. I panicked a little, inhaled some courage, and broke the news to my parents. What followed was a flurry of booking, testing, cleaning, and hoping. In the days that it took to get the test result back, I kept completing my thesis and pushing out assignments. The sense of dread was simmering under the surface but I managed to keep a lid on it. “How could I have gotten it? What if I give it to my family members? Did I get infected on Sunday? In the metro, perhaps?” The questions ebbed and flowed. The dreaded call came a few days later. “You’re positive”. The flurry of cleaning multiplied. Added to it was the tsking, planning, stocking up, medicating, and well, hoping, that remained. “How could I have gotten it? I have probably infected my family members too, right? I must’ve gotten infected on Sunday. It was probably the metro.”
Now quarantined in my room, I sat on the bed. That’s it, I sat there. My phone pinged with an update on my viva. I thought, “Please shut up”. The logistical shifting and getting settled in took a day. The next day was marked by more tests. I called people who had come in contact with me. A few days passed. Wondering why my family’s tests hadn’t come back, the testing center was called. “We’ve suddenly gotten a lot of tests so the lab is overburdened”, they said. Then the news hit the media, Whatsapp flooded with messages, an undercurrent of fear made the round. “A new wave of cases”, they called it. I was one of them. The tests came back negative but a few days later my mother spiked a fever. We got a new test. “Positive”, it read a day later. The flurry began and my guilt settled in. Working on autopilot, I apologized, I consoled, I advised, I pushed assignments. This is also when the situation in the country was reported to be the result of a “collapsed healthcare system”. I wasn’t sure if sniffling in the room at 2 am counts as loneliness, sadness, guilt, fear, panic, or stress. I don’t know. A couple of days later, my father spiked a fever. “Positive”, the report read. He had a co-morbidity. My cogs started to churn, nothing good of course. That left my sister and grandmother to look after us. I tested negative. I went from being quarantined in a room for 17 days to being a caregiver. My grandmother spiked a fever. I don’t think I have felt fear like this ever. My mother tested negative, she joined back as the caregiver. My sister spiked a fever. The high of recovery was almost immediately yanked down by the low of positive reports. There was no respite. You were either ill or a caregiver. The nagging “I should be grateful that we’re safe, people have it much worse”, statements poured in. In the entirety of the day, the only thing that broke through the numbness was the ambulance sirens, every half hour, every day for weeks. At least we all made it out alive. But, did we?
It was late February (2020) and I remember getting a call from my parents asking me to wear a mask because this new virus had been making rounds. I got this call when I was en route to my internship in a hospital, traveling in a local bus, on my tiptoes, sandwiched between sweaty people. Back then, the virus was just that, “this new virus” and I was just a blissfully ignorant citizen. I can only scoff at this moment now.