The street was ghostly still. It was a Sunday, seven days into my COVID work-from-home-orders, and the day of the ‘Janta Curfew’1. I was scared, both the emptiness of the city and an illness welling up in my body. At that moment, on the strangely empty street, I felt time stand still.

At the hospital, I was diagnosed with chicken pox by a doctor, keeping his distance. I shivered with fear, knowing how hard the coming days would be. In that moment, all I wanted was to be home with my family, 1300 kilometers away. I realized that was impossible since my fever would be caught by COVID airport checkpoints and I wouldn’t be allowed to board. The illness precluded what turned out to be my last chance to go home before an indefinite nationwide lockdown, announced two days later.2 On that day, I bitterly regretted my choice to live alone in the big city of Mumbai. I felt anxious and isolated, losing my grip on reality.

Yet, later in the day, my sanity was restored with a rush of goodness, arriving in the form of my cook, Prema didi. She assured me over the phone, promising to care for me. In the following 15 days, Prema didi was no less than a mother to me, helping me clean up, eat, and stay happy. After two nights of high fever, I decided to visit to the hospital to test for pneumonia.3 On that day, my belief about goodness in the world deepened. I was struggling to reach the hospital since public transport was halted. A kindly uncle4 from my building offered to drive me in his autorickshaw5, despite strong disapproval by his wife. At the hospital, due to the stigma associated with chicken pox, I was mistreated and denied service. No one wanted to come near me, let alone conduct tests. But again, goodness came to the rescue in form of a kind medical staffer6 who went above and beyond to help me. He not only stood up to the head nurse and agreed to conduct all the tests, but also gave me medical advice and comforted me.
 

I recovered well. Although 25 days of illness drained all of my energy, I emerged filled with hope and an urge to contribute to the goodness. Throughout my sickness, I watched news about daily wage earners struggling to survive after losing their jobs under the lockdown. Some walked thousands of kilometers, attempting to return to their home villages after the halt of public transit. Many were dying on their journey.7

I was moved to help. I joined humanitarian initiatives started by friends and colleagues to provide food aid and transportation to labourers trapped in cities. I worked with an NGO that empowers sex workers and their daughters to provide meals for those most looked down on by society. While the news of people dying is reduced to statistics, while some try to use this crisis for political gain, and while there is widespread fear that this COVID time might never end; there is still hope. I find hope in the acts of goodness people do for one another. I believe that recognizing goodness and hope will enable us to live in the new world to come after all this ends.

 

 

 

1 March 22nd, 2020, was declared as Janta Curfew (meaning ‘people’s curfew’) by the Prime Minister of India. The day banned any human activity/ movement on the streets except that of the essential services like healthcare services. 

2 On March 24, 2020, the government of Indian declared a nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

3 Pneumonia is a common complication for adults with chicken pox; I later tested negative. 

4 In India, unknown male and female strangers, out of respect, are referred to as uncle and aunty respectively

5 Autorickshaw is a three-wheeler public vehicle for local (intra-city) travel in India.

6 Diagnostic team member

7 Two months after the lockdown, this situation hasn’t improved in the country. The migrant labourers are still walking back to their homes in desperate attempt to survive and avoid starving to death in cities.  


How does this story make you feel?