It was the evening of the 1 May. I left my residence at five, with a box of medical supplies in the backseat and headed out to West Delhi. As I drove over Punjabi Bagh flyover, billows of dense, disquieting smoke loomed in the horizon like a gathering storm against rows of haughty hoardings thanking the Prime Minister for the vaccination drive.
I followed the failing amber sky, arriving at one such spot that has captured headlines across the world. It’s India’s hour, but for all the wrong reasons. The deafening silence screams with the voices of the unaccounted. In front of me, a cluster of impoverished quarters overlooking a place of worship, a withering tree flanked by a few shanties, people from rooftops staring out at the collective sorrow, and out beyond it, blazing pyres that form the boundary between the living and the dead.
Delhi Being Teased with Achchhe Din
A quaint-looking old man walking by with his mouth covered with a cotton muffler pointed to the scene and whispered …“Even if you count them, there will never be a number. ”
There is no compensation possible for devastation of this magnitude. It is the result of a polity so monovalent, so distilled in its own religious hue, that it has dismembered and disenfranchised every democratic and governance institution the country has known since its independence.
As Delhi’s hospitals gasped for oxygen with hundreds on life-saving flow, many gauche Tweets of cabinet ministers fouled the air.
Is there really a need to thank each other for waiving health cess at this hour? This is just one of the markers of what is, an irrelevant reality to the ministers who cannot hold three minutes of their own on primetime. Their tongue-tied allegiance aside, what do they personally feel about what is happening in the nation? We have been playfully teased with cult catchphrases like “achchhe din ” and treated like a subject populace on a strong leash, and we have quietly borne it all.
The Capital is Under Siege, Does the Leader Care?
The pain and rage mounting, I could barely make my way to my relative’s place. Hungry dogs sniffed the empty streets, nothing could’ve prepared me for the horror that I had just witnessed. Arriving at my destination, I called Fateh. His son came out and stood in the driveway as I pushed the package over the grilled gate.
“ We are in dire trouble, all of us, stay safe,” he said. “ That house to your left, they’ve lost three.” Shutting the door of my car, I hurriedly looked for a piece of paper to jot down those words. Every loss seems personal now, it doesn’t matter whether you know them.
I took the Outer Ring Road which was full of ambulances coming in from both directions. The ones rushing past with distress sirens and flashing lights carried those who were still breathing, those slower in speed with silhouettes of heads bowed carried the fallen.
Some that had pulled to the sidewith their occupants in a huddle were of those who had died on the way. There were SUVs with oxygen cylinders being shared by three, women lying in laps of their loved ones, sick children in autorickshaws with panicking parents. It was a kaleidoscope of piercing gloom, a capital under siege, all under the leadership of a leader who ‘cares’.
Whither Governance, India?
What appropriate modesty should I accord to my words when the sole aim of the Centre has been reduced to aggressively campaign for state elections?
Where is the electoral democracy that allows for fair competition and transparency, or the need to pause it all to attend to a humanitarian crisis? Where is the rapid response to reorganise all state machinery to counter a disaster of such epic proportion, when the scramble for life support continues a fortnight after hospitals started sending SOS calls on social media?
In these times, being born is worse than being dead. Infants in neonatal care are not getting sufficient oxygen. A whole year of gross unpreparedness is unfolding, in what is, the largest genocide in modern Indian history.
Delhi Vs Raisina Hill
I reached Safdarjung’s tomb and parked in the service lane. The arched doorway stood waiting in its diffusedly lit magnificence, its self-willed survival and boundless grace mirroring how the people of the city, abandoned by Raisina Hill, have come together to help each other.
Stories of selflessness and generosity continue to fight the shadows of desolation in a city sinned against. With a burdened heart I left the place I frequent so often, promising I’ll return in better times. Touching the stone wall on the left, I headed out to AIIMS.
Another deluge of helplessness was present at its gates – a man carrying an elderly lady on his shoulders, a body in a shroud soon to be a part of a mass send-off, a volunteer helping a crashing patient, a young woman wailing like she’d lost her world, and dozens squatting on the pavements just waiting out the endless wait. It was a landscape of fail that gave new meaning to a perversity called “atmanirbharta ”.
Can Hashtags Turn Into an Inquilab?
The statesmanship of Vajpayee Sa’ab and the moderate days of Dr Manmohan Singh feel like an India of a milieu gone by. The staggering impunity with which a psychological dominance is cast over our freewill today is a crime in itself. With an obsession with power and an incompetence so acute, which person of intelligence and repute will be willing to join the ranks ?
Can the mother who lost her son to the Batra Hospital tragedy give her “mann ki baat” for a change? Will it be possible to douse the atrocities of the hour when the call to 2024 is sounded ? The hinterland might forget the rationed grants and promises, it will forget the eloquent affiliations with poverty through poetry, but it will never forget the flames of death.
When votes are disguised as a trojan called “vikas ”, when barbed wires and nails are drawn around our farmers, when migrant workers die on the roads due to lockdowns announced at a whim, when currency disappears overnight from the hands of a kirana shop, when tax reforms are injected with the same haphazardness as the vaccine, when institutions of art and culture are replaced with ideas of orange ostentatiousness, when an intolerant intarsia weaves itself through our secular fabric, when a mock-victory that precedes an impending apocalypse is chest-thumpingly announced from international platforms, when there’s more death in the air than life … then a hashtag that’s taken down is the birthing of an “ inquilab zindabad ” of another kind.
(Rhea Jay Singh is a curator of artisanal Indian aesthetic in textile and arts. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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