Updated on: Friday, September 24, 2021, 12:22 AM IST

Pandemic devastation: It’s left to the rest of us to reach out and repair, writes Alka Jain

We definitely need a government that works on building trust and wiping tears. Votes will automatically follow!

Social media hurls so much at us, often intruding to the point of exasperation. But on this day, it tingled a different nerve. Wading through a social website, I accidentally read a message posted by a man of 22. I do not know how my gaze fell upon this post by a stranger. The rest is all about misty eyes.

The message opened up the raw wounds of its bearer, who was evidently in deep mourning and had been forced to come out into the job market to attend to some fundamental needs. I scrolled down to the replies he had received, and it was then that the symphony began. Tears and smiles rolled out in unison. The man had lost his father, the only earning member of his family, to Covid recently and with it came the realisation that he would have to step down the ladder of higher education and retrace his steps.

Dreams ended by Covid deaths

His dreams having been washed away with his father’s ashes, he was now looking for a job to feed his family. My heart ached and tears welled in my eyes as I realised that deaths due to Covid were not numbers but markers of the grief and loss of innumerable families whose lives had changed forever.

My eyes were glued to the resume of an innocent youth jolted out of his dreams. I started reading. What to behold in this sheet of paper etched with teenage projects, hobbies, and internship details of a second-year undergraduate student! His accomplishments of 22 years were unravelled before the world to judge, weigh, and set a price. He wrote that he was a second-year engineering student who should have enjoyed his youth and friends and build the future he aspired for, but was forced to look for a job, as his father had succumbed to Covid.

Nevertheless, he was willing to take up any position and though he had no work experience worth mentioning, he would do everything to match his employers’ expectations. He wrote, “All I ask for is a chance.” I stared at the tender resume hurriedly called out to serve.

Hope beckons

As I scrolled down teary-eyed, I was astonished to see that a man had responded by offering a job and a promise to allow him time to acquire his degree. He even said, “Son, I do not even wish to look at your resume. But you are not alone.”

Similar responses followed, with people offering instant employment. I was aware that a wounded person needs medicine, but on this day, I ecstatically unearthed medicine’s desire to heal. The pandemic bared the essential humanness of people exposed to misery and loss. In a world pawned to a deadly virus, boundaries got blurred and emotions gushed out from the crevices of the check dams constructed by people protecting their interests in a universe, haunted primarily by envy, mistrust and greed. Yet, like this post and the corresponding replies signified, humanity sprang up to blossom into faith and bounty.

No one inquired about the man’s class or caste. And they were least interested in his qualifications. The death certificate of the boy’s father weighed heavily upon the conscience of faceless humans, and the degrees took a backseat for once. Of course, it is possible to acquire academic expertise at any of the grand towers, but is there a curriculum teaching the ‘course of life’ and skills to lessen the grief of fellow beings?

Deadening data

The knowledge that one young man found solace is not consolation enough. There are thousands of children whom the pandemic has orphaned. The truth is that factsheets and cold calculations of destruction and massive calamities do not increase our concern. Instead, because they give birth to fear, they have the potential to suppress our compassion and block any action and behavioural change. We push the issue into a corner of the mind and move on, hoping that governments do something.

Data comprises knowledge and information. It touches the intellect, but there is no individual character to relate to, no recounting to identify with, no sensory detail that makes us rise, man for man. Conservation studies have shown that people donated very generously upon hearing narratives about a sick tiger or a lost penguin rather than to the cause of protecting an entire endangered species. This is because our emotional connection with life in distress makes us reach out and act.

In contrast, several conservation movements raise awareness, but without stories that stir our conscience, the cause is as good as lost. Let us hope that this boy’s story becomes a beacon and brings to life other tales that are lain to rest under plain factsheets. Let empathy get sleepless nights; else, the post-Covid world shall not woo us anymore.

Countries face testing times and must prepare themselves to handle with care the perplexed and drained little bundles of joy, who have borne the brunt helplessly. It is time to cradle them back to a secure and happy life. More than monetary compensation, love and solidarity shall account for the blossoming of these blushes forced to weather untimely wilting. Each individual in society needs to be an active reagent of change and aspire for collective happiness.

Picking up the threads

Depression, anxiety and the inability to cope with the untimely deaths of one or both parents is a catastrophe. While in Western countries, psychological counselling and support are vastly sought and encouraged, they are received with hostility and contempt in many developing nations like India. We are child-like in our assumption that we cannot desire or deserve mental and emotional help, owing to prejudices. The stigma prevents many from seeking help.

People who have gone through trauma are often left to fend for themselves and after a while, are expected to bounce back soon. Friends move away to lend space and end up creating distances. The momentary impact of any calamity is minuscule, compared to its long-term implications. While all efforts go into checking the immediate crisis, we heave a sigh of relief once it subsides and start picking up the threads of our lives from where we had dropped them.

It becomes imperative that each of us gears up to be a solid, lendable shoulder. We need parents who can guide children who have lost theirs and siblings who can stand up to others in brotherhood. We definitely need a government that liberates itself from the clutches of politics and works upon building trust and wiping tears. Votes will automatically follow!

The tapestry of the world is rolled out for humanity to mend and repair. The master weavers must finally arrive.

The writer is Assistant Professor of English, Rani Lakshmi Bai Central Agricultural University, Jhansi

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Published on: Friday, September 24, 2021, 02:30 AM IST