Life down under during Covid

By Preeti Gupta

Telephone conversation with my parents yesterday got me thinking of a lot of things but mostly about my life as an Indian Diaspora here in the COVID context.
For a person who travelled to India thrice a year and had been doing so for the past decade, it has been very difficult on so many levels. Ageing parents living alone ‘back home’ has been a constant source of worry for all of us.
Each one of us here has been impacted by the ‘breakthrough covid’ that spread like wildfire in India during April-July wiping families out and it came to a point that the pedestrian walks had turned into open morgues and there was no one willing and or able to perform the last rites. We watched this on the News or the clips that were doing the rounds of WhatsApp with horror and disbelief. We rallied around each other when messages like “Please pray as my so and so is in the ICU’ or ‘Does anybody has any contact in hospitals in this city or that city for an Oxygen bed? Or ‘Does anybody knows where one can source oxygen cylinders?” there were prayers and positive vibes being sent for the patients, phone’s numbers of essential services doing the rounds.
This hit home when my ‘vaccinated’ parents had to be transported to ICU within 4 hours of not ‘feeling well’ to being on the oxygen. Just the logistics of finding a hospital with two Oxygen beds was a nightmare. Then the demand for money in cash and that too upfront. This is when my father has given 36 years of his life serving the nation! Arrange we did. Have to acknowledge the care and medical attention they got for the 6 weeks in the hospital was superb. Testament to it is that my parents pulled through despite the ‘would they, wouldn’t they’ uncertainty.
Amongst all this, filtering through was news of deaths of beloved ones and there was no specific age groups. This strain of the virus was taking anybody it wanted 21-year-old to over 75-year-old. Trying to keep this info from the sick parents was tricky, as they are very WhatsApp savvy. Had to clamp on the family so that they wouldn’t receive these messages. Forget about closure, at the moment it is all surreal as one can see and hear these people in the family videos, photos and voicemail recordings. This will only be real when I’m there physically in that geographical context and they are not part of that landscape. 
If the mind wasn’t boggled enough and hearts weren’t broken enough, we felt the tremors of COVID reach the shores of Sydney and we buckled under the pressure. Whilst the numbers compared to our other world weren’t much, the impact to our lives was no less! We went into a FIVE month lockdown here from June to Oct.
Lockdown brought another set of challenges. Home spaces became cramped and filial relationships suffered not due to absence but due to constant presence and living in ‘each other’s’ pocket. Food bills skyrocketed and so did the kilos on the weighing scale. Parents, students and teachers struggled through this the most. Every age group has it’s distinct issues, but it was the HSC Cohort and their teachers who had to pivot like never before and manage their emotions and expectations. These youngsters lost a lot in terms of their rites of passage. Deepali Shipurkar, Punita Yadav, Dipika Gandhi and Shan Mallik are parents of high school students and have often wondered how they can best support their children through these testing times, how much to push and how much to pull back. These are unchartered waters and all of us are trying to keep afloat.
We are back to square one, as we look to welcome 2022 we are also staring down the viral tunnel of Omicron.  Those lucky people who took the leap of faith the moment Australian borders opened and flew to India are almost ready to fly back into Australia. Whilst they are feeling very elated and at peace, there are many many amongst us who are yearning to be with our family and trying to find ways to console ourselves.

On 4 Dec, the Rotary Club of Wahroonga organised a ‘Healing Ceremony’ at the Wahroonga Park, where I shared my family’s COVID experience. The average age of the attendees would easily be 70 years and I was very touched by their kindness and surprised by the impact it had on them. Many came up to me and said that through my story it gave them a reality check and some also stated that they could now see their children and grandchildren’ perspective when they tell them “Can’t you just sit at home!!” It was indeed a moment of healing with the playing of the didgeridoo, the smoking ceremony and the applying of the ochre; all so similar to the Hindu rituals. For that moment, when we all stood and sang “We are Australians’ in unison one felt part of a family.
My prayer, as we enter the Xmas spirit is that we are all reunited with our loved ones sooner rather than later. 

Short URL: