I read this piece on a Sunday that arrived like a magic platform long after I’d forgotten the shapes and sizes of days. Post-lockdown WFH meant that days had fangs, and often, tongues that were permanently sticking out at you. That Sunday morning, lazing on the sofa, I read Nandita’s experience of surviving the coronavirus. When I had reached the third sentence, I was smiling because I was suddenly aware that I hadn’t read anything like this before. Nandita’s prose has the grace to shamelessly hold a truth that we so often care very little for – that in the incessant piling up of discomforts, there are occasional bursts of play and surprise that we have trained ourselves to neglect. Nandita doesn’t just stop at not neglecting them, she pinches them by their ear and makes them do sit-ups. Let’s just say that I’m no longer wondering what it’d have been like to read Virginia Woolf if she knew Kannada.
Thumbs up to those who read it as Coronavirus.
It was very hot inside the PPE kit. I don’t know how it can be called Personal Protective Equipment when it causes breathlessness and barely does any protecting. It was like a jumpsuit with a cap-like rain coat. It was also an apron, with a cloth to tie around the waist. There were socks which you had to wear after wearing shoes. For your hair, you got a stretchable white cap to be used while cooking. And finally, a box which covered three sides which you have to put over your head like a helmet. When you took a breath, it covered the screen with fog, like how your glasses are covered when you drink hot coffee.
So, technically all this was in preparation to stop you from breathing only. I travelled three hours in this condition with a closed window in the ambulance. There was a partition between me and the driver. I sat and stared at the window throughout the journey. My phone rang incessantly but I didn’t look. I was just trying to guess where I was. When I passed by a temple, I knew I was in Devimane ghat.
But then I crossed Sharavati river, so I was sure I was in Kumta. Then I recognised Mirjan. And finally when the Indian Navy base came, I knew I was near Karwar. This time, the beach wasn’t welcoming. I didn’t feel like taking my feet to the water or building sand homes. Three months ago, my family and I were traveling to Bada, my native town, in a Tata Sumo- fighting and laughing at each other.
Outside the Ambulance, the sunset was pale. When I reached the COVID care centre, everything was normal. The people looked at us like sheep just brought to the yard. The centre looked like a car parking area and instead of cars, there were heaps of garbage dumped everywhere – plastic, syringe, and other medical equipment. Inside, the rooms were partitioned with curtains. It was when I saw the bathroom that I realised why people make a fuss about COVID care centres. There were no separate toilets for men and women so I didn’t feel like peeing. Luckily my mother had given me a vessel to heat the water.
My neighbours were all sane people. Everyone did their own work but we couldn’t help feeling that we were all on a holiday. There were people of almost all ages. Some people brought water to us without being asked. Someone else distributed food. In the little time that we spent with each other, we also found someone who was the tea-expert. He would put tea leaves after the tea was done. When I asked him why, he said ‘you get good fragrance’.
I discovered many drinks with milk. Some people would add turmeric, some would add pepper. I tried all of them. There was only one induction in which we all had to heat our tumblers. Nobody was permitted to share things. Many people were from Karwar itself. Family members were allowed to come and give something if necessary. Every day, a teacher in our group would receive biscuits, fruits and other stuff. It was very much burning for me from inside. When I was leaving home, I couldn’t take much as your mind doesn’t work properly when you get a call and someone tells you you are COVID positive, keep your bag ready. It wasn’t like going on a trip, although it felt like one much later.
My grandfather called me 100 times to ask if I was fine. I was more anxious about him. The Quarantine Centre was like Big Boss House. There was enough entertainment. There was a daughter-in-law: mother-in-law duo. The mother-in -law would act as if corona is dancing in her throat just to see her daughter-in-law serving her. She would then suddenly become ill every time her son called her.
We had to change three locations. The first and the last ones were pathetic. There was no hot water and no designated place to wash clothes. We were given new PPE kits at each location. There were people who drank salt and water, salt, water, and lemon. Salt, water, lemon, and turmeric. So I went ahead and added pepper.
When I had to wait for my turn during induction, I decided to observe people. People’s habits were weird. I could only smell Amrutanjan and Vicks all the time. It helped in muting the medicine smell. The bathroom had a weird mud smell. There was no separate bathroom and toilet. People spoke on their phones 24/7. For getting discharged also, there was political influence. We were all impatiently waiting for D Day – the day our swab tests would hopefully say negative. We drank at least 5 glass of hot water, to make sure the corona virus died in the throat (it wouldn’t anyways). Then, at least three times we gargled with burning hot water. Even the 12th board exams didn’t terrify me this much.
Our names were called and we had to give the swab test where an ear bud- like substance was put inside the nose and throat to collect mucus. They extract it the same way we scratch left over Maggi from the vessel.
The last few days reminded me of my first day where we were given poori to eat. The oil was dripping. I had cough. But had to eat it, if I had to survive. Most of the time I felt sleepy. The most annoying this was they used to give egg with the shell removed. But since it was the only edible item from the given food, I ate it. I was given seven types of tablets starting with HCQ. They had written down what to take when. But the problem was 1 and 0 looked the same. The tablets were all cut into single pieces. The names were cut. I mistakenly took antibiotics twice a day. It was 500mg and it burnt my stomach. Appa says it’s probably why I got negative in five days.
For three months after that, I couldn’t eat spicy food because diarrhoea was always around. I remembered how before the COVID positive report had come, my mother and grandmother were my personal doctors. My day would begin with a glass of tulsi water. Then ashwagandha and in the evening, Corona Kashaya. At night, it was turmeric milk. My grandmother was sure corona had died. I felt sad for all the scientists who were struggling to find vaccine and here, my grandmother had already found it.
Once we got to know each other at the centre, we played Antakshari, danced and inquired about everyone’s family. The funniest part was discussing how we came in contact with the virus.
I felt we were all in same boat trying to fix different holes. I made friends; we took pictures in our PPE kits. I knew I’d laugh when I scroll through my gallery after I fully recover. The only regret is that, the virus made me very weak. I had fever after two weeks. When my blood test was done it said I had developed a bacterial infection. I had to take antibiotic injection twice-a-day. It was strange how my body had both virus and bacteria.
You feel sleepy all time. Reluctant to work. When I was at home, all my work was managed by my parents. I was pushed to become lazy. So I moved out. In the quarantine, I noticed all people cough differently. They have their own method of removing their cough out. It feels disgusting but it is fine to think all these things when you are jobless.
Karwar is a very humid place. You cannot stay without bathing after two days. I would close my eyes, put 5 mugs of water and come out shivering. There were old couples who got admitted at the hospital. There were two different big halls for men and women. Every day, a very old man would come and stand near that window to talk to his wife and give her tea and breakfast.
The breakfast was provided at 10 am. The lunch was at 3pm and dinner at 8 pm. I hated this routine. I realised after a few days I was sleeping with mosquitoes. All the mosquitoes would be inside my clothes when I put them out for dry. When I removed them, they would come out in dozen.
I called my mom, dad and brother very often. Sometimes they were busy and would hang up on me. I’d feel abandoned. My fear was that they would never hug me. But covid made me realise that, only you can be with you.
My mom was not allowed touch me. My father cried when I was taken to the hospital in a PPE kit. Our neighbours boycotted us. Nobody walked in front of our house. Nobody took milk from our home for one month. My parents didn’t go to work. My neighbours didn’t go on walk. People who test positive for Corona virus don’t stop being human.
After my recovery, I was given 10 antibiotic injections because of the bacterial infection. It made me feel as though 50kgs of cement bag has been kept on my chest. It was that heavy. I felt something stuck in my throat permanently and even if it wasn’t there, I could feel its ghost and cough continuously.
My parents would bring the food and keep it near the door. I used to video call them from my room. I hadn’t stopped wearing the mask even after I returned. The mask kills you half and then the PPE kit will send you where you need to go.
The only thing you can do is sleep and enjoy what’s possible. I guess it would be fun and interesting to tell these stories to the next generation. I still feel like all this happened yesterday. Me – sitting on an iron bed, looking at the wall and the mosquitoes over it thinking if the virus would ever leave me, if it was still around or if it died when I drank my grandmother’s ashwagandha.