Tanika Mally

Arts & Review Editor

At 1:45 AM on April 14th I was sitting in the back of a van, smushed against the overflowing suitcases that had, miraculously, been able to fit in. The night was quiet, the hum of crickets still audible even over the roar of the engine. Not a single other car was in sight as we drove to the airport, where we would then board our flight back to the U.S. 

Quiet nights in Bangalore are ones I hold close to my heart, particularly because they are such a rarity. On normal nights, the blares of the train horns would make their way to my room in my grandparent’s apartment. On normal nights, the voices of the vendors selling their goods could be heard right from the balcony. On normal nights, the sounds of taxi’s honking, people yelling, and children laughing seeped through the thin walls of my home.

That night, however, was not normal. It was eerily quiet, void of life. Bangalore seemed to be more of ghostown than an actual, thriving city, and that bothered me more than I ever thought it would.

It was the fourth day of the city-wide curfew, enforced so that the covid cases that were rising at the time would halt. After 10:00 PM, all businesses were to be closed, and police inspectors would be surveilling the roads, questioning anyone they caught. Masks were required to be worn at all times, even inside the car. This wasn’t the first time curfew had been implemented, so I hadn’t thought much of it. I had thought, much like many others, that once curfew had been implemented, the cases would go down and restrictions would be lifted. That life would be able to return to normal once again (or as normal as can be). 

Just a couple days later, I was back in America where news of the skyrocketing covid cases made my blood run cold. Pictures of the mass cremations, something so personal and private to the grieving families, had been sensationalized and blown up by the Western media. I was bombarded with news of the shortage of oxygen supplies and vaccine materials, trapped between the guilt and worry for my loved ones back in India and the relief that my family was able to come back safely. 

“You guys left just in time,” my cousin had told me through a phone call. “Otherwise, you would’ve been stuck here!”

Yes, I would have been. Just like the way in which some of my own relatives are stuck there as well. The same way thousands of Indian-Americans are stuck in the U.S. as they are unable to go back to their homes and take care of their families during these perilous times. We’ve all been caught in this sticky web, our hands stuck to our sides and our bodies unable to move. Because helplessness is a spider’s trap that we have all been caught in, and it seems that no matter how hard we try and fight, we will stay stuck here forever. 

Helplessness is what I feel now as I hear news of close friends getting covid in the hushed whispers of my parent’s conversation. Helplessness is what I feel when I think of my aging maternal grandfather, turning eighty-nine this year, since he is more vulnerable to this disease. The constant “what if?’” that seems to plague my parents’ minds, with every text notification, with every incoming call from India.

What scares me the most, however, is the contradicting and conflicting emotions I feel, ranging from hyper-sensitivity to complete numbness. Hearing the news didn’t send me into a spiral of panic immediately. Instead, an ambiguous numbness washed over me, as though a bucket of cold water had been dumped over my head. Tragedy has now sunken into our daily routines. It is something we, as humans, have adapted ourselves to. I carry this heavy weight of guilt, worry, and stress in both my heart and mind, yet I cannot attain the will to push myself through those feelings, and instead, sit back and watch as the world slowly burns. 

Then I remind myself that I am one of the lucky ones. I was able to leave India while that was still possible. I was able to bring my paternal grandparents back from India. 

Not everyone had that chance.

Familial bonds are the core of Indian culture. Many Indian-Americans are immigrants who support their own families living back home. Travel restrictions have kept them stuck here as they mourn loss through a zoom call and attend virtual cremations of loved ones. Suddenly, that family they had supported, now risks to no longer exist, and if that doesn’t strike a fear into your heart, I’m not sure what will.

Grief clings to one like second skin. It is there when you are working. It is there when you are in school. It is there when you are eating and breathing, and it is there every morning when you wake up, and every night when you sleep. Grief is there right now, when you are expected to go and live about your daily life as though nothing is going on. It is constant and consistent and every time you think you’ve forgotten about it, grief rushes back in full force, reminding you of what you’ve lost or could potentially lose. 

I feel grief as I write this reflection. I know I will feel grief before going to bed tonight and will feel it again when I wake up tomorrow and attend school. I know that the entire Indian-American community right now must be going through some semblance of grief, and I just want to say that as a community, we are allowed to grieve. That there is no shame in taking that one day off, to take that hour-long break, and grieve. 

Grieve for those we could not save. 

Grieve for those we cannot help. 

Grieve for those closest in your hearts. 

Grieve for yourself. 

Grieve. Quietly. Loudly. Continuously. Periodically. 

We are allowed to feel grief. Don’t let life’s normality take that right away from you.

Because once you are done grieving, you must stand, and persevere. 

Picture Source: Yale Insights / Sean David Williams

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