India, my homeland, is struggling to breathe

India, my homeland, is struggling to breathe. There hasn’t been a day in all of April when I hadn’t heard of someone either testing positive for COVID or succumbed to it. Nor have I come across other Indians who hasn’t. The humanitarian disaster continues to unfold itself for the world. A few calls this weekend checking on family and friends repeated the same story we have been reading in the news. Except that the frequency of the sirens from the ambulances driving by has increased. The shortage of crematorium space is leading to funerals being held on the streets. The vaccination roll out has started, except that there are no vaccines available. The worry in everyone’s tone on what the next call will bring and how all of this will end, reveals the mental state of a tired nation and its people.

As a member of the Indian diaspora, navigating the stark contrast of the dual realities of India and my adopted land, the United States, is complex. While one nation struggles, the other is starting to open up and reclaim some parts of normalcy. While one nation eagerly waits for vaccinations, the other is looking for more arms to get their vaccines into. This past weekend, a morning walk on a slightly cold breezy morning felt like the greatest privilege. It exposed the kind of things we take for granted, but now is a scarcity for a country with over a billion people. Such as, hearing the sounds of the birds and not ambulances, access to fresh air rather than waiting for airlifted oxygen, surrounded by the fresh green of spring rather than trying to find wood for cremation, the beauty of star filled sky and not blazing light from the cremation pyres…

The pleas of help and news coverage echoes helplessness. A simple pleasure of a warm afternoon snack is filled with guilt. Anything Indian in the house is a reminder that any remote person associated with it is possibly impacted, be it the South Indian coffee filter that brews the morning filter coffee, the artifacts proudly displayed around the house, the spice box that lends familiar taste and smell of home food, the clothes that define the culture, books, movies, music, arts. The WhatsApp messages resonate with either calls for help, sharing of resources, an occasional light hearted humor to lighten the mood, or silence.

We hold our breath praying for our families back home, scrambling to see how best we can help. Hope comes in the form of contributions and thinktank coming from industry leaders, corporations, NGOs, individuals — strategizing and creating impacts in their own way. Solutions are trickling in all sizes and hold a promise that this too shall pass, such as mass mobilization of resources to provide oxygen/plasma/medicines where possible, Indian American physicians volunteering consultation hours to Indian patients, fundraising by NGOs and individuals for immediate needs, check in with our family/friends to offer any support needed, collaborations across different organizations to get better understanding of the situation to provide adequate response, among many others.

It goes without doubt that there is monumental work ahead, and know it’s excruciatingly difficult when it gets personal and you have someone impacted. However, to prepare for the long path ahead of us, I offer the following for consideration, in addition to all we are going through. Let’s give it a chance.

- Check in. Trust your instinct and make that call to check in on people close to you. You may learn ways in which you can help each other. It worked like a miracle and a soothing balm for me this past week. I learnt that sometimes all someone needs is to be heard.

- Know that what you are feeling is real. Try to resist saying “I am ok” when someone is checking in on you. Articulate what it is that you are feeling. It allows the person checking in with you to meet you where you are at. And not to mention, you get to meet yourself where you are at. Truth be said, nothing about this situation is ok.

- Protect your energy. Things are going to get bad before they get better. They say, one of our greatest freedom is how we react to things. It sets the path for everything to follow. Reflecting on what caused this spike, collapse of basic health infrastructure, anger and sadness on the magnitude of loss and dignity, despair for the sick deplete our focus and energy. Let’s channel it.

- Be extra kind and empathetic. Help where you can. Step back where you cannot. Give space for your colleagues, friends, family members. You never know what someone is dealing with. In a world where we can be anything, let’s be kind.

- When someone asks how they can help, think hard. There is probably something they can do, even if it is small. Not necessarily monetary. It could come in kind, such as connections, partnerships, brainstorming, a shoulder to lean on, influence, delegation, volunteering… Asking for help is a sign of courage. This helps us to heal collectively and fulfills our need to be of service to each other.

- Give yourself grace. Let’s try to not get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem. We cannot solve all the problems by ourselves, but we can make an impact in our own little way. Remember the starfish story? A young boy was asked what difference would it make if he threw back one starfish at a time back into the waters, when there were tens of thousands of starfish washed by the tides to the beach. The young boy responds by throwing back one more fish into the water and said, “It made a difference to that one”.

- Allyship is key. In a interconnected world, allies helps communities move forward in their most vulnerable moments. Explore how they can be tapped into. Let’s take a leaf from the birds V-formation. It conserves energy, allows to go the farthest, and protect each other.

Hope is the best shot we have. Let’s hold on to it tight. We may not have the map yet on how to come out the situation or how long it will take before things stabilize. The coming weeks will unravel areas where each of us can lean in. Let’s stay close to that. For, we are the ones we are waiting for. In meantime, let’s tap into each others resources to see how we can help those in immediate need.

Stay safe. Stay well.

Daughter. Wife. Mom. Writer.