I have made a career out of extolling the virtues of networks — how they make the very notion of time, location, and geography less relevant. The power of optics has flexed its muscles during the time of the pandemic. The wireless networks have kept us engaged, amused, and even productive during a scary time. You can see the world finally growing up to the irrelevance of distance — even big banks, accounting firms and not just technology companies are embracing the idea of remote work. It should give great satisfaction that this future which I have written about is finally here.
And yet I don’t feel any of that satisfaction. Instead, all I feel the distance.
The distance between two humans. I feel the distance between us as a society. And more selfishly, I feel that distance when it comes to those I love—my family. The tyranny of distance was brought home to me over the past two days as I have grappled with a family situation, not uncommon in this age of COVID-19.
Yesterday, both my parents tested positive for COVID-19. My mom, who has been the guiding light of my life is feeling worse. And yet there isn’t anyone to help them — they live in one of the worst affected neighborhoods in Delhi — it is quarantined and cordoned off from the rest of the city. It is difficult to either get in or out.
None of my childhood friends, college buddies or family members can do much. There is a feeling of helplessness. We are trying to find an ambulance to take mom to the hospital. The act of trying to get a hospital bed in a private hospital is like a game of Go.
The network has been really helpful. I could FaceTime with mom. And see for first hand, how badly she is suffering. I can use the messaging to rally together my group of friends and family. We could order some food delivery from Zomato too. It would be much better if I could be there.
You can’t fly even though you want to. There are no flights. And there are travel restrictions. There is a quarantine. The world might feel normal on the Zoom screen, but outside, the pandemic reality has a hell of a bite. It is strange — this feeling of utter helplessness, when you know the best you do is hope for the best.
I am writing because it gives me something to do. It is a little distraction. The curveballs of life are often faced best by doing nothing. But today, I feel panicked. I have a sense of dread. I want to blow away the clouds of negativity, darkness, and sadness are swirling all around me. There is a thought I don’t want to think.
If this is how I feel, I can’t even internalize how my mom must be feeling. She said it is cold. She didn’t even tell us about the fever. She can’t remember parts of the day. Even staying awake is tough. She is trying to be brave. She keeps saying it is nothing. And my dad is behaving as if there is nothing wrong. It is all so strange and all so sudden. You don’t realize the reality is just tapping you on the shoulder.
I know that I am not alone in this feeling of powerlessness in the face of this invisible killer. It impacts everyone the same. And it yet it is taking its toll differently. If you are a healthcare worker, you’re fighting against odds. The essential workers are playing Russian roulette with their lives. So some of us who are from someplace else, there is an additional toll of being able to do nothing.
The immigrant’s journey is not a drive over a smooth road, those that demonize immigrants make it to be. Instead, the journey is like riding blind over a bumpy dirt-track. The journey takes its toll. And eventually, it all comes to a grinding halt. A lot of us from another place, are feeling that moment right now. Isn’t it strange, how we give up the meaning of life as we build new lives?
I want to be there. But I can’t. And that makes me make me sad, angry, and also perhaps more accepting of the reality of this time. It is what it is! This is a feeling that reminds you when it comes to the matters of the heart, where emotions, distance can never lose its relevance. Or as Tennessee Williams wrote, “For time is the longest distance between two places.”
The pandemic has come home.
July 1, 2020, San Francisco
Updated July 2, 2020: Thank you everyone for your kind and warm wishes, prayers and support. My parents now have the right medical attention, and I hope we take positive steps forward from here.