Yesterday, I started watching this HBO show called The Leftovers. It’s a show that didn’t draw a huge audience during its initial airing, but is unanimously acclaimed as one of the best television series of the century, and went on to have a cult following.
The pilot begins with a mysterious, inexplicable event called ‘the Departure’ — two percent of the world’s population disappearing in thin air. A frazzled mother straps her crying baby to the car seat and settles herself in the driver’s seat — and suddenly, the kid is gone. A father wheels a grocery cart with his son, only to be not there the next moment. Gone. Disappeared. Not there. Lost. Departed. They leave with no answers, no goodbyes. “Two percent is not a lot, when you think about it. It’s one in every fifty persons,” an anchor declares to a world of leftovers — the ninety eight percent forever altered, those who are expected to carry on with their lives as a spectrum of grief hovers over them, every passing second.
My father was hospitalized in the third week of April, as a frightening wave of COVID-19 engulfed my country and tore it to smithereens. With a healthcare system which had already threatened to break apart at the seams, and a government hell bent on projecting a false image of normalcy as its citizens were dying, it was almost a miracle we found him a hospital bed in time. The day after he was admitted, we were notified that we’ve to arrange plasma for his treatment. He was not doing well.
I’m an extremely private person by nature. I self-deprecate, joke about my suffering, but I rarely ever communicate the bigger, despondent details. I don’t like to gather attention, or have someone pity me. That day, as we grappled with the situation in hand and posted pleas for help, I maintained my façade of calmness. I couldn’t break down, I had to be there for my mother, who was recovering from COVID herself (like me), and needed a shoulder to lean on. As I received an outpour of messages, sending me contacts and leads (a large number of which, unfortunately, turned out to be non-existent or exhausted), I didn’t lose it. I didn’t lose it even as I doom-scrolled on Twitter hearing of all the deaths, of all the people reduced to a mere statistic, those who’d disappeared from our world in the blink of an eye. There were no answers, and there were no goodbyes.
A friend called me that evening; he’d sent over a list of phone numbers and suggested we divide it among ourselves to find a donor. The moment he uttered, “Hello, Pari — are you okay?” a dam broke inside me. My voice went three octaves down, I bit on my tongue, and dug my nails in my hand. He gently asked me about how my dad was doing, and he comforted me when I said not okay. I nodded in desperation as my voice threatened to give away my vulnerability any second — and said I’ll be in touch on text. It still rankles me sometimes — how grief leaks out of you the moment you’re met with kindness. How it gets overwhelming in a fraction of a second, how fickle it is.
My father eventually improved and got better, as the days went by. My city and the people who made it were reduced to ashes, literally — as the cremation grounds of the country became too overwhelmed to even disperse the dead off properly. When you live in a country run by genocidal megalomaniacs, grief comes at a cost. It is an oxygen cylinder you were too poor to buy in the black market for the same, a private hospital bed you couldn’t afford, and medication that wasn’t available in the town you lived in. As the central government and it’s allied media continued to bullshit its way out of a crisis they’d created — the video of a wailing man, begging the police who’d snatched away an oxygen cylinder he’d procured for his mother, for the treatment of a VIP went viral on Twitter. The mother passed away, soon.
To witness such large scale calamitous destruction — and to know, that the resultant trauma will stain your generation for the rest of their lives makes for a tomorrow that may or may not dawn for a lot of us. Those, who don’t have the privileges of class, caste; who don’t have extensive social capital or ‘contacts’, those who don’t have community support — who deals with their grief? Who deals with the grief of a daughter who contracted the virus and unintentionally infected her parents — which led to their demise? Who deals with the grief of a child who is stuck in a foreign country, and receives news of a family member dying on a WhatsApp group? Who deals with the grief of doctors, healthcare workers, medical personnel — whose lives have been reduced to every single one they couldn’t save? Who deals with the grief of cremation workers, who continue to be marginalized, who continue to risk their lives — as the dead are reduced to a token number? Who deals with the grief of a country that had its future snatched away in the blink of an eye, and is told that the worst is yet to come?
I’ve no answers. We, as a nation, are taught to endure, endure, endure. We are told to forgive, to let go, to count every adversity as a test for the greater good. But I’ve not yet learned how to lose bravely, to look at grief as inevitable, to look past the ghosts that will haunt my generation for a long time to come. Those people who’ve blood on their hands, I hope I live one day to see your regime fall. This grief was forced on us by you, and I’m fucking angry.