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Monday, August 02, 2021

Tonight I Write the Saddest Lines

Saying goodbye to loved ones lost to the second wave of the pandemic with letters

New Delhi |
June 20, 2021 6:30:14 am
pandemic, pandemic grief, letters to loved ones, COVID-19 losses, COVID-19 deaths, eye 2021, sunday eye, indian express, indian express newsLetters of grief (Illustrations by Suvajit Dey)

Dearest Mamma,

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pandemic, pandemic grief, letters to loved ones, COVID-19 losses, COVID-19 deaths, eye 2021, sunday eye, indian express, indian express news Illustration by Suvajit Dey

On May 18, the night you left this world to embark on a new journey in a new dimension, I had a strange experience. I had not been informed of your passing. You know how Pappa is na, he always protects us. I was talking to my friend throughout the night till 7.30 in the morning. Just as I fell asleep, I felt a presence on the left side of my bed, the side you always slept on. I woke up scared, but went back to sleep within seconds. Was that you?

I woke up around noon to have Mariam didi ask me to call Pappa.

The phone call was heartbreaking. I completely broke down. I could not believe it.

I hear the words “mamma is gone” every day since then.

I would come, during the pandemic, to your room every 10-15 minutes to give you a hug. I vividly remember each moment I spent with you the week before you went to the hospital. The nights I spent in your room, when Nani and I would have sleepless nights worrying about you, afraid of your panic attacks. But we all thought you would recover from this just as you always have.

I had a dream in which you called me from up above, telling me how much you miss me, how you found your new life a little weird, and I replied that it would take some time to adjust. In the same dream, you came back to us, sitting in the living room with Pappa, Dadu and I, wearing your orange jacket, your trademark spectacles and that lovely smile that you always had, chatting normally with us.

You know how much I miss you. I have not been as emotional as I thought I would be, but there are times when I cannot help but cry. I will miss your hugs the most. They would always make me smile even when I was at my lowest.

I am so grateful for the letters you mailed me, which are full of memories. They will keep reminding me of the love and affection you
gave me.

Someone very close to me told me that a person will not leave this world without fulfilling their purpose and I believe in that every day.

I love you infinity!


(Delhi-based Rian Narvekar, 15, a Class X student, lost his mother C Pallavi Rao Narvekar, 49, an entrepreneur, author, radio jockey and teacher on May 18 to COVID-19-related complications)

Dear Joyee,

pandemic, pandemic grief, letters to loved ones, COVID-19 losses, COVID-19 deaths, eye 2021, sunday eye, indian express, indian express news Illustration by Suvajit Dey

It’s exactly 60 days since you left this world, yet I feel your presence every moment, as I remember the good times we have always had in the two decades we spent together. Every morning, I remember our chats across subjects as we sipped green tea, filling our intellectual minds, and then we walked, filling our lungs with fresh air. I know you have better places to walk now than our favourite spots such as the Central Park in New York, or Champs-Élysées in Paris, not to forget our Qudsia Bagh in Delhi or Circuit House in Silchar. The countless travels across nations that we were lucky to have visited before COVID-19 helped us explore so many places and relish different cuisines.

Remember that Chinese joint that you discovered in Washington, DC? They are etched in my memory and I know you will also be reliving them in your new abode. Your Dhakai jamdani saris are all lying packed and ready to be sent to you if you provide the address. The flowers and trees in the farm miss you but have bloomed with your tender invisible touch; the fruits and vegetables have come in abundance and remind me of the care you took while you were here. The mynahs and sparrows also come by and desperately seek you. They cool down when they understand you are there above.

Our mothers still remember your lively conversations as they place your carefully curated art and artefacts around the house. Of course, all our family members on either side fill the WhatsApp groups with fond memories. The home staff awaits your menu-for-the-day morning brief and then, on their own, prepare dishes according to your weekly discipline. Every day, I receive calls and messages from across the globe reminding me how they all miss your golden heart that endeared you to all of them.

Now, you are in an enviable position — you can see what I do, yet I don’t know what you do. Yet, deep inside I know you are happy because you led your life with simplicity, integrity, care and affection, never hurting a single soul. You made your mark, both professionally and at home, on your own. Very few can do so and, as I used to tell you, that’s why I am proud of you.

The other day, you came to me in a dream. Just once, in all these days. And I asked you, “How long will you be here?” But the very next moment, I woke up, and you were gone.

Life goes on: I’m now strong enough after beating the same deadly virus that has separated us physically but hasn’t been able to take away my thoughts of you every moment. Meanwhile, dance to Rabindrasangeet or hum some Lalon geeti and also see that India’s relations with Bangladesh and Myanmar go from strength to strength. Remember, I will be waiting for you and we will go riding horses at Wellington, near Ooty, in the Nilgiris, where we took our last memorable trip together, on our anniversary, before you said goodbye.


(Delhi-based Subimal Bhattacharjee, 48, independent advisor in cyber policy issues, lost his wife Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, 45, Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, on April 20 to COVID-19)

Dear Daddy,

pandemic, pandemic grief, letters to loved ones, COVID-19 losses, COVID-19 deaths, eye 2021, sunday eye, indian express, indian express news Illustration by Suvajit Dey

It is indeed strange and heartbreaking to be writing this letter to you. It is strange because I can’t ask how you are doing — this letter is only going out into the void. And it is heartbreaking because it is such a sham: I never wrote you a letter while you were around, and, for the only letter you wrote to me last year, I haven’t mustered the courage to open and read it yet (perhaps, not for a long, long time now).

I am hopeful that now you are at peace after crossing the bar. While I am trying to come to terms with your passing, I am glad that you are no longer going through your unresolvable mental agony. Perhaps, what I am saying sounds “good” or is the “right thing to say”, but it abounds with contradictions!

Over the last four years, we have had a very strained relationship and I wish it didn’t have to end this way. Yes, for people on the outside, perhaps, it was mere conflict or cracks in a father-son relationship; the consequences of your poor mental health or my inability to cope with them. The act of loving brought conflicts with it and I have no regrets for them. I know you loved me and I loved you.

The pandemic and your subsequent death has laid bare so many things that I am still grappling with. The grief of your loss hasn’t hit me yet, or should I say, I haven’t had a moment of peace to sit and grieve your absence. This letter is just one small act of trying to grieve. Not a day goes by when I don’t get flashes of your last days in the hospital. The horrors of you gasping for breath, the growth of the virus inside you, your constant coughing, the weakness that gripped your body, and, above all, the crippling loneliness of your last moments, when none of us could be around you, when the doctors and nurses were making their last efforts to save you by pushing in those ventilator tubes. It doesn’t bring tears, it makes me shiver. A COVID death is a socially-distanced death and that is the most heartbreaking thing.

At 4.50 am, I received the phone call informing me that you are no more. No words can ever explain what I felt — that rush of shock, anger, sorrow and guilt, all at the same time — may never get resolved in me.

I will always sing Tere mere sapne, ab ek rang hain, the song you sang to rock me to sleep when I was a boy.


(Ahmedabad-based Siddhartha Dabhi, 34, a PhD researcher, lost his father Simon Dabhi, 71, a professor, on April 5 to COVID-19)


pandemic, pandemic grief, letters to loved ones, COVID-19 losses, COVID-19 deaths, eye 2021, sunday eye, indian express, indian express news Illustration by Suvajit Dey

I’m tired. From all the thinking, from the constant chatter in my head — the rationalising, the pacing back and forth, wishing you’d done things differently, blaming it all on you, feeling bad, and finally taking it upon ourselves for how things unfolded. Hindsight may not be a gift always, especially when it’s the only thing to fall back on. It feels like a nightmare come true. With all the warning signs, all the red flags gnawing at us for a while, perhaps, we had known it all along. But we didn’t think it would come to this, that we’d have to part with you forever and Baba and I would be left with a lifelong scar. Even in our wildest dreams, we could never imagine that we’d be met with such a horrible loss. Baba still says that he really believed that we would have somehow managed to survive the second wave and come out of it unscathed.

Mornings get me often. I sob, remembering the way you woke me up with a good morning in your melodious voice, kissing me in my sleep. I remember how I often got the blues even when you were here. When Baba was away, your body clock had gone for a toss. I would feel lonely when you caught up on lost sleep. However, I understand how the years of toiling at home, an early marriage, the unfulfilled wishes, the workings of nauseous patriarchy got in the way of your music career, stripping you off the will to go on, robbing you of your zest for life. Obesity was a word you dreaded the most. In the end, it got you before COVID did. Succumbing to the virus ended my hopes of finding the mother I remember from the years gone by. I wanted to travel with you and make up for your disappointments, give you all the happiness in the world. Time, indeed, does not wait for anyone.

I don’t play the blame game anymore, Maa. I simply miss enveloping you in the tightest of hugs. I miss your innocence, your smile, your music, the silliest of your demands. You were so wise and ahead of your time, yet such a complete child. I miss your physical presence, but the things you taught me will be with me for posterity. I’m so like you that it both hurts and empowers me. As physicists say, nothing ever dies, that energy cannot be destroyed. Whatever form you’ve taken, I wish that form be by my side forever, Maa.

Love you,

(Kolkata-based content writer Soham Chatterjee (aka Derek), 24, lost his mother Sanghamitra Chatterjee, 48, a music teacher, on May 13 to COVID-19)

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