Updated: May 30, 2021 7:51:27 am
One day they were all there, running around the park, hurtling down on cycles, fighting over turns at the badminton court, jostling for the swing, hitting balls your way, retrieving shuttlecocks from trees. The next day, they were gone. A seat on the swing stands askew, the court is full of fallen leaves, a ball has been forgotten in a corner for days now, and on a day it rained and rained, not one child was out stomping deliberately on a puddle to raise a splash. Where have the kids gone?
In this second wave of the pandemic, getting out of the house has got tougher and tougher. Every time one does so, telling oneself one can’t be more secure after a double dose of vaccine and two masks, the silence hits. Where have the kids gone?
If they are secured inside, why don’t I hear them more? Passing by windows or under balconies, I long to see one such kid looking on defiantly, screaming his or her head off. Where have the kids gone?
Maybe I am asking the wrong question. As doors are slammed on them, maybe the kids have learnt not to be kids. Some too quickly, some too cruelly, and some too wisely.
In the space of now more than a year, I have seen my own son and daughter make those adjustments, both evidently and imperceptibly. Through several health emergencies, combined in Covid times with the merciless isolation, they have held my hands, lent a shoulder, and been often the voice of reason.
At the height of this current wave, my 20-year-old and I spent one horrific night driving into hospital emergencies. One turned us away, the other wheeled us in, told us to stand just outside the curtains that were whipped promptly around a bed. We had been reading about situations like these for days by then — including my son, on account of several of his friends’ parents and grandparents in various stages of Covid-19. However, little had prepared for us that night.
That hanging around to catch the eye of the doctor, those on-the-spot consents regarding numerous tests, that dilemma of hospital admission, that fight with the mosquitoes out on the hospital footpath, those long walks on what was a spectacular moonlit night to pass anxious hours, that shared vigil with other attendants around us, those hushed murmurs between them, that warning by a policeman to colleagues regarding a patient about to be declared dead and the trouble that might follow (it was the day after Apollo Hospital in Delhi had seen a clash between a patient attendant and staff), that worried sprint by a nurse down a corridor, that sight of an oxygen tanker, that wail of an ambulance arriving, and wails, wails, all through the night, of other kinds.
Cynical and tired, I would have given up, but for my son and his own navigation of this timid new world. That world, he made me see, need not be very different from as we have known it. It is still inhabited by kind strangers, who silently helped each other out that night —whether a guard telling us about a good corner to sit, or the 24X7 chemist turning a blind eye to attendants seeking chairs under a welcome fan; whether another guard bending rules to wave us through into the emergency ward, or a doctor insisting an attendant take a chair; whether a nurse hearing each patient out amidst a chaos of calls, or a ward boy putting smiles on many faces by telling an agitated attendant, “Go, ask the sarkar”.
We saw that night the courage of a child ailing and alone in the emergency ward, of a daughter handling her critical father’s admission, of another seeking out the procedure for organ donation soon after a relative had passed, and the next afternoon, the desperation of a young man hauling two oxygen cylinders for his father in the triage and then joining a queue of many others under the sun like him, waiting, just waiting for some news.
At home, my daughter, not yet 16, spent the night alone with her grandfather, keeping a watch on him as he slept, instructed to not let him know there was anything wrong till at least the morning. She called, kept tabs, prepared a bed in the living room, and stayed up. No one had to tell her what was needed.
I grew older, and lighter, over those two days. My children, who have been ribbing me saying I have become like a cantankerous matron this past year, gave me new wings to fly.
Is it too wrong to presume that when all this is over — if all this is over — the kids who emerge from homes will not be the same we herded in? The cloud of death that hangs over all of us this time, filtering through to them over discussions, phone calls, news, their own social media networks, the shadow of it that has not left anyone untouched, how would it have changed them? Would they brave sharing a seat on a swing now, a ball game, a high-five, or a puddle?
The kids may be alright, but will they be kids as we know kids?
National Editor Shalini Langer curates the fortnightly ‘She Said’ column
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