The strength in their quiet voices

Posted by Nandini Rao, New Delhi

COVID-19 has done many things to many people. Some have got infected, some have recovered, some tragically died, many millions lost their jobs, some were asked to leave their homes for one reason or the other. But a few were lucky to meet some lovely people. This piece is about those ships that sailed together in the night. 

I thought that rather than write about one person, I would share stories about two people who gave me hope. This, at a time when we are unfortunate enough to see the worst side of humans, not just in India, but around the world. Casteism, Islamaphobia, transphobia, racism, misogyny, ableism. The pandemic has brought out the worst in a lot of humankind. And yet, there is much to feel hopeful about too. 

Savitribai Phule (L) and Fatima Sheikh (R)
Poster – “It is inevitable that we too shall see”

In the early weeks of the lockdown, a group of us got together to try and trace (over the phone) the families that were affected by the violence that had erupted in North-East Delhi in February 2020. Armed with a list, one morning I called up Fareed1 to check on him and his family. He handed the phone over to his wife, Raisa, who sounded like an older woman from the way she spoke. It was frightening to hear her narrating the violence, about the chanting in the streets, the burning and looting, the fear in their very bones as they fled with dear ones and a few possessions from their homes into an unknown night.

Fareed and Raisa (and so many others like them) are hard-working daily wage earners who work through the day to eat at night. They are not people who are used to asking anybody for handouts. The riots in their areas and of course, the sudden and total lockdown, had depleted their resources and forced them to ask for help from a disembodied voice on the phone. I sat listening to Raisa’s narration, feeling really shaken. And then she asks, “So beta, have you eaten breakfast?”. This was a family facing imminent hunger and hardship, and here, Raisa was concerned about my breakfast. My voice just clamped up and I had tears in my eyes as we said our byes. I was moved by the fact that she cared about a total stranger, across distance, disease, hatred and hardships. It may just be a tiny knot unravelling in the tangled web of human relations, but it felt like I had met a friend. 

120th memorial day of Savitribai Phule

A couple of weeks later, as part of Project Delhi, two of us were doing a delivery round of groceries for a group of people with disabilities (PwDs). Project Delhi was set up post the lockdown, to help reach groceries and medicines to PwDs in need. We reached the specified meeting place and handed over kits to each person waiting there. A young woman, Gurpreet, stood by herself, holding her trusty white cane in her hand. I walked up to her and introduced myself, and asked her if someone would be coming to help her carry the kit home. She was alone and said she would manage by herself. I hesitated because she looked a little frail, but I must have been wearing my ableist glasses.

I handed the kit over and turned to leave when Gurpreet stopped me. She told me about this neighbour couple who were also blind and facing many difficulties because they had neither money nor supplies to tide them over. They didn’t have a phone, and she said that I could reach them through her phone. Could I do something for them too? We were in a hurry to leave to meet the next person who was waiting for us, so we quickly said bye and left. In the rush, I forgot to follow up with the person coordinating at Project Delhi. A few days later, I got a call from an unknown number. It was Gurpreet, reminding me of my assurance to get back to her about the couple. She knew that their need was as much as hers, and she wanted to make sure that help reached them too. 

It never fails to amaze me that those who have the least, will give the most. Gurpreet’s determination reminded me that even in the toughest of situations (lockdown and lack of food), there are people who think of and are ready to do something for those who have even less than they do. Shukriya Gurpreet, for renewing my faith in the inherent good in people.

While there is much that is ugly in this world, there is as much beauty too, that continues to give us all hope and warmth.

1Names changed

Cover image : Team LV
Story images : Author

Standard Disclaimer : The story contributors are responsible for all views and facts provided in their posts. Lockdown Voices and its editorial team is not accountable for the accuracy of the information posted.

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