Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, sexual, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.
shillpi a singh
LOVE IS GIVING: The Gift
Producer-director Suman Bhattacharya’s debut movie, The Gift,is a short, simple and beautiful present. It has the quintessential O Henryesque flavour in its tone and tenor. Unlike a toffee or chocolate, The Giftdoes not come clothed in a fancy wrapper. Unlike other presents that give temporary contentment, this one is an emotion and provides deep satisfaction. The power of unconditional love. The power of selfless giving. The audience needs to peel off the various layers to see the real Gift here, and that’s a clever task by the debutant director.
The endearing film opens with the morning hustle-bustle of a busy metropolis, Kolkata. The city and its milieu, its daily grind, the mad rush to make a living, and in the process, forgetting how to live and choosing just to exist. That’s the bane of our being. The dull and insignificant events that happen in a day flow with clockwork precision but hardly matter to us in the larger scheme of things. They only make us more indifferent and disconnected from ourselves and each other. Nothing really tugs at one’s heartstrings. Nothing seems to matter anymore.
The camera takes us through the mundane life of urban residents until the day draws to an end, and a dog sleeping on the pavement conveys the subtlety of this profound statement. The subtle notes of the sitar playing in the background make the story’s plot music to one’s ears.
The narrator leads the audience into another day, but it comes covered in myriad human emotions that unfold, scene by scene, and by the end, the audience finally gets to unwrap the gift they had waited for all along. The ten something girl comes with her father to an upmarket bakery to buy a birthday cake but realises that these things are way beyond their means. Her father makes up for it, but without compromising on his self-respect. Just when we had lost everything that we thought there was to lose, and everything seemed dark and gloomy, the father-daughter duo came along and gave us something for free. It is the greatest gift one can ever give another person (here, the uber-rich woman who comes to the cafe and orders chicken quiche and hazelnut cappuccino, and also the audience), and that is one’s happiness. Remember the smiley chocolate? The girl gives it away, quite literally and also metaphorically.
The little girl’s generous heart is open. It is always ready to give even things that it can’t afford. She doesn’t belong but offers the most precious gift — the experience of knowing that we always belong, somewhere, somehow, and to people who are special.
The narrator’s takeaway is also ours — never mind those failures till yesterday because each new day is a sequel of a beautiful life; gifted with hopes to succeed. The movie starring Adrija Chakraborty, Jayati Chakraborty and Ashok Majumder is all about unconditional love and selfless giving. There is also a not-so-obvious reference to The Gift of the Magi’s magical sentence, “Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest.”
Like O Henry’s heartwarming story, The Gift of the Magi, Suman’s short film The Gift brings joy all along, much more than the material value of the onscreen exchange, and that’s what is a priceless gift for the audience too. It is currently doing festival rounds and has had 18 screenings, seven awards and counting. The Gift’s next stop is the online International Kolkata Short Film Festival from January 22-29, 2022.
Gifts of the heart can’t be claimed by anyone except the giver.
Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, sexual, philosophical, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.
Shillpi a singh
LOVE IS BEAUTIFUL
Ultimately, it’s more useful to see love not as a feeling, but as an act.
It was World Health Day on April 7th, and quite ironically, it was the day when it dawned upon me that an accidental exposure a couple of days ago (because that’s the only time we had stepped out) had compromised the health of my family of four. All of us had started showing symptoms of COVID at a gap of a few days from each other.
My school friend Aashish Juyal, whom I had known since I was a few months old threatened me that if I didn’t come to see him at Sohna for Easter brunch on the 4th, he wouldn’t talk to me ever. I went with my family. He was writhing in high fever, cough and complaining of body ache since April 5th. His wife got the mandatory tests done when he came home on the 9th, and it was a false negative. Astonishingly. The treating local physician dubbed it to be a case of viral fever. His family didn’t find anything amiss and rightly so because the doctor said so, hoping that it would subside and he would be fine soon.
A day later, on 8th, I casually informed my writer-filmmaker friend Devashish Makhija (Dev) how the virus had got the better of me/us, and I was suspecting that we were on our way to be COVID positive. He asked me to wait for the tests, and then the results. On the other hand, my school friend Deepa was constantly praying for it not to be what it eventually turned out to be.
I was wary of informing my sisters and my parents, but I did. In between, Aashish was rushed to a hospital on April 12th; he appeared normal, refused to lie down on the bed in the ambulance, or lie down on the stretcher and even laughed and talked on his way, his wife Divya informed me days later. He was admitted and taken to ICU immediately; his saturation was 31 at that point. He suffered a massive cardiac arrest, and within minutes, a warm, compassionate and beautiful soul had left us wailing and grieving for the rest of our lives. The news hit all of us like a boulder. We were aghast. The bereaved family is yet to come to terms with his untimely demise.
On the same day, we travelled 25 km in high fever to get our RTPCR tests done; the results came two days later and confirmed our worst fears. The corresponding blood tests done on April 13th made it doubly sure that Coronavirus had invaded our bodies, and with every passing minute, the truant virus was getting bolder and our immune system weaker to stand up to it and fight that war.
On my sister, Shruti’s insistence, three of us (kids aged 8, 6 and I) started the medication prescribed by the treating physician, but my husband Ajay chose to rely on paracetamol solely, much to my chagrin. He was running a high fever, cough and severe body ache. She was kind to send my brother-in-law Pushp with food, medicines, and coconut water to my place, and in the process, the poor boy got exposed to the virus and tested positive with his little daughter about a week later. By God’s grace, the infection could be managed with home isolation or else I would have been forever guilty.
Dev formed a WhatsApp War Room with other warriors – Anupama Bose, Chhitra Subramaniam, Monica Rajeha, Gillian Pinto, Niiya Kumar, Mayuri Joshi Dhavale, Taranjit Kaur – that worked like a safety net for my family and me. Day in and day out, these warrior members were busy getting food delivered, sending medicines, arranging for a doctor consultation, checking about hospital beds, and above all, assuring me that it is just a phase and it too shall pass. This lovely bunch made me believe that “sometimes miracles are just good people with kind hearts.” Their kindness stood me in good stead all through this crisis. Also, because I knew these people had my back.
Our saturation levels started dipping, and my younger brother Anshuman Sinha suggested that we get an oxygen concentrator at home. I told my father GP Sinha, who is based out of Dhanbad, and he used his vast reservoir of contacts to arrange an oxygen concentrator and have it delivered at home, past midnight on April 14th. Both my younger kid and Ajay needed oxygen support, but there was only one outlet, and both of them took turns, with Ajay sleeping with 5l/minute oxygen support that night. The morning was quite rushed, and I found that his SPO2 was around 92% while my daughter kept complaining that ‘air is not coming in through her nose’. So I let them use it alternatively with different oxygen masks.
I was alarmed by these two developments and knew for sure that it is getting worse faster than I had expected. All that I had to do next was to keep help handy and immediately look for a hospital with an ICU facility and oxygen bed while thinking of the best and preparing for the worst. At the same time, I was petrified of hospitalisation. I told Dev that ‘if I go to the hospital, I won’t come back. He dismissed it all and texted, ‘of course, you will.’ His words were reassuring, but I still had my doubts like an eternal pessimist.
The next day, I helplessly informed Dev about our deteriorating medical condition and also put out an SOS tweet at 1.42 pm on April 15th while fixing Ajay’s oxygen flow on the concentrator, and checking his saturation level stuck at 92 at 5l/min, as if calling out the Universe to unite its forces and come to my family’s rescue. I was scared to death. I didn’t know whom to call to seek four beds in a hospital and on an urgent basis.
As a non-celebrity with hardly 800 odd followers on the social media handle, I knew my tweet’s fate… it would slip into oblivion sooner than expected. Who cares for an indie writer’s SOS message? “Can anyone please help find oxygen beds in #Gurugram or #Delhi? My family of four is #COVID positive. Our spo2 is dropping off alarmingly.” I was fatigued with this minor exercise and mental marathon that followed, thinking about – what if no help came about? What would we do? How will we manage this COVID emergency? I put the phone aside and dozed off. I woke up to a flurry of WhatsApp messages from my friends. They had sent me screenshots of some of the responses that my tweet had elicited, especially of #IndianYouthCongress Chief, Srinivas BV. He had tweeted asking me to DM my details, and my friends who knew the urgency started calling me frantically to respond. I did so pronto with little hope. But what followed after this leaves me choked with emotions.
Within seconds of dropping my number, the National Convenor of Indian Youth Congress (Social Media) and an active volunteer of #SOSIYC, Manu Jain, called. He asked me about my family’s saturation levels and told him that while my elder daughter and I were hovering at 93-94, my husband and younger one were 92 on intermittent oxygen support. He assured me of all possible help. He connected me to a doctor (Dr Komal Panchal from Satyawadi Raja Harish Chandra Hospital in Narela) for teleconsultation, who asked me to monitor our saturation levels and continue the medicine protocol. I requested Manu that I would prefer a government hospital. He said, ‘Don’t worry, we will do it. For now, follow the doctor’s advice.’ He called a few minutes later to inform me that he had arranged four hospital beds in a government hospital, and I could move there if there were the slightest indication that Ajay’s condition is deteriorating. The worst fears came true that night when his saturation dipped to 90 on oxygen support, and I knew home isolation wouldn’t work for him or my younger daughter anymore. His comorbidities added to my fears, and the following day, I called up Manu at 10 am to update him about the saturation status. Upon hearing Ajay’s numbers, he told me to rush immediately to the hospital and gave me the person’s coordinates (Vikas Panchal) at Satyawadi Raja Harish Chandra Hospital, Narela. The comforting bit was that the hospital was willing to accommodate all four of us.
I informed my co-warriors in the WhatsApp group because they were looking for a bed for us all over NCR, scouring options at both private and government facilities on a war footing. Anupama Bose, or AB as I call her, was quick to send me an ambulance guy’s number that I called, booked, packed some clothes and at 1.30 pm on April 16th, started the arduous journey to recovery.
We reached the hospital at 4 pm, and by then, Ajay’s SPO2 had dipped to 74. He was wheeled into ICU and while we to the third-floor general ward. My younger one needed oxygen support, and she was put on one immediately.
Our go-to person Vikas and his wife Dr Komal, who was posted in the same hospital, were just a call away all through. So were Manu and Srinivas, constantly checking on us and taking our health updates with the treating doctor, especially for Ajay.
The Warrior Squad formed by Dev became my secure space, and I don’t know how much and what all these beautiful souls did to make me stay put and fight it out with all my might, even as they battled with the agony of their near and dear ones becoming COVID positive and losing the battle. But they kept HOPE afloat for my family and me.
On 20th, my sister Richa and brother-in-law Anudeep got six vials of Remdesivir for Ajay, and by paying an exorbitant sum of money. Ajay’s elder brother Rahul got the first two picked up from Faridabad and dropped at Vikas’ place, who came to the hospital and handed them to Ajay’s doctor. The first two doses were administered on the same day and rest over the next four days. The other four came on 22nd through Abdul, a driver who collected them from Rohini and came to Narela to give them.
My father got to know about a homoeopathic medicine that was a lung booster. I contacted Deepa, whose husband Divesh (whom I fondly call a magician) got his bureaucratic colleagues in Delhi into action and within hours, I had the medicine with me. Papa scoured his phone book to get in touch with a driver whom he had met on his recent trips to Delhi to deliver some food and fruits for Ajay in the hospital. My second cousin Rachit sent home-cooked food, fruits and everything else that was needed for him. Papa’s doctor friends provided medical guidance and all of them were mighty impressed with the way doctors were going about his treatment. Anshul, my lawyer and brother from another mother, made ample arrangements by putting his clients on the job of sending snacks for my children and coconut water for Ajay in the hospital, and I can’t thank him enough for this.
His saturation dipped to 84 on 23rd and on full flow oxygen support, and I felt I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I met a doctor on the round, and he told me, ‘Ajay is very sick, and you need to look for a ventilator bed for him.’ I broke into a thousand pieces that moment. I called up Vikas and then Manu. Both of them reassured that Ajay has been showing signs of recovery and it could be a minor glitch that he will overcome soon. ‘Nothing to worry,’ they said almost in unison. I believed them and went about looking after my children and Ajay. Manu and Vikas were right.
The first bit of good news came on 25th when the doctors told me that my daughters are stable and good to go home in their best interests because they might catch another infection if they stay around any longer. My sister Shruti whose husband Pushp and four-year-old daughter were also COVID positive, pitched in to take them home in Sarita Vihar on 26th, and they were with her till May 10th. It was a great relief because now I had only one child to take care of, Ajay.
I saw many deaths during my hospital stay, and they all bring an immense amount of pain even to date. I met Gaurav Maul, who was tending to his sick mother Radha, on the same floor. She was on BiPap, and her saturation was fluctuating. She needed intensive care, and despite our best efforts, we couldn’t get an ICU bed for her. She battled a lonely war against the virus in her hospital bed before breathing her last on the 28th. The helplessness still haunts me. The grief is so personal and yet so collective.
On 29th, around midnight, there was another shocker. The doctor on night duty called me to discuss Ajay’s poor recovery because it was worrisome. He suggested that I take him out of the hospital and get his CT Scan done. It was a sleepless night. I dropped another SOS to my guardian angel, AB, to find a diagnostic centre around the hospital. She found one and booked an appointment past midnight.
The following day, I signed a declaration form to take Ajay out of the hospital at my own risk. Once again, I dialled Vikas and Manu. Vikas told me that Ajay is recovering fine, and HRCT isn’t required. I requested Manu to help me get a small oxygen cylinder. He knew Ajay’s saturation was 92 then and was reassured that he would be fine without oxygen support for those half an hour while being away for the tests. It was a thriller drama as we left the hospital bed at 12.12 pm on 30th, rushed in my cousin brother’s private car to the nearest diagnostic centre, and came back at 12.53 pm. Ajay was huffing and puffing and his SPO2 without support at that moment when he reached his bed was 87. He was immediately put on full oxygen support, and slowly, he bounced back.
The reports were still worrisome, but the silver lining was his negative RAT and RTPCR tests that came the next day. We were relieved.
Ajay was on full flow oxygen support during the first two weeks, intermittent after 15 days and then slowly no support after 17 days. He had his share of injections – antibiotics, anti-coagulant, and steroids – pumped into his veins that helped him get back on his feet. With its minimum resources, the hospital left no stone unturned to offer the best treatment to him, and that’s quite commendable.
After three harrowing weeks of hospitalisation and near-death experience due to COVID, Ajay was discharged on May 5th, after 20 days. It will be a long road to recovery given the extent of damage to his lungs, but a significant part is hopefully behind.
My sister Sonali, brother-in-law Rohit and niece Anushka in Mumbai were on their toes, praying and sending me her motivational videos so that I could hold on and not let it slip away. My friends Dev, AB, Chhitra, Taranjit, Mayank Aggarwal, Subha, Nidhi Jamwal, Eklavya Bhaiyya, Deepa, Divesh, Satish, Renu, Pallavi, Saroj, Anumeha, Manisha, Suman, Priyankita, Nikita, Fasiha, Saif, Jaspinder, Nishant, Abhishek, Jolly, Nidhi Sinha, Amitesh… and almost all of them from my family of friends from three schools that I attended, colleges I went to, places where I worked, became my sounding board as I could rant and crib and get back to caregiving business with more vigour. My foster family of Jameel Gulrays Sahab and his wife Rekha stood like a pillar during this crisis, and so did my friend Desiree’s father and mother, Khursheed and Pushpa Anwar, who are my foster parents. I had been a non-believer in healing, but Chhitra and Sonali made me see it in a new light. I was amazed how Manisha who is settled in Dubai had a strong intuition and kept texting and calling me when we tested positive; she didn’t buzz off till I told her that yes, we were positive. I think that is the friendship of three decades and its power that helped us heal. My brothers from North East – Jyoti, Ziaul and Arghadeep – texted and kept my spirits high all through. My octagenarian school teacher Mrs Vimla Kaul had immense faith that I will somehow sail through, and I am glad I did. My former bosses – P Mohanaiah Sir and S. Mani Kumar from NABARD – were worried from the day I informed them so they kept checking on me, and motivating me to keep my chin up. And on nights when I was anxious and stressed, I had two options to ease my mind… either call up Deepa and talk to her or go to YouTube and listen to my fav song – I’d Love You to Want Me by Lobo. These voices acted as a lullaby and soothed my frayed nerves.
My mother Shivam Sinha, who had immense faith in her Gods, and in the fact that her daughter is brave enough to defeat this invisible enemy and bring her family out of it, safe and sound, helped me sail through with her willpower once again. It was her faith that silently worked wonders. Papa did everything possible and built a support system around me so that I don’t feel alone in any way whatsoever. Unfortunately, my UK-based sister-in-law Poonam, who was another reservoir of hope for me during this crisis, lost her father-in-law to COVID in Kangra just a couple of days ago. Her husband (in London) and his younger brother (in Bhopal) couldn’t fly for his last rites, and that will perhaps haunt them forever. But that’s how this virus has crippled us. I made a few friends from those days in the hospital. And I hope to stay in touch as a reminder of the grim times that we overcame together.
We as a family are so profoundly touched and overwhelmed by the deluge of goodwill, messages, prayers of one and all. Upon returning home, I checked my Twitter DM, and there were messages from absolute strangers who wished us well and offered help. I don’t know what I have done to deserve this kind of love and support. My heart swells with gratitude at this outpouring. I was unable to reply to several messages or speak due to my tight caregiving schedule but my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who stood by us and prayed! It’s those prayers and wishes that gave us a new lease of life. And above all, I am deeply grateful to the do-gooder trio – Srinivas, Manu and Vikas – as I lovingly call them for all that they did to save a family from becoming a casualty figure in the second wave of COVID.
And yes, Dev was right all through. I did come back home with my guttural laughter (because I laugh from the gut or so thinks my friend Manish Gaekwad). Exhausted, but still alive and kicking. However, I will never be able to speak to Aashish, never again, and that hurts. It will always do.