Upstate New York’s Indian community watches the nation’s nightmare unfold

I received my second dose of vaccine this week. As I sat in the observation room, I opened my phone and started browsing Twitter.

For the past few weeks, my feed has been filled with people begging for hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, and medicine. Correspondents broadcast gruesome images of bodies piled up in crematoriums. Back home in India, a deadly second wave had hit and all I could do was follow it from a distance.

I’m not the only one. Members of the Indian diaspora in the capital region experience the same feelings of anguish and helplessness. As I write this, India has passed 20 million reported coronavirus cases, with many more undetected, prompting nationwide lockdown demands.

Ashok Adikoppula, a Loudonville-based software engineer who works with New York State, said both of his parents were affected in the first wave when they tested positive for COVID-19. It took her father three months to fully recover, and a second wave completely knocked Adikoppula out. India reported more than 368,000 new cases and 3,417 deaths on Monday, according to reports.

“It’s even more brutal,” he said. “It’s a dire situation with so many deaths every day.”

If Adikoppula watches over his family on the other side of the world, he also had to take care of friends in India. His closest friend lost his job last year.

“He contracted COVID during the second wave,” Adikoppula said. “His wife got it because of him and she’s diabetic and has a number of co-morbidities. So I had to send a decent amount of money from here to help him out because he pretty much lost his job, not just because of COVID, but because of a job situation back home, where they’re downsizing.

Niskayuna-based healthcare consultant Manasi Dutta also feels helpless. Dutta’s family lives in the National Capital Region, which includes New Delhi and a few surrounding suburbs, areas that have been badly affected.

“I was always on high alert,” said Dutta, who lost her father to COVID last December.

“My mother lives alone and my siblings live at least 45 minutes or an hour away. So, I’m still up, talking to my mom every day. Luckily my mother and my mother-in-law both got their shots, but the more we watch TV or any other social media, and you see these pictures, and when your parents tell you that someone you know, like the neighbours, tested positive, it’s scary. So, I think I never let my guard down.

Imdad Imam, a retired engineer from Niskayuna, feels the same way.

“I keep calling my brother every day,” said the imam from the city of Allahabad. “Because they have no protection,” he said. “They don’t even have oxygen. So I keep calling and I’m worried. I pray for them.

As a member of the Diaspora myself, these feelings are all too familiar. My parents tested positive a few weeks ago, and having to wake up every morning and read the news scares me even more as the situation is getting worse every day. This contrasts sharply with the situation here in the capital region where vaccination rates are on the rise.

In an ideal world, my parents would have visited me this summer. It’s their 25th anniversary this week and I had made big plans. Sadly, these have now deteriorated at the mere prayer that they stay alive.

Times Union arts writer Shrishti Mathew grew up in Chennai, India, where her family still lives.

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