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  • The Edict

The Edict x Project Safar: Part I

A few weeks ago, we’d asked high school students from all across India, and indeed the world, to partake in a fundraising competition, wherein the best essays, photographs and artworks make it to the pages of The Edict. All that was raised through this fundraiser went into Project Safar’s efforts: that of arranging transport for our country’s stranded migrants.

This is the first of a two part series, through which The Edict celebrates the winning works.

Art: Kruti Tarachandani, ‘The New Normal’.

Essay: A Time Of Loss, Anika Khanna.

Loss. A single syllable that triggers a myriad of memories in our minds, as if they were part of a rapidly unspooling film reel. Curiously enough, no two people see the same thing. As I stand at my window in the pitch-black darkness, I try to make sense of what I see. The lights in every flat for miles before me have been turned off. Suddenly, the warm, orange aura from thousands of candles being lit spreads into the darkness. As I curiously observe this night of incandescent hope, I wonder why humans indulge in these kinds of activities. Perhaps lighting candles gives us a pseudo sense of comfort during this isolating pandemic. But does it fix anything? Is this act a meaningless consolation? Please bear with my cynical mind for a moment, as these thoughts precipitate a complex internal discussion. We all could whine endlessly about the things we have lost in quarantine. I could use this essay to describe how crushed I felt when I realized that my sixteenth birthday would be spent in isolation. I could employ melodramatic similes to compare myself to a bird, constricted by a tiny cage. But that is not how I wish to spend my words. In times of crisis, people construct solutions. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, which pushes us deeper into an abyss, we fill our void by focusing on the losses of others. Each person’s sacrifice is a microcosm in itself.

The first thing we have lost is peace of mind. My mother’s hands are going dry as she relentlessly bathes them in sanitizer. The vegetables have been washed repeatedly and thoroughly, and are drying in the sun. The kitchen counter smells of pungent disinfectant, but my mother goes on with more chores. She wipes the sweat from her brow and massages her strained shoulder. Having lost our help during the lockdown, she bears the brunt of household tasks. But all that my family has lost is comfort.

Photography: Vriti Gupta, ‘Mask’.

If the ability to stay healthy is a luxury, it is one that my helper cannot afford. Since she sleeps squeezed in a room with five family members, being advised to self-quarantine is a mockery of her conditions. She fears for her safety as she uses the common bathroom in her chawl. Without her job or a place to go, preventing a loss of health is the biggest challenge of all. Ridden with financial instability, an independent technician has lost his earnings. Ironically, protecting his life by staying at home has cost him his livelihood. He is a daily-wage earner and the sole breadwinner for his family. Each day that passes is a testament to his tricky predicament. Who would have thought that sustaining one’s life and health could conflict?

Millions of entrepreneurs hope they can weather this storm of falling demand. With sectors like travel and hospitality almost shutting down completely, it’s no surprise that India’s unemployment rate has risen by 20% in two months. While we scrambled to save ourselves from a lethal virus, we impaired the economy with a harsher blow. Will it ever recover?

An exhausted doctor in green scrubs rushes from room to room as she works with hardly any food or rest. Surrounded by the virus, she hopes that her selfless service will not cost her her life. She has not met any of her loved ones in months. As she hurries to aid her struggling patient on a ventilator, she works to protect everyone except herself.

The magnitude of the sacrifice of essential workers is immeasurable. Simply pondering over it evokes an emphatic, resounding rumble of applause from our world, as we bring our hands together to exude the boundless auditory appreciation from our hearts.

But as the ring of our gratitude dissipates, we hear the reverberating pound of a thousand throbbing feet as they strike the baking, hot earth. Listen to the fatigued footsteps and cries of innumerable migrant workers, struggling to make their way home. Parched and starving, most collapse on the rocky roads.

What would you do if your house was not a haven? During the first four phases of the lockdown, Indian women filed 60% more domestic violence reports than have been recorded in this time period for the past ten years. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg, since 86% of women who face abuse do not seek help. Our lifesaving lockdown has morphed into a terrifying lockup for victims who are held in dangerously close proximity with their abusers. Domestic violence has emerged as a shadow pandemic, resulting in a loss of refuge and psychological well-being. The chilling fear of losing a loved one is deadlier than the virus itself. I pray for my grandmother every day, hoping that she remains happy, healthy, and safe. But the loss that breaks my heart the most isn’t the thought of her being sick. It is the sound of her feeble and dejected voice on the phone. She cries about how she hasn’t hugged anyone in months, about how lonely she feels. While physical distancing may save her life, social distancing has stolen the human contact that keeps her lively.

Humanity is not defined by how much it has lost, but rather by the way it copes with its losses. While change and loss remain universal constants, this pandemic, in my opinion, is not a time of idle mourning, bitter sacrifice, and futile consolations. To answer my question, lighting candles together is not a meaningless gesture but is symbolic of our unity and recognition of each other’s loss. Moreover, it represents the action we are taking to withstand this crisis. By giving thanks to our essential workers, we pay respect to each other’s sacrifice. By raising funds, donating supplies, and demanding representation for the needy, we work to solve each other’s problems.

And finally, through movements on social media, petitions, and projects like this one, we use our voices to raise awareness about each other’s struggles.

Congratulations to Vriti, Anika and Kruti, and thank you to everyone who contributed! The second part comes out next week.

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