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While the world seems to have gone crazy out there with COVID, here are stories of 4 single women in the pandemic who’re not giving up.
“We are, or will be, going through the most radical transformation the world has ever seen; people are justly terrified, excited, depressed, heartbroken and hopeful, all at once.”–Heather Marsh
More than a year into the most devastating pandemic that the world has ever seen, we realize that 2020 was only the level 1. We’ve hit level 2 and the challenges are worse than ever. With India hitting the high of 3,50,000 recorded cases and worldwide almost 21,00,000 cases, we have defeated our own best from last year and if 2020 was a storm, 2021 feels like a Tsunami.
I can’t help but stumble upon videos of people running around from one hospital to another, their loved ones on a stretcher, either gasping for air or with an oxygen mask, and a tank carried along with them by their own relatives. It is havoc, chaos and madness, at the same time it is a beautiful testimonial of how the country is coming together to provide, be it oxygen tanks or home cooked food, be it make shift ambulances or pet boarding for COVID hit families.
Amidst this pandemonium I received a call the other day, asking me to write about the single women in the pandemic, dealing with responsibilities, running around for their old parents, their child and loved ones; a thought that hadn’t struck me until someone nudged me to think in that direction.
In a world where men expect other men to protect and provide, how do they respond to a woman wearing pants in the house? To a woman demanding for a bed for her paralytic father, to a woman arranging for tests for herself and her toddler, to a woman rushing from one hospital to another, demanding an oxygen tank for her friend’s father and to a woman doing it all because her child needs to protected.
To gather these stories, I reached out to single women I know, who are either staying with parents, alone or with kids. And the stories I heard from them made me want to fly to wherever they are and give them a long, tight hug. Their stories made me want to stand tall for being a woman and the innate strength that comes from being one.
Kruti VB, single mom to a toddler
One of the first people I spoke to is the lovely, yet gritty, Kruti VB, a single mother to a beautiful toddler, an editor with a media house, and someone who is currently going through a divorce. As soon as she picked up the phone, her chirpy voice greeted me and she narrated her tale with such joyous abandon that it left me teary-eyed.
“I missed most of the pandemic in 2020 because I’d left for Mombasa, Kenya, which is my hometown. It was post my separation and the first time since I gave birth that I wasn’t single-handedly responsible for my son. I had my parents and my sister to help. I spent that time, relaxing, healing and lots of reading. Not to mention the beach was only a five-minute walk from my home. It was in March this year that I had to move back to India. My ex who had agreed for a mutual divorce changed his mind, and my lawyer felt it would be easier for me to come down to India and fight the case from here.”
So, I guess, you could say that Kruti landed in the ‘eye of the storm’ with a toddler in tow. Within a week of coming to India, Kruti and her three-year-old tested positive for Corona. She had just started working as an editor and she realized she couldn’t even get off the bed. With not just herself, but a toddler to take care of, she pulled into the last of her reserves and stumbled through the nightmare.
“It was hard mentally, when you are doing it alone. There is no one to tell you you’re worrying too much, that everything will be fine. Even though I have a wonderful support system with friends outside the house. I had friends bringing medicines, a friend’s mother brought food thrice a day, despite the fact she is 60 and high risk.”
But what about managing a little child during quarantine, and even now, with the lockdown, I wondered?
“I would cry, I would cry every single day. There were days when I had no energy to control his screen time; I still question my parenting when I think of those days. He would get cranky, I would have projects with deadlines, plus I felt like shit thanks to the virus. There are days when I have gotten only 3-4 hours of sleep because the only time I could get work done was when he was asleep.”
With promises of keeping in touch and hugs, I let Kruti get back to some much needed rest and moved on to the next woman on my list; an old school friend, Rati Vyas.
Rati Vyas, entrepreneur, divorced, staying with parents
Rati is an author, a production house manager, and an entrepreneur. Separated since 2015, her divorce came through in 2018. Since then, she has been staying with her parents back in her hometown.
“Post the divorce, I went through a year of acute depression and just when I was ready to bounce back again, the pandemic struck in 2020. It was sometime then that they diagnosed me positive and subsequently my parents diagnosed positive, too. With the three of us quarantined and on the bed, I couldn’t help but feel like I was responsible for this. It caused an emotional and physical mess, but we still sailed through.”
This experience made her realize she can accomplish a lot on her own. With the pandemic stretching indefinitely, putting moolah on the tables of not just her family, but the people she works with also became a priority. It was when she and her production crew shot a movie during corona with limited team, and finished it in 20 days, that her confidence at her own ability to sail through tough times set in stone. Yet the pandemic reminded her she wasn’t out of its clutches when her close friend lost her father to it.
“Recently my friend lost her father, and yesterday a neighbor was desperately looking for oxygen. You know you can arrange it, but can you arrange it in time? I felt that sense of helplessness all over again.”
With promises of meeting when this is all over and checking up on parents, I moved on to my colleague and friend, who prefers to remain anonymous.
Single by choice, moved back in with parents when pandemic struck
She is single by choice with a job in Bangalore, while her family is back in Gurgaon. She has spent over three quarters now managing work and elder care, and there are days when the despondency gets the best of her.
Until July of last year, the loneliness of living in Bangalore impacted her, when she moved back home until WFH was effective.
“It was only around Diwali that my father’s health challenges started kicking, and even on a normal day, my life became complicated. Like for a mother everything takes a backseat, my parents feel like my children now. The fact that there should be someone in my life; that I should date doesn’t even crop up, my personal life has taken a backseat.”
With the constant back and forth from the hospital and the pandemic raging in the background, what were some challenges that you faced, I asked.
“The day my father had a paralytic attack, just taking him to the car was difficult. With the MRI, CT scan done, doctors said they were short of beds. The only bed available was in ICU, which was 80k to a lakh per day; not to mention since the doctor was still not sure about the treatment, we did not know how long would he need to stay there. We couldn’t afford the cost, but thankfully my cousin is a doctor himself. He advised we keep him in emergency and wait for a bed to be emptied the next day. Even now that my father is back home, the Physiotherapist refuses to come for his physio because of the pandemic. I fear what it would do to his body, all the progress made all this time, will be lost. His body would go stiff again.”
With contemplative silence and a feeling of remorse over the fact that I could do nothing to help her through it, we bid adieu and reminded each other of the work meetings on Monday.
Next up was another writer friend, Sheetal Ashpalia, who also works in Admin Operations in Pune.
Sheetal Ashpalia, divorced, single mom to a teen
Sheetal has been separated since 2017 and divorced since 2018. She stays with her son who is in 12th grade now. Despite her family being in Mumbai, she made the choice of staying back in Pune because she did not want to rock the boat further for her child. Already the divorce had taken a toll on both of them; separating him from his friends and school would not help the situation.
“Panic struck in mid-March ‘20, when my company started sending private vehicles to pick and drop us because of the pandemic, until eventually move to a WFH model. While it is easier to manage with just a grownup son and me; I do run around for everything. With his 12th grade exams coming up and a crucial year in his academics, I can’t take a risk with his health.”
How are you managing all this with work? I asked.
“Last year office started in Aug and we finally reached to five days a week office by Jan and Feb. All the precautions have now become a part of daily life. With the second wave, just when I thought we were gathering momentum, WFH has become a challenge with no maids. Despite that, I feel grateful that I still have a job and money to put on the table.”
Being a mother to teenager myself, and managing it all alone, I had to ask.
“Sometimes he is in his own world, gaming or reading or chatting with friends, sometimes I do feel that there is a wall. And there is nothing I can do about it, I just wait for it to pass, and keep reminding him I am here. Especially with the 12th board exams stuck in limbo, kids bored, listless and forcing themselves to study because there is no certainty. For me though, thankfully, I have a select set of wonderful friends that I can always reach out to. All I have to say is sit tight, take all the necessary care and hope for the pandemic to pass.”
After listening to these four stories of grit and courage, all I have to say is that not all heroes wear capes, some wear determination, and do everything they can and more, to protect their loved ones through this Tsunami.
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