In March, I began to receive warnings that things were getting worse in India. The news was coming from outside, and as much as I looked around me, I couldn’t see it happening. The hospitals were not full and the ghats were not busy. No one I knew was sick. I always told myself and anyone else that death was not easy to hide in India, and from my terrace I could scan the horizon for a column of smoke by the river. So, like everyone else, I rode the myth that India must have escaped the terrible outbreaks that shook Europe and America, and our lives almost went back to normal.
Then, suddenly, it was upon us. All the images I had conjured over a year ago, on that fateful day when we went to the bazaar, looked at the comings and goings telling ourselves that the storm was imminent, were there. The hospitals were full, and nearly every acquaintance we knew in Delhi was either sick or someone in their family was. Every week brought news of someone close dying. There was no oxygen to be had and bodies were burning everywhere. On April 27, we decided to do our own lockdown and on May 7th, the whole area went under. Even going out for a drive in the countryside seemed a risky luxury and we stayed put.
All during that time, the vaccine rollout had begun. It went smoothly and efficiently for the two older age groups, but supplies ran out on May 1st, when the 18-45 phase began. The few doses that were delivered to Himachal State on May 17th sufficed for about 10% of the population and had to be obtained on the Internet. Tenor spent hours fishing on his phone, and finally got a spot for Sochoe and himself in two different places near Kangra, for the next day. We decided to make it into an outing and drove through the deserted towns with their shut down markets. The injections took a few minutes, they may have been scarce, but at least their distribution was organized. The recipients all looked techy and like Tenor must have spent hours on their phones to get their spots. We wondered what the computer illiterate, the majority of the state’s population, would do. Wait, I guessed, until supplies were ramped up.
We then drove on a bumpy road to the near top of a hill crowned by a mango grove that belonged to a local Maharaja. It was more like a forest, with guava trees, silk trees and the remnants of tea bushes. The trees were old, gnarled and majestic, and little unripe mangoes lay on the ground, intermittingly plopping down onto the forest floor, breaking the silence. We walked up a path past a mud house, and a few cows grazing until we got to a clearing with a little half-fallen house, with wooded shutters and a door closed by a chain and lock. There was a veranda with flat stones and the remnants of a fire, probably the cow herders. It was a perfect picnic spot and we unpacked our sandwiches and poured ourselves tea from our thermos. On the way back, we met an old man, the owner of the mud house, and he asked us if we had picked mangoes. We said they weren’t ripe yet, and he suggested we return in a month.