The damage of the pandemic is beyond the realm of what can possibly ever be written or said about it. The physical, mental and psychological impacts of it are felt every day both consciously and subconsciously in everything we do.
This poem came out of trying to process and heal from two years of extraordinary difficulty that I was experiencing personally and that we all experienced collectively. Although usually this poem would have ended up in my secret Word document, something stopped me this time. I wanted this story out, not least to reach out to other cancer researchers who might be struggling with struggles both documented and undocumented, said and unsaid, but also to talk about the tragedy that a billion people faced together in 2021 when the second wave of COVID-19 caused absolute havoc in India.
Most of all, be kind to yourself. If you are struggling, do whatever it takes to let yourself heal.
The grotesque helplessness of watching a tragedy unravel was inexplicably made worse by the distance between me and my homeland. While there is very little we could have done then and very little we can do even now about the numerous atrocities and destructions, both natural and man-made, that are rampant in our world, what we can do is be kind. There are things that everyone struggles with that they don’t and cannot talk about.
So be kind every day to everyone you meet and be kind in your thoughts towards everyone. Most of all, be kind to yourself. If you are struggling, do whatever it takes to let yourself heal. Sometimes, it is extremely scary and nerve-wracking, especially in the middle of a PhD ,which anyway feels like a race against time, to find the time to breathe and connect with yourself. But do, and I promise even just taking the first small step towards healing will feel like a victory.
If you want to read more about the impact of the second wave of COVID-19 in India, this article is a good place to start and is where the quote in the poem is from.
PhD Scholar, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Dublin.
Filling the extenuating circumstances form
“During India’s second wave of Covid-19, no family or workplace was untouched by the rampage of death, dread and desperation. Pyres were being burnt on city sidewalks, corpses were dropped in mass graves and rivers carried the burden of half-eaten human bodies.” – The Scroll, India, February 2022
I have five hundred words to write
about the half million people that died
which is the official number
the botched number
what you should know about my country
is that most of my country-
men are undocumented and unimportant
to the great powers and corporations
except as unskilled labour, a pair of hands
here and there. their deaths reduced to nothing;
undocumented like their lives, to make
a nation look less destroyed
than it was when the second wave
struck its shores. what can I write?
can I fill a form about why I
am not right in the head right now?
can you be consumed by a tragedy while being
removed from it? are these extenuating
circumstances if these are unreal times?
what can I write? about the helplessness,
about bearing witness to the helplessness
about the massacre, is it a massacre
if no one is responsible
or we all are. watching our own
misgivings take away our own.
the too old and the poor
the too late and the poor
the ones who couldn’t afford air
to breathe, or the ones who could
but it was out of stock. or the ones who
said their goodbyes through glass walls
from behind masks, or the ones who
never said goodbye
at all. what is the word limit on grief and
what is the geographical limit for tragedy
can it kill thousands of miles in either direction
stemming from the heart of my land.
I am so away from my land
but it is inside me and one day
it died. my people died,
so abruptly and so many that
there was no place to burn them
in the seventh largest country and
there was no one to burn them
in the second largest people and
what can I write what can I write.
the ganga, the mother of my land
coughed up its own dead children.
what are the right words to say this in?
there is no poetry to it,
there is no communication
of loss, there is just
About the author
Srishti Jain is a STAR PhD scholar at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. She was born in India and moved to the UK for higher studies as a teenager. Her research is focused on the cancer-immune interaction in the tumour microenvironment in ovarian cancer. Outside of the lab, she is interested in sports, travel and poetry. Her poems have been published in reputed literary journals like Red Ogre Review and Rigorous. Her Twitter handle is @SrishtiJain20.
Read more about looking after your mental health as a researcher
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