All of social media was filled with posts, stories and messages, asking for oxygen, hospital beds and essential medicines. My phone too was incessantly buzzing. ‘NEED OXYGEN IMMEDIATELY’ one text read. At around 9 a.m. on a Sunday, I got a call from a close friend. His friend’s father was down with Covid-19 and they were struggling to find a hospital bed. By then, the daily cases in India had risen to over 300,000. I tried calling some of the people I knew, but it was futile. And in that scramble, I forgot about this particular case. A few days later, my friend called again to say. “My friend’s father… he died.”

On April 17, his oxygen saturation fell to a dangerously low 57 per cent (hospitalisation is recommended if it falls below 92-90). Within hours, the saturation plummeted to 31 and he passed away soon after. He live-tweeted his worsening condition, and his last tweet was: “My oxygen is 31. Will someone help me?”

More SOS messages, more tweets, more calls. A post would read: “Need hospital bed” but the next day there would be an update – “The patient is dead.”

A friend whom I have never met, never talked to or known; a friend from a faraway land who speaks a different language, has died somewhere, unable to breathe, burning in an unknown pyre.

The country is ablaze with a thousand bonfires of human lives. A poem about the pandemic

The Pyre

My heart goes out to you, dear friend,
wrapped in the white of death,
alone in the valley of corpses,
I know you are in fear.

My heart goes out to you, dear friend,
as the sun goes down,
showering a bloody dusk upon you,
I know you are in fear.
With strangers you lie,
with strangers you burn,
with strangers was the journey too.
I know you are in fear.

My heart goes out to you, dear friend.
As you wept for a drop of breath,
in a white-walled hall,
I know you were in fear.
When the last two drops of tears
trickled down your face;
when in those last moments,
you saw your mother’s hapless tears,
I know you were in fear.

Sirens wailing,
mothers crying,
pyres burning.
Is it fair for me to say,
“Fear not!”
Is it fair for me to say,
“Fear not!”
My heart goes out to you, dear friend.

Poem and Text : Gokul G. K.

Gokul G.K. is a freelance journalist based in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.

Other stories by Gokul G. K.
Painting : Antara Raman

Antara Raman is an illustrator and website designer with an interest in social processes and mythological imagery. A graduate of the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru, she believes that the world of storytelling and illustration are symbiotic.

Other stories by Antara Raman