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Capturing the horror and hope of India’s recent COVID-19 surge from afar

COVID-19 has torn across India with a deadly ferocity. While infection numbers have dropped from their horrific peaks last month, more than 120,000 new cases were reported on Monday. All the while, Indians living in the U.S. have raced to help friends and family contending with the outbreak. Here are some of their stories, in their own words.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    COVID-19 has torn across India with a deadly ferocity. While infection numbers have dropped from their horrific peaks last month, more than 120,000 new cases were reported today, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that all adults in India will now be eligible for vaccines.

    Slow rates of inoculation helped the disease spread. But all the while, immigrants from India here in this country and Indian-Americans have raced to help friends and family back home.

    Here are some of their stories in their own words.

  • Divya Balakrishnan, California:

    My name is Divya Balakrishnan. And I live in Sacramento, California.

  • Vineet Singal, Texas:

    I'm Vineet Singal, and I live in Austin, Texas.

  • Shyamli Badgaiyan, Massachusetts:

    My name is Shyamli Badgaiyan, and I am in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

  • Priyank Lathwal, Pennsylvania:

    My name is Priyank Lathwal, and I'm in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

  • Madhushree Ghosh, California:

    My name is Madhushree Ghosh, and I live in San Diego, California.

  • Shaun Jayachandran, Massachusetts:

    Hi. I am Shaun Jayachandran. I live in Belmont, Massachusetts.

  • Vineet Singal:

    Last summer, my maternal grandfather passed away from COVID. The hardest part for us was not being able to appropriately say goodbye to him.

    And then, just over the weekend, there was a need for an oxygen concentrator because we were seeing the O2 levels for one of my family members go down precipitously. It was an eye-opening experience to figure out a way to get an oxygen concentrator during a time when there is essentially a black market for oxygen concentrator in India,.

    So I feel lucky that I'm — my family and I are in a position to be able to do this for the folks in my family who are suffering. But, at the same time, I feel extremely — I feel an extreme sense of guilt, but there are so many other folks that don't have access to the same resources and relationships that we do.

  • Shyamli Badgaiyan:

    My home is Delhi. And just a few weeks ago, we began to see what was happening with the cases surge, to put it lightly.

    So, at the same time that my school, at the Harvard Business School, everyone is sort of celebrating graduation and vaccinations, understandably so, I began to think of having — raising a fund-raiser for Harvard specifically.

    I then thought, OK, why limit it to Harvard or why limit it to one school, because there is so much strength in numbers? I realized that Priyank Lathwal from Carnegie Mellon was thinking something of very similar. So I reached out to him.

  • Priyank Lathwal:

    My mom called me last week around 2:00 in the might in India, and saying that a lot of our friends were getting infected and they weren't getting basic infrastructure.

    So, I was really worried for them. And I wanted to do something about it. So I put up a page together quickly, like within a couple of hours, on GoFundMe. I think, within 24 hours, it had gained a lot of traction. And that's when like Shyamli reached out to me.

  • Shyamli Badgaiyan:

    In just a week, we have been overwhelmed with all of to support and enthusiasm from students across the country.

    We have about 35 student organizations, some folks from South Asia and some broader. I certainly saw a shift within myself as I moved from this state of completely being consumed in sadness and despair to being able to make this small difference.

  • Priyank Lathwal:

    Since I started the fund raiser, I have lost members of the extended family.

    So, the emotional aspect of it is something which I don't think I have had adequate time to process through, and I'm just trying to keep myself busy, but I know I'll get back to it at some point and have to reconcile with that.

  • Divya Balakrishnan:

    As person who is Indian, but living abroad, it comes with a sense of helplessness and a sense of, even if I do something, it feels kind of futile. I'm just clicking a few buttons, but is it actually making a difference?

    Virtual yoga classes became a way for me to conduct fund-raisers and raise money for very worthy causes. The fund-raiser itself is sort of twofold. One is garnering the community support, really hitting home that this is an important issue that affects all of us, not only if you're Indian.

    And the second arm of the fund-raiser work is to compassionately, as compassionately as possible, call into action influential individuals and also larger companies that have profited from Indian culture and yogic culture. It is because millions of people around the world are raising their voice that they do more than pay attention and take action.

  • Madhushree Ghosh:

    So, WhatsApp groups have been very transformational for us.

    So I left India in 93. And so my first school, the middle school, was St. Anthony's Girls Senior Secondary School. And these are all girls. And we pretty much grew up together. If I showed up in India for a visit, you ping them, and the girls would come together. Sometimes, they'd bring their own children along.

    So it's always been a fun place to share entertaining stories of each other's lives. So, this WhatsApp group, as well as my middle school WhatsApp group, is now inundated with information where — where you can get oxygen cylinders, where you can go for an ICU bed.

    Mental health and South Asia, we don't talk about it as much as here in the U.S., but, in India right now, people are just trying to survive. And there are only two ways to do this. Either we acknowledge that there will be — that the trauma that people have experienced is going to be multigenerational and do something about it, or we pretend it never happened.

  • Shaun Jayachandran:

    I'm the founder of Crossover Basketball and Scholars Academy. The mission is to impact gender equity and education rates in marginalized communities across India by using the sport of basketball as a vehicle of change.

    I just got a text message today of a young girl, Riparia (ph), who's been in our program. She came for three straight years. She's waiting on medical school admission. However, her mom had her hours scaled back and now all the way cut.

    So, that's going to put Riparia and it is putting her in a position of making a hard choice: Do I continue in school, where I don't have necessary funding for tuition, we may not have a place to live or food, or do I put that dream aside?

    For someone like me, who had been typically traveling to India over the past decade one or two times a year, that expectation of going is just so ingrained. So, for me, it's, OK, when can we restart this program? And when can I get back to working and engaging with these kids?

    But, for my parents — my dad was born in 1941. We're talking about a man who is older than the country itself. And the reality is, as all of our parents get older, that I'm sure none of them ever think about, this is my last time going to India.

    But to not be able to even think of a future moment is very, I think, disheartening for them. But I think at some point there's going to be families across the country whose parents are going to pass away here in the U.S. never getting to go back.

    And I think there's going to be a heartache that exists that's hard to understand of, like, that idea of, like, not seeing home one last time.

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