2021: A year when the pain was near and dear ones were far

By Rakhi Singh Gehlote

The blaring sounds of ambulance sirens breaking the silence of the streets, the ping of messages on phones would strike a new fear, the news channels talking about the hospital admissions of covid-19 patients would create mental chaos. The restrictions, lockdown, isolation, bubbles, support groups, quarantine, and many more words were added to the daily vocabulary list.

This was the new normal which 2021 bought for all of us. One of the smallest particles in the universe has wrecked the lives of people all around the world. Living in this new normal is definitely an uneasy existence.

For the Indian diaspora in the UK, it was all about counting their blessings and biding their time. The reason was that the news reports suggested that South Asians were more affected in comparison to other ethnic communities while Covid-19 surged in the UK. Then, fear of losing the near ones in India where the second wave created havoc in the lives of people in every family, street, neighborhood, and city.

The breaths felt shorter and the lives exasperating.

It was a devastating emotional upheaval which the expats bore throughout the pandemic restrictions. Due to travel restrictions, most people could not fly to meet them even when the family members were on a death bed or sadly deceased.

I remember watching on television every day intermittently but intently – the ghastly news of Covid-19 cases in India, the soaring number of sick patients, and the burning pyres of piles of dead bodies. It stirred my soul!

Community efforts saved the day

The deadly pandemic in 2021 was the wake-up call for the Indian community. Many voluntary organizations and a few charities came forward to source the cylinder and other medical equipment to be sent to India in the hour of need.

Many of the distraught British Asian families sought help on the social media groups that were created to discuss, enquire and avail the information from the group’s volunteers in India about the hospital beds, O2 cylinders, ICU, accommodation, and food for the patients and caregivers. This was the least they could do for the loved ones who were battling for lives.

Family and community as cushion

British Asian Trust Charity raised over five million pounds for oxygen supply in India.

This catastrophe is the first ever seen by many of us and we are sincerely hoping that it should be the last one too. The pandemic has caused a big dent in the mental health of the young and old. “9-year-old Shelly has become very quiet, prefers to stay in her room and talks only when required in minimum words,” said her mother, Rashmi.

Shelly is not alone, there is a huge increase in social anxiety in people, especially the youngsters as they find it hard to mix up with people due to isolation, three National lockdowns in the UK, and restrictions imposed due to pandemics.

According to a report by Mental Health Foundation, prior to Christmas 2020, over half (54 percent) of the UK population have felt anxious or worried because of the pandemic. Loneliness too was higher in younger people with 37 percent of people aged 18-24 and 31 percent of people aged 25-34, which has been consistently higher across all waves than the general population.

Quite evidently, this data kept on changing as the restrictions were eased and imposed again. Hoping this year’s Christmas to be restriction-free as the cases are reportedly increasing once again.

The various lockdowns have scratched the very surface of mental wellbeing amongst the children and young people as this age group is more likely to step out of their house, go to school, college, jobs, pubs, social meet-ups, parties, or holidays.

The excruciating pain has given rise to new ways to soothe it, new opportunities to seize, and also more windows to open. The near ones are far but the difficult times have lessened the gaps between relations.

The UK Government came up with a road map to take the country out from the pits of the pandemic and start to toggle between normal and restricted life. The tipsy paths and curvy roads of the plan eventually started giving some positivity and hope to the country.

An orderly vaccination program for seniors and then to all the adult population of the UK was a great emotion booster. Schools, offices, businesses started rolling out and eventually, the country started finding its feet again.

The dawn of a new way of life   

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” This is apt for the current times. We need to learn more and deeper as if there is no tomorrow. Learn about our own Life and the Lives of our near ones. Feel the pain, understand the psyche, share the good thoughts, send the good vibes, and spread positivity. We have seen the worst of the dark times in 2021 but sailing through it with a new zeal in mind and warmth in the heart is the way forward.

There was an endless number of miseries this year has seen but 2021 has also brought many ideas to the execution stage as well. People explored many new income streams, work from home was introduced, importance to health boomed, wellness improved, the camaraderie and relationships in friends and families got better, spending quality time with each other, sensitivity and empathy are now more embedded in the society.

Also not to forget the digital media and e-commerce saw new and upward growth and established themselves as a competent and inseparable part of daily lives. Digital learning took over from in-person education at schools and universities, online meetings took over the social get-together space.

Online food and grocery shopping defied the peculiar Indian style of buying vegetables by touch and feel, only visual selection is allowed. It is hard to believe that we celebrated birthdays, Holi, Diwali, and other festivals, connecting with friends and families digitally from the comfort of our homes.

Well, this was kind of awkward but one has to settle with what life throws at you.

Let’s look back at what we’ve lost or gained and work intricately on the bigger picture of life.

Rakhi Singh Gehlote is a media professional based in London, UK. She runs a social media platform to promote Hindi language and literature among British Indian families.

Images courtesy of Photo: WHO, (Photo: British Asian Trust) and (Photos provided)

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