ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Departed

My father died during the second wave of COVID-19. He was a schoolteacher at the local primary school in town and taught mathematics to young students. A devout Muslim, he never missed the compulsory prayers even when he was sick. When he tested positive for COVID-19, mother was angry at him. “I asked him to pray at home. But he never listens,” she would mutter while feeding him porridge with her wrinkled hands. The next day, she said he must have contracted the virus from someone at school, and that he should have left that job much earlier, he was too old to teach mathematics. There were numerous conjectures around the house about how he got sick. But no one was sure. Doctor Raheem, who ran a little clinic in the neighbourhood, came to see him. “The fever will go soon. There is nothing to worry. Make sure he takes the medicine on time, and keep a check on oxygen levels.” We waited the whole day and then two more days, but the fever never went down. And by midnight, his oxygen level was too low. Panicked, I called my father’s younger brother Sadegh who lived in the city and begged him to get father admitted in a hospital. Luckily, he managed to get us a bed in a private hospital through his political network. My father was admitted there for three days. Mother called incessantly to know about his case. And I lied that his fever went down, and he would come home soon.

Uncle Sadegh visited us daily. On Thursday, he took me home where I bathed and prayed and later ate some rice and dal. By the time we came back to the hospital, father was dead. The nurse asked me to clear the bills and told me to take his belongings—a pair of spectacles, blue trousers and a white shirt, and his torn shoes—with me. Father always reminded us that whenever he died, he should be buried beside his mother at the graveyard behind the school. I asked the hospital authorities for the dead body, and they said it can’t be handed over due to COVID-19 protocols. A funeral was necessary for father; he deserved to be buried where he had lived all his life, a city which he never left, not even for the holy pilgrimage to Mecca. Again, uncle Sadegh somehow managed to influence the hospital authorities and we got the dead body late in the afternoon. It was wrapped carefully from head to toe. Crouched in an ambulance, we travelled back to the town so that the funeral didn’t get delayed. The news of his death had already spread. Mother, along with the other relatives, mourned and cried, lamenting and thumping her chest, and then finally went to sleep. By the time we reached home, dusk had fallen. I consulted the cleric of the local mosque, who said that father must be buried before the night prayer or it will lead to a bad omen for the whole family.

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