Success Sibanda, ASP ’19
All views are personal, and on the basis of the writer’s experience. Names and contact numbers of administration officials have been redacted, since this is an anecdotal article and not a report.
Additional disclaimer from the writer: Some of the quoted words may not be the exact utterances of the mentioned people, but I wrote things as I recalled them from our telephonic conversations. I do not intend to vilify anyone, but rather to highlight wrongs I believe were done.
At 22:34pm, on the 3rd of September 2020, the sound of my phone ringing woke me up. I had decided to sleep early so I could wake up early to catch an NBA game, which would be broadcast early morning in India. But that wasn’t to be. A number I didn’t recognise was calling, and apparently had been calling for a while. When I sleep I’m as good as dead. It would take the loudest fire alarm to make me stir from my slumber.
Anyway, a high ranking male administrative official – who works with the OSL – was the person calling. Apparently he had also tried to reach me via Whatsapp text.
I pick up the call.
“Yes, Success, it’s X calling. Where are you?”
“I’m in SH1”
“Okay, are you alone?”
“Yes. Why? What happened?”
“”Okay, listen, the preliminary results came back from the coronavirus test you did at the government hospital in Sonipat. So, yours came back positive, so I need you to pack your belongings right now and move to SH5”.
“Hello Success, are you there?”
“Yes, please pack your stuff and move to SH5, okay?”
End of call.
I was in shock. You see, my flight home was supposed to be on the 5th of September 2020. I’ve been trying to get a flight home for the past 6 months. Moreover, my exit permit, which is basically an extension of my visa, expires on the 24th of September 2020. Less than 48 hours before my scheduled flight, I receive this numbing piece of news. In that moment, I could feel things falling apart.
While I am trying to wrap my head around the information I just received, the official continues the conversation, this time via Whatsapp.
[23:04, 9/3/2020] +91 ***** *****: Hello Success!
[23:04, 9/3/2020] +91 ***** *****: Have you started to pack?
Of course I had not yet started to pack. On the contrary, I was still trying to unpack the information I had just received. Am I one of the people who will die of coronavirus? Should I call my mother and tell her? No, I probably shouldn’t. My mother scares easily. She once passed out after I went on a high school trip without telling her. She thought I’d been kidnapped. The fact that the 5th of September is her birthday would simply make this look like an unholy joke played on her. I begin to worry about the flight as well. Prior to booking, the airline said there would be no refund once the booking is confirmed. Is that 87’200 INR gone down the drain? I’m paying 50% of that straight out of my own pocket, so I’m worried now.
So, I reply.
[23:06, 9/3/2020] Success: I need to first communicate with the registrar to find out if I have to cancel my flight or not.
[23:06, 9/3/2020] Success: Everything else is secondary
[23:06, 9/3/2020] +91 ***** *****: We can figure that out later Success.
[23:07, 9/3/2020] +91 ***** *****: Please understand the health risks involved
[23:07, 9/3/2020] +91 ***** *****: For you and others.
[23:07, 9/3/2020] +91 ***** *****: It will take you maximum 30 mins to shift. We will coordinate the resy (sic)
When someone is in shock, the least you can do is give them a moment to breathe. A moment to not be overwhelmed. A moment to recite a prayer to a god they may or may not really believe in. A moment to accept that death is a possibility. Quite possibly, it will take one more than 30 minutes to go through the five stages of the Kübler-Ross model – basically to shift their mental state from traumatised to acceptance. The admin official was just concerned with making sure I shift from the room I occupied alone in SH1 to an empty room in SH5 in 30 minutes. Perhaps if I spent more time alone in my SH1 room, dealing with the news, I’d end up re-infecting myself. Who knows how this novel virus works? Don’t waste any time. Receive the news – Pack your bags – Push the trolley to SH1 – Isolate yourself – You are a danger to yourself and the people around you.
It will become clear why such a proposition is ridiculous in Part 2 of this exposé.
For now, I replied.
[23:07, 9/3/2020] Success: There is no risk for anyone right now as I am alone and in my room
[23:08, 9/3/2020] +91 ***** *****: We will take care of your flight and other things. Ashoka was already taking care of it right
[23:09, 9/3/2020] +91 ***** *****: Please understand and co-operate. We have told the hospital authorities that teh (sic) University is isolating you. Else they will take you to their center
[23:09, 9/3/2020] +91 ***** *****: I understand this can be stressful and overwhelming. But hope you gauge the seriousness of the matter and help us work this out
[23:12, 9/3/2020] +91 ***** *****: Hello? 👀
At that point, I’m past denial. I’m moving further along the Kübler-Ross model. The veiled threat (in bold) puts me in the anger stage. But when I’m angry, I’m calm. I even laugh. So my response is brief, and I chuckle as I type it out.
[23:14, 9/3/2020] Success: I’m glad this is all on record.
[23:15, 9/3/2020] +91 ***** *****: Success we have the best interests of you, other students and all of us in mind. I am just trying to make this work best for everyone
[23:18, 9/3/2020] +91 ***** *****: Hello?
[23:20, 9/3/2020] +91 ***** *****: Successfully packed?
Maybe this is funny to the male official. Is this really the moment for a Success joke? The anger cup spilleth over. I slip into the bargaining stage.
[23:25, 9/3/2020] Success: You are not helping at all. They really should have let someone else do the communication. Allow me to react to this information naturally. Your phobia and stigmatisation is not at all useful in this moment. I am alone, isolated, steadily packing my belongings. You hustling me will not accelerate that process. I am the only one with my best interests at heart in this interaction. So please. I will let you know when I have gathered my belongings.
Interlude: After this, I receive a call from Selahadin, a friend, informing me that the male warden, Mr Fernandes, is looking for me. I tell him I’m in my room. The warden checks on me, makes sure I’m okay and leaves. He tells me to stay in my room until I receive further instructions. The warden has been a calming presence. I relax a little.
Another unsaved number calls me. This time it’s the voice of a woman, who I figured works with the OSA, and would probably be a higher-up to the male official I was speaking to. I may be wrong about her designation which I deduced, but my mind is in a state of disarray so I do not dwell on the identity of the caller. I’m dipping my toes in the depression stage now. A discerning listener would have noted the resignation in my voice when I pick up.
“Yes, Success. X called you about moving to SH5 right?” Before I can reply she continues, “You need to understand that we are doing this for everyone’s safety.”
“I have no problem with moving. I just need a second to figure out a few things.”
“But, see, Success, we already told the hospital that we have isolated you. If you don’t move to SH5 right now then they will have to take you to a government quarantine centre, and we don’t want that experience for you.”
Maybe ‘X’, the male official, told her that I refused to move, which would be simply an untruth. Calling for a timeout is not refusing to play, to use an ill-fitting basketball analogy. I just needed a moment to get back some strength in my spirit.
What strikes me at that moment is the level of stigmatisation I am being subjected to by administrators. I contracted the coronavirus without ever going outside the campus gates in 6 months. I only went out on the 2nd of September to get the test done.
There are 2 possibilities. Either:
(i) I contracted the virus at the hospital, where we waited for a long time in a non-socially distanced environment (which I complained about to a companion and even took a picture of the non-socially distanced crowd at the hospital). Or,
(ii) I contracted the virus from one of the administrators, dining staff, housekeeping staff who are allowed to go in and out of the campus. Sometimes the dining staff who serve food touch the bread with their bare hands when they pass it to you. And I love bread. Sometimes we play volleyball, where we pummel the same ball over and over again with off duty dining staff and an administrator or two. I have met 2 specific administrators multiple times over the past 6 months as I sought my exit permit and made flight arrangements.
So, as these thoughts crossed my mind, I asked the female official a question.
“Where do you think I contracted the virus from? A rough guess will do.”
Of course this was a rhetorical question. My intention was to jog her mind into realising I’m not the villain here. I got infected, probably to a degree of 50%, by someone who gets a paycheck from Ashoka. Her reply was what I expected.
“I don’t know. We are all in the dark, so we just have to try and control the situation.”
“See, my problem right now, is I feel stigmatised, when in fact I’m a victim too.” The word I was looking for was vilified, but I was too emotional to conjure that word. I continued, “I’m definitely going to write about this, because this is not the way to go about this. I’m from a country where countless people who contracted HIV/AIDS were stigmatised and made villains in society, and this feels like that. It’s just not right.”
“I hear you, Success. You can write to me about this. What you don’t want to do is tell people about this because, you are an intelligent person, you know how people will react, and you don’t want that.”
I still don’t know what she meant by that. Did she mean I’d be painted a villain for being the first (known) Ashokan to contract the virus? Would I be lynched? Even if I was Patient Zero, which I’m obviously not to any logical thinker, I don’t think it’d be enough to gain me such notoriety. So I end the conversation with what I hope is an illuminating retort.
“The problem here is that, you people are dealing with the symptom (i.e. me testing positive), rather than the problem (i.e. how I contracted coronavirus).”
The official’s response leaves me lost for words.
“Yeah, but that’s how the world is.”
The conversation ends after a few more inconsequential exchanges. I proceed to complete my packing and move to SH5. I have reached the acceptance stage of the Kübler-Ross model. Day 1 of living while coronavirus positive begins now. I am asymptomatic. As strong as ever. If there was an Ashoka Run tomorrow, I’d still come out on top. Let’s fight the stigma. Isolate but do not vilify. 99.99% of infected people are victims too. Fight the virus, not the person. I may live, I may die. Either way, we can all do better.