In a pitch dark room, the clock is ticking eerily. Manav sits quietly on his writing desk. It’s 4.15 am and his hands are almost frozen. He opens the laptop, the light bounces off his skin, it is full of goosebumps. The window curtain lightly brushes his face, a tear trickles. Staring blankly at the screen, Manav jolts back to reality as the siren of the ambulance is heard.
With quivering hands he reaches out for his phone.
His lips utter…
Manav: Hey Siri! How is my nation doing?
Siri: Sorry Manav, I do not understand.
Manav: Siri, can you tell me how many are battling for their life?
Siri: Manav, would you be interested in Call Of Duty: Warzone?!
Manav: Siri, are we fighting the virus or the system?
Siri: Manav, I don’t know how to respond to that.
Manav: Hey Siri, I tweeted last night about this man in Delhi waiting for the hospital to admit him. Did he find a bed? Did someone help him? Is he okay? Is he surviving?
Siri: Here’s the latest news on Delhi!
Manav: Siri, will the death toll continue to rise?
Siri: Okay, here’s some stats I picked up on the web.
Manav: Siri, but how can you call people stats?
Siri: Sorry, I didn’t catch that. Could you try again?
Manav: Siri, I see death pyres everywhere and hear howls of families losing their loved ones. Can we make this stop?
Siri: What’s that?!
Manav: Siri, I hear voices muzzled under the masks. Unable to find words. Unable to spell their grief. How do we help them?
Siri: I don’t have an answer for that! Is there something else I can help with?
Manav: Siri, infants are sitting lost with bodies that won’t come back to life. People are queuing up outside hospitals with hope and failing to bring their loved ones home. Had we made hospitals instead of statues, we wouldn’t be battling for spaces in crematoriums.
Siri: I am not sure I understand.
Manav: Siri, the doctors are begging a plea to all. Unable to contain their tears anymore. They too are on the verge of a mental breakdown. How do we survive?
Siri: We Survive is the third english language studio album by the Danish singer and songwriter Medina.
Manav: Siri, is life cheaper than politics?
Siri: Not sure. Check again.
Manav: Siri, my friend from school, Shobit, called me. It was someone else’s voice. I heard them scream, Shobit is no more. Shobit is no more.
Siri: Should I call Shobit?
Manav: Siri, this is not a joke! It’s a doom designed by time and some forces who will clearly wipe their hands off this crime.
Siri: That may be beyond my abilities at this moment.
A sound of the bird chirp follows while Manav takes a pause. Almost looking demented. Sweat forming at the temple of his head.
He treads to Google. The entire feed is full of shattering images and videos. Bodies piled. A nation burning. He spots his friend Shobit, on field amidst the pandemic, speaking to a family of four, now down to two. Then he spots more videos of him, from hospital parking lots, crematoriums, with a heart so heavy but mind resolute to report the truth.
“Don’t go by the stats”, says Shobit. Humans cannot be reduced to numbers, his voice speaks in a debate. Manav watches videos of him covering the plight of many, unable to fathom how gutted he must feel to be out there, hearing the shrieking sounds and endless curses. He sees him sitting on the divider in the middle of a road, famished, but back on his feet right till the night.
He logs into his Twitter to find Shobit’s account suspended. Shobit had been putting up a brave fight in this clickbaity world. Amplifying the needs of the helpless, checking how he can best support them through these times. Manav comes across the screenshots shared by many, depicting Shobit’s relentless efforts to save people and keep them away from being misinformed.
Manav’s lips mumble, ‘What a fighter!’
He taps the Instagram icon and sees Shobit’s profile filled with important highlights on the country’s situation. The burning urgency and the tone deaf authorities. Later, he finds the messages and stories shared by his schoolmates, devastated by Shobit’s demise. Some raving about him keeping journalism alive in the age of tarnished ethics, some unable to come to terms with how – not the virus – but the inefficacy of the system snatched away his life. A man serving the country in the times when everything is falling apart.
A lost name in the death certificate, or a statistical figure in reports? A voice pressed down. No more beats remaining to report the beat. A flatline, as the curve grows. A smiling face that fought fearlessly and always asked, “How is My Nation doing?” now merged into the darkness.
Manav: Siri, will my friend come back?
Siri: I don’t know how to respond to that.
Manav: Siri! Was his fight worth it?
Siri: I am sorry?!
The curtain brushes once again…and Manav hears Shobit’s voice whisper – “I am not!…I am not sorry for serving my country.”