by Gaayathri Krishnan

Humanity is defined as a state or quality of being human. But the most pressing question of them all is, ‘what makes a human-being humane?’ 

How do we define that in a human being? 

In the early days of 2020, when the corona virus had just started making its rounds in India; when it was a mere ripple before the massive waves; and when all of India was shrouded in fear and alarm. Young doctors, who were to be relieved after one of the most intense and overwhelming years of their lives, were asked to stay back and help out in this dire situation. 

It was a time when masks, gloves, and hand sanitizers; an essential but scarce commodity, were being rationed among health care workers. They went into the battlefield armed with whatever little was known about the virus [a palpable fear of the unknown] but they soldiered on head first with hearts made of steel. 

One night, in the ER, an elderly man, known asthmatic, was brought in with a fever that just wouldn’t break and severe breathing difficulty. Anxious that he might be refused treatment and a consternation that he might be turned away, he failed to reveal his travel history to Spain, even after constant probing. 

When someone is in distress, it is only human that they are looked after and looked after well. And that was what was done. 

A day later he divulged information about his recent trip and panic bubbled through the walls of the hospital, all the health care workers within, all of its patients and the countless visitors. Hysteria spread like wildfire, a ‘COVID suspect’ was in the hospital and who knows where all he had been in the hospital. 

The young doctor who attended to him in the ER, tested positive 5 days after exposure. This 23 year old’s whole body racked with coughs, she drifted in and out of a dreamless sleep, waking up more tired than when she went to sleep. Delirious with pyrexia, unable to eat combined with the loneliness and absolute fear of the virus, sent her on a downward spiral. COVID can do that to you – push you to the brink, physically, mentally and emotionally. 

Minutes seemed like years for the virus to eat you up from the inside out. Days went by without physical and human contact. 

When she felt she was sinking, a mellifluous sound to her troubled ears, ‘It is me, thayamma*, darling. I just came to check in on you.’ She yells from inside the closed door, ‘It is not safe, amma. Please leave’. 

Thayamma, herself, aged and riddled with comorbidities, paid no caution to the girl’s warnings. She came every single day, just to stand outside that door and ask how the young girl was doing. 

Two long weeks passed, but she continued to visit. When that door finally opened, there she was on the other side with open arms and a crinkled smile, a tattered mask, her only armor.

She engulfed the young doctor, embraced her with such love and affection, only a mother could

do, comforting her. ‘The worst is over, darling. You have made it. You will be fine, nothing will harm you from now on.’ She continued to chide her, ‘The only reason you contracted the virus is because you don’t eat well.’ 

The young doctor’s heart swole and her eyes welled with tears. 

Thayamma, was neither her mother, sister, best friend nor a blood relative, but worked in the ladies hostel, scrubbing toilets and sweeping the floors for many many years. In many ways, thayamma was the reason this young girl pulled through. Her kindness shone through every facet, every wrinkle of her body, every curve of her spine and every bead of sweat she worked up. Warmth and love coursed through her veins and arteries admixed with blood and oxygen. 

That, my dear reader, is humanity. 

It exists everywhere, in each one of us, although in various degrees and forms. 

Humanity is not serving one thousand people. 

It is being there for someone when they need it. 

It is making someone smile, when they cannot. 

It is giving a hug to someone who needs it. 

*Name changed for confidentiality purposes

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