Video Producer: Shohini Bose
Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia
India is ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. If the first wave was not bad enough, the second wave hit India with piercing intensity, tearing families apart and throwing an entire nation into a prolonged state of mourning. Declared death tolls painted an ugly picture; reports from crematoriums, morgues, and burial grounds painted a shocking one too.
Meanwhile, India on Monday, 24 May, crossed 3 lakh recorded COVID-19 related deaths, reporting 4,454 new deaths and taking the cumulative toll to 3,03,720.
Statistics, as dismal as they may be, lend a sense of abstraction to the truth and fail to shed adequate light on the horrors that have engulfed the nation in the recent past.
Thus, in order to bring forth the reality of the country’s COVID-19 crisis, and as a tribute to the deceased and the bereaved, The Quint casts a glace at some lives India lost amid the horrors of the COVID-19 pandemic.
(The author is of the view that no single life is more important than the other, least of all in death. Therefore, the deceased have been intentionally listed in no order but alphabetical.)
Aarif Khan, was a 48-year-old ambulance driver in Delhi, who had ferried almost 200 bodies of deceased COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began in March 2020. He would sleep in an ambulance parking lot, 28 km from his home in North Delhi’s Seelampur, staying in touch with his wife and four children only on the phone.
But the virus did not spare him. He passed away from a COVID-19 infection on 10 October 2020.
Aarif, the sole earning member of his family, worked for the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Sewa Dal, a non-government organisation, and provided ambulance services to patients of COVID in Delhi-NCR. His colleagues informed that even though Aarif only earned Rs 16,000 a month, he would often chip in to help bereaved families.
“It is difficult to address you in the past,” wrote actor Pallavi Patil in her tribute to BaapManus co-actor Abhilasha Patil who passed away on 4 May 2021 due to COVID-19 complications.
Abhilasha Patil, who was in her 40s when she breather her last in a Mumbai hospital, had also acted in Bollywood films like Chhichhore and Good Newwz and a host of other Marathi films and TV shows.
“It’s a huge loss for the industry,” said her grieving co-actor Sanjay Kulkarni.
Abhilasha Patil is survived by her husband and son.
Ankit Choudhary, a 29-year-old sub-inspector with the Delhi Police, passed away on 29 April, days after testing positive for COVID-19.
A native of UP’s Shamli district, Ankit had been with the Delhi Police for eight years. His last positing was at Bharat Nagar police station. However, amid the shocking surge in cases in the national capital, he could not find a single hospital bed and was subsequently admitted to a Ghaziabad hospital, where he breathed his last.
Ankit is survived by his wife and a two-year-old daughter.
BHAI NIRMAL SINGH KHALSA
Bhai Nirmal Singh Khalsa, 67, passed away, on 2 April, 2020, from a heart attack, a day after being diagnosed with COVID-19 infection. He was a Padma Shri Awardee and formerly a hazoori ragi (Gurbani exponent) at the Golden Temple.
Bhai Nirmal Singh was born in Punjab’s Ferozepur. He spent many years of his life dealing with horrid memories of India’s partition and in quest of a larger meaning of life. He served as a music teacher at Gurmat College in Rishikesh and later taught at Shaheed Sikh Missionary College in Sri Ganganagar, Rajasthan, before enlisting himself as a singer at the Golden temple in 1979.
Road-safety and injury-prevention expert Dinesh Mohan passed away of COVID-19 on 21 May 2021. He was 75 years old.
Mohan was an Honorary Professor at Delhi’s Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and one of the world’s leading experts on traffic safety and human tolerance to injury. He is famous for his work in areas of advancing motorcycle helmet design.
Dunu Roy, in his tribute to Professor Dinesh Mohan, shared that the professor was fierce about his commitment to science, as well as "about the friendships he made over so many decades, so many generations, and so many nations.”
“She was completely devoted to motherhood,” wrote Ravish Chawla, in a Mothers’ Day tribute to his deceased wife.
Ravish’s wife Dipika Chawla, a doctor herself, was pregnant with their second child when she tested positive for COVID-19 on 11 April 2021. A day after losing her unborn child, on 26 April, Dipika breathed her last.
However, days before passing away, a frail Dipika, rendered thus by the infection, had recorded a public interest video, beseeching all to not take the coronavirus lightly.
Dipika had a Master's of Dental Surgery (MDS) in Public Health Dentistry. Her husband informed, in a tweet, that Dipika left “our 3.5 year child to me [sic]”.
On 20 May 2021, the state of Rajasthan observed a day of mourning, government offices were shut and the tricolour flew at half mast. Rajasthan’s first Dalit chief minister, Jagannath Pahadia had passed away a day earlier due to infection from COVID-19.
Through the course of an illustrious political career, the 89-year-old, had served as the Chief Minister of the state, the governor of two states and as a Union Minister.
However, Jagannath Pahadia’s life was not free from the curse of untouchability – not even when he was the chief minister of Rajasthan. In an incident that finds mention in an apex court order, at a dinner hosted by the Rajasthan Speaker, "the wife of the Speaker trembled to serve food to the Chief Minister thinking to have been polluted".
Even so, the veteran Congress leader, left an indelible mark in the political history of the state, with both the present PM and CM mourning his demise.
JOAN MARY PRISCILLA
Joan Mary Priscilla, was about to retire as the Nursing Superintended at Chennai’s Rajiv Gandhi Hospital, on 27 March 2020. However, given the emerging COVID-19 situation in the country, Priscilla pushed her retirement to a later date, and immersed herself in the care of people.
During the course of her duties, she contracted the COVID-19 infection. On 27 May, two months after the day on which her retirement was originally scheduled, Priscilla passed away. While the hospital did not confirm it, her death is believed to be due to COVID.
She is now remembered as the Florence Nightingale of Tamil Nadu.
"I'm having COVID pneumonia which is progressive. But even then remember Raj Kapoor's words – 'picture abhi baaki hai... the show must go on.'"
Dr KK Aggarwal, a physician and cardiologist, was a Padma Shree awardee and a former National President of the Indian Medical Association (IMA). He is survived by his wife and two children.
A tribute posted from Dr KK Aggarwal’s official account confirming the news of his death from COVID-19 read:
“He wanted his life to be celebrated and not mourned. His spirit of spreading positivity in the direst of circumstances must be kept alive in each one of us.”
“I – who did not shed a tear as my university was destroyed, my fellow students beaten up, my city burned and my community hunted – broke down,” wrote Arbab Ali, a student of Jamia Milia Islamia, for The Wire, describing the moment he was told his dear teacher Nabila Sadiq would not survive the night.
Dr Nabila Sadiq, who passed away from a COVID-19 infection on 17 May, was only 38 years old when she died.
She was an Assistant Professor at the Centre for Women’s Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia and greatly valued by her students.
Mourning her death, Waqar, another student of hers, told NDTV: "It feels like we lost our mother.” Meanwhile, her bereaved father, 86-year-old Mohammad Sadiq, who lost both his wife as well as his daughter in a span of 10 days, said: "Now all I have are memories."
Thirty-eight-year-old Nawab Singh passed away in Gagol, a village in Meerut, due to a COVID-19. However, for the longest time, he had no idea that he had contracted the virus and continued to self-medicate on showing “flu-like” symptoms.
Ramdhir, Nawab's cousin, told The Quint that a functional PHC could have saved the life of his brother.
“It would have made a difference. We could have availed all COVID-related facilities, including testing and medicines at the PHC. If these facilities were available, we could have detected coronavirus infection in early stages and situation wouldn’t have worsened…We kept on thinking that it was viral fever.”
“Mujhe bhi treatment acha mil jata, tohy main bhi bach jata, tumhaara Rahul Vohra (If I had received good treatment, I too would have survived, yours Rahul Vohra)," wrote Actor-YouTuber Rahul Vohra, a day before he passed away at a Delhi Hospital, on 9 May 2021.
Mourning his demise, theatre director Arvind Gaur wrote on Facebook: "Rahul Vohra is gone, my talented actor is no more. Only yesterday, he had told me his life could have been saved if he got better treatment. He was shifted to Ayushman, Dwarka last evening but we could not save him. Please forgive us, we are all your culprits. My last respects".
Rahul Vohra’s YouTube channel, where he posted a slew of videos, many pertaining to social issues, had more than 130k followers. He is survived by his wife Jyoti Merchant, who he had gotten married to only six months ago. Posting a happy photograph from their wedding on Facebook, Jyoti wrote: "Our last meeting too was left incomplete. I don’t know why God became so fond of you. My love, wherever you are, stay happy.”
Journalist Rajmukar Keswani passed away from post COVID-19 complications on 21 May 2021. He was 72 years old.
An acclaimed journalist, Keswani had warned of the irregularities that led to the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984. Through the course of his illustrious career, he had also been associated with many outlets, including The New York Times, NDTV, Dainik Bhaskar, The Illustrated Weekly of India, Sunday, India Today and The Week.
Keswani had been the recipient of the BD Goenka Award in 1985 and the Prem Bhatia Journalism Award in 2010.
He is survived by his wife and son.
RANJAN K GHOSH
Dr Ranjan K Ghosh passed away from post-COVID complications on 8 May 2021. He was a professor of Philosophy who had taught both at the University of Delhi, as well as the North Bengal University.
He is survived by his daughter Stutee Ghosh, who is a famous Radio Jockey, and his wife Dr Preeti Ranjan Ghosh.
Stutee, in an Instagram post, described her father as “a man of moderation”, who rarely indulged in anything but coffee or Assam chai. An obituary shared by his family reads that Dr Ghosh “will be remembered not just as a brilliant aesthetician, artist, art critic and academician, but also for his kind, gentle, most loving nature.”
MN Sasi was a 45-year-old Dalit man who, due to a dire lack of options, had to quarantine in his cattle shed for three days after testing positive for COVID-19, before he was shifted to a private hospital. He passed away on 10 May 2021.
Sasi, a resident of Ambunadu in Kizhakkambalam, Kerala, was a menial worker and the sole breadwinner of his family. He lived with his wife, two-year-old child, mother, and an ailing older brother, in a house that had no room for him to quarantine in.
His mother, Kalikutty, told The Times of India that during his “home quarantine” period, Sasi stayed in the cattle shed during the day and at night, he would sleep inside the house.
Popular Tamil comic and actor Pandu died of COVID at a Chennai hospital on 6 May. He was 74.
He is survived by his wife and three sons.
Pandu marked his acting debut with Karaiyellam Shenbagapoo. He also appeared in Agathiyan's Kadhal Kottai along side Ajith Kumar. Pandu was handpicked by former Chief Minister MG Ramachandran (MGR) to design the AIADMK party symbol (two-leaves party symbol) and flag.
“I have seen vast, perhaps unbelievable, changes during the journey that has brought me from the flicker of a lamp in a small Bengal village to the chandeliers of Delhi,” India’s 13th President Pranab Mukherjee had said during his swearing-in ceremony in 2012.
Eight years later, on 31 August 2020, weeks after a brain surgery and testing positive for coronavirus, the former President passed away.
Mukherjee was born in 1935 to freedom fighter parents. After spending his early life in Mirati, he pursued his undergraduate studies at Suri, Birbhum before earning a Masters and a Law degree from the University of Calcutta.
Through the course of his political career, Mukherjee had donned many hats, including that of the Finance Minister of India, Leader of the House and Planning Commission Head, before finally finding a home at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Music composer Shravan Rathod of Nadeem-Shravan fame passed away on 22 April 2021 after battling COVID-19 at a Mumbai hospital.
Mourning the demise of his friend and music partner, Nadeem Saifi told Bombay Times: “I am in deep pain as I say this but my friend and my companion, my partner of so many years is no more. It has left such a vacuum. I spoke to his son, who was inconsolable."
Nadeem-Shravan attained fame in the early nineties with Aashiqui. Their frequent collaborations with Kumar Sanu resulted in a series of musical successes through the 90s. The duo has worked on films such as Dil Hai Ki Maanta Nahin, Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke, Saajan, Phool Aur Kaante, Sadak, Deewana and Pardes.
Prominent Indian jurist and former Attorney General of India Soli Jehangir Sorabjee passed away on 30 April 2021, at the age of 91 after reportedly losing a battle to COVID-19. But through the course of his life, Sorabjee won a slew of difficult battles, many for others.
A renowned human rights lawyer, Sorabjee fought many high profile cases through the course of his career, including pro-bono cases for the families of the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 2002 for his defence of the freedom of expression and the protection of human rights.
But Sorabjee had interests beyond jurisprudence as well. For instance, he played the clarinet and was the first president of the Jazz India Association.
Sorabjee is survived by his daughter, three sons and seven grandchildren.
“The kindest, loveliest man I have every known, my father Speedy, lost the COVID battle and died this morning,” wrote senior journalist Barkha Dutt in a tweet announcing the tragic news of her father’s demise.
SP Dutt, former Air India official, member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and father to journalists Barkha and Bahar Dutt, died from a COVID-19 infection on 27 April 2021.
While Bahar Dutt had described her father as a man “who could fix anything”, Barkha credited him as a “handsome man, eccentric scientist, doting father who gave my sister and I wings.”
Sumit Josh, 30, passed away on 18 May 2021 after a prolonged battle with COVID-19.
He was formerly a sports journalist at The Quint. He had also worked with InShorts (where he was last employed as a News Editor) and NDTV, among other news organisations.
“As a colleague, Sumit was always, always there – as a mentor, as a sounding board or someone who simply just had your back when you needed help. Politics, movies, sports – he always would have fresh insight and something new for us to learn from him. But even as I write this, all that comes to mind is what a great guy he was.”Mendra Dorjey Sahni, Sumit’s former boss at The Quint
Despite Sumit’s own life being cut gnawingly short by the coronavirus, he, as Sahni points out, “touched many, many lives”.
Sumit is survived by his sister, parents and wife Debdutta. His former colleague Asmita recalled in a tribute how “on one cold 2 am during a stressful nightshift”, Sumit had told her how much he loved Debdutta, how his life revolved around her and hers around his.
When senior journalist Madhavan Narayanan met Sunderlal Bhuguna, the latter was fasting against the Tehri dam construction. However, Narayanan recalls, from the meeting, Bahuguna’s “warm smile, his glowing eyes shining below his green headscarf and above his scraggly beard, and his most pleasant manners as I learned about his cause and his concerns.”
Ninety-four-year-old Sunderlal Bahuguna, leader of the Chipko Movement and known environmentalist who also spearheaded the Anti-Tehri Dam Movement, succumbed to a COVID-19 at AIIMS Rishikesh on 21 May 2021.
Fondly recalling Bahuguna’s strife for low carbon footprint, before it was “fashionable”, Narayanan further explains that the Padma Vibhushan awardee was “happily rural, happily pre-industrial and happily a mountain man”.
Bahuguna, who spent his life educating villagers to protest against the destruction of forests and the Himalayan mountains, was successful in the collective mobilisation of women for the cause of preserving forests and even went to jail for spearheading the Anti-Dehri Dam Movement.
Sunil Jain, managing editor of Financial Express, passed away on 15 May 2021, after battling post-COVID complications. He was 58 years old.
A Delhi School of Economics alumnus, Sunil Jain’s journalistic career began as a reporter in the India Today magazine, where he went on to become the magazine’s Business Editor.
Jain, through the course of his career, worked at The Indian Express, the Business Standard; and as an Assistant Editor at the Financial Express, before being appointed the managing editor there in 2013.
The journalist was famous for his strong views and expert insight, and journalists across the country are saddened by his demise.
Swati Gupta, a young teacher in Uttar Pradesh (UP), was going to get married on 30 April. However, seven days before her wedding, Swati breathed her last.
Hailing from Mungra Badshahpur in UP’s Jaunpur district, she was posted as a teacher in UP’s Bulandshahr. Swati is reported to have contracted the COVID-19 infection, which eventually took her life, while undergoing training for the Panchayat polls in Bulandshahr.