COVID deaths are not just numbers. This story is The Quint's effort to put a human face to the many tragedies witnessed across the country during the deadly second wave. It was an emotional journey for me, meeting children who had lost their parents at a young age. Please support us by becoming a Quint member and help us bring you the stories of India's COVID Orphans.
Six-year-old Naziya (name changed) started crying when she heard her Nani talking about her mother Shabbo's illness. Her ten-year-old brother Ayub (name changed) was equally upset but couldn't express his feelings.
Naziya and Ayub lost their mother Shabbo to COVID-19 in April 2021.
30-year-old Shabbo was a divorcee and was staying with her parents in Delhi. She was a tailor and spent most of her earnings on her children's education.
I met Ayub and Naziya a few weeks ago. Both were full of little stories about their Ammi.
"My mother used to teach me. She wanted me to become a doctor", said Ayub. Naziya quickly jumped in to add, "Haan, she taught us Urdu, English, Maths and Science."
When asked whether they liked being taught by their mother, Naziya revealed that Ayub didn't like to study with her. "He was scared of studying with Ammi," she told me, teasing her brother.
Ayub and Naziya are staying with their maternal grandparents, Parveen Begum and Naseem Ahmed. I could see that they doted on the two kids, but that they also had some real worries, particularly about the cost of sending the children to school.
"I can feed the children but we need help for their education."Parveen Begum, Shabbo's mother
I also met Shabbo's sister Noor, who is helping her parents with the children. Noor says she was very close to Shabbo, and struggles to talk about her sister's losing battle with COVID.
Noor says the family ran from pillar to post to arrange oxygen and a bed for Shabbo at a private hospital, but failed. Even after her oxygen dipped to 75, they were unable to get it for her.
"Her breathing problem got worse. But no private hospital admitted her. Oxygen was not available anywhere. Not even in hospitals. She had no other symptoms. She just could not breathe."Noor, Shabbo's sister
Now another fear looms over the family. Due to the shortage of COVID-19 testing facilities at the height of the second wave, Shabbo's family could not get her test done. All they have is her CT-scan report that hints at COIVD.
Shabbo's family fears that they may have to struggle to get compensation from Delhi government in the absence of a medical report confirming that Shabbo was COVID positive.
"We know we have to do a lot of running around to get the government compensation. I hope we get it for the children with the documents we have."Noor, Shabbo's sister
The Delhi government has announced Rs 2500 per child every month and Rs 50,000 as a one-time payment to families who have lost their sole breadwinner to COVID-19.
Shabbo's parents hope that the Delhi Government will recognise her case and consider Naziya and Ayub as eligible for this financial support. Her father Naseem runs a small grocery shop, but lockdown has badly hit their income.
"After Shabbo’s death, people said our house is 'Corona infected'. People stopped coming to my shop. We had to borrow money from relatives."Naseem Ahmad, Shabbo’s Father
I saw that Naziya and Ayub were quite close to Shabbo's younger sister Noor. But Noor is married and had her first child just 15 days after Shabbo's death. She is at her parents' place these days, helping with her niece and nephew. But she worries about who will take care of the kids after she leaves. Her parents are old and might not live long enough to look after children.
I am married, I have a child too. Who will look after these children when I go back to my home? No one knows till when their grandparents will be alive. They are old people.Noor, Shabbo's sister
We often say in Hindi, gum baatne se kam hota hai (grief shared is grief abated). Naziya and Ayub are so young that they are unable to share or express in words their pain of losing mother. They just cry when they miss her. Shabbo had plans for her children's future. But her untimely death has brought uncertainties in the life of her children.