Between a Rock and a Hard Place

picture-1Dear Paramjit,

It has taken me a few days to put my thoughts together and write to you. I apologize for the delay in communicating. It’s just that sometimes, you are so overwhelmed by an experience that it isn’t simple to put your feelings into words.

That morning, before we met, I was joined by my colleague, Pavan. On the roadside, whilst waiting for him, I saw a fruit seller who had stocked sanitizers and masks as well. A strange combination. I was reminded of the extraordinary times we were going through. But it was only the start of a day that was going to twist my brain and leave me heartbroken. And yet, so full of hope.

Pavan and I rode on our separate motorcycles to reach the ART centre located within the Safdarjung hospital. Before I could meet you, I had the privilege of catching up with your son. I should say that you must feel so proud of him and love him dearly. Not just because he is so caring towards you and the community of people living with HIV, but also because he is so driven by a sense of purpose in life. I was struck by the story of his life. He told me about his experience of working with Amazon. From supporting Amazon deliveries, he now finds satisfaction in helping you deliver ART medicines to those who need them the most. Such an amazing boy, Mandeep, waiting patiently while you work with the ART centre staff to get cards validated, collect medicines, and finish all the paperwork. He told me how much he wanted you to stop working, but his respect for you and your feelings strode over his concern for you. He said to me that if his mother finds satisfaction in ensuring services to all those who depend on her, he would do everything possible to make it happen for you. For that’s your identity and the core of your being. He realizes that he must do what brings you happiness and fulfillment. Paramjit, please let your son know that I felt humbled by his commitment towards you and I wish we had more in his generation who cared as much as he did. I also hope he achieves his dream of getting a government job one day.

Thank you for introducing me to the staff nurse at the ART Centre who doubles up as the pharmacist. She was so committed. She showed so much love and respect towards you, it was touching.

I felt sad that she had to handle all the workload while her doctor colleague just sat inside her chamber and didn’t want to see any patients because of the COVID 19 fear. I don’t know if you noticed, but the nurse was even writing prescriptions for clients who had a persistent cough or fever. How sad, Paramjit, they could be suffering ailments that required medical attention. Anyway, it was all with good intention. Even if we couldn’t meet the doctor, we shall someday soon, I hope. I will have a few things to say to her.

I felt so bad for the nurse, Seema, when she showed me her phone with a message that the borders had been sealed behind her and she had no way of going back to her little children in Sonipat that night. But she kept her anxieties behind her and continued to work with you to finish the paperwork for getting the ART medicines out from her inventory.

Seema and Paramjit (From left to right)
Seema and Paramjit (From left to right)

She told me that she was unsure if her relatives in Delhi would accept her in their home for the night, given that she worked in a COVID 19 hospital. Amid all the churning in her mind, she was so pleased to stand for a photograph with you. I felt so proud of you, Paramjit, because she said that if it wasn’t for you her work would feel so incomplete.

After we left the hospital to Nariana where the medicines had to be delivered, Pavan and I followed your motorcycle and I could see how many calls you had to answer. People living with HIV, you told me later, migrating, without green cards, desperately asking you to arrange their life-saving medicines. I will never forget what you said to me as we stood beneath the flyover waiting for the clients to arrive. You only did this work because you cared. Your passion and commitment made me feel so small and insignificant. There you were, in the line of fire. And I was with you for just a few hours. I would soon make my way back to my air-conditioned office. Somehow, it didn’t feel fair at all. Yes Paramjit, people like you and all of the 1500 outreach workers are truly the spine of the programme. We must reciprocate in some way; I promise you that you will be my biggest priority.

I met the couple, both HIV positive, when they came to collect the medicines from you. Their biggest worry was how to get back to their village in Uttar Pradesh with their five-year old daughter who was HIV positive as well. They were no longer able to afford the rent in Delhi given that all of their sources of income had collapsed due to the lockdown restrictions. They had not disclosed their status to their relatives and it was going to be so difficult to link up with ART centre back home. What if someone came to know? I realized Paramjit, that their problems were so many. I felt the tears well up in my eyes, but I controlled my emotions.

But then I had reason to smile. When the couple said “jab Bhagwan nahin hota toh Paramjit jaise farishte bhej deta hai” (when God sends angels like Paramjit), I felt the great feeling of you being part of the wonderful Alliance family. Amit from OPNP+ arrived soon afterward and it was selfie-time! We said our goodbyes. Mona sent me a text later, to say that she would be there on our next field trip. I truly look forward to that.

I will never forget our encounter, however brief, Paramjit. You are the force who makes Alliance what it is today.

In solidarity

Ashim Chowla

Chief Executive, Alliance India