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The Battle Cry

“Dead men tell no tales”. I could hear my imaginary Harriet Tubman* pointing her gun to my head, mocking my faint heart. I became the figure of that slave who sat cowering in fear before her. I dare not turn back, or I will be dead to my conscience forever. So the only option is to bring liberty for the least of my brothers (and sisters) from Corona. I wrapped a piece of cloth on my lower jaw, covering my nose too. My team and I took swift strides to the slums. Srishti walked before me, guiding me to the slums, while Shane walked behind me with a camera in hand. Our brothers and sisters were all there; almost oblivious of the approaching danger of this ferocious disease. Srishti went into the homes calling everyone to gather. Now I felt a purpose. I guess all of them could detect a nervous excitement on my forehead.

“This is about Corona”

I sounded stupid as I yelled out at no one as well as everyone. Yet they all stopped their work. They all know us and respect us. So they gathered within a few minutes. Then I began the battle speech; all the warriors were sitting or leaning against some pillar. I declared war against the fierce enemy named Corona and I laid before them a war strategy,

“This virus travels through physical contact... maintain a two-hand distance... wear a mask when you collect garbage from every house... you won’t know who is being infected…”

There were a few questions. “Can I cast a spell on water and give it to the sick?”, “What should we not eat?”, “What  is a virus? Where do they come from?”. I was glad to answer these questions. After speaking to the crowd there, we went to two other colonies too. We then got the help of some young guys and put up a banner which showed instructions on the virus and where to find help. We were not the only who were waging the war. There were seven other teams of generals waging the same war at different locations. 

I thought I did a good job; I was sure that the others would have done a better job. Still, when we all came back, we felt so defeated. We are preparing ourselves for a complete lock-down. In the coming days, we will not be allowed to meet our people. However these brothers and sisters of ours, would be on the front lines of this waging war as they cannot afford to not work. Collecting and separating trash provides for their daily needs. And we do not want to see any disease claiming victory over them. Our poor people in this desperation for livelihood could do something inadvisable. 

We knew this day would come. The day when we would have to put our programs on hold, due to the pandemic, unsure of how soon until we would see these beloved people again. We were worried more about the future. There was a dark cloud of uncertainty blinding our hopes. We are locking our second home for an indefinite period of time. When will we come back? None of us know.  

Even before we went into the slums to declare war against this fierce enemy, last week Vivek had observed something potentially hazardous, where he had to act quickly. What if it repeats again? It has the potential to only aid the spread of Corona amongst our beloved people. I will let Vivek tell that part:

“Last week at Pilli Colony, as we entered the colony, we noticed some blue garbage bags. "Biodegradable plastic" was written on these garbage bags and I said to myself, “Wow, now they have started making biodegradable plastics. Good for the environment and for us.” Two ladies sat amidst these bags and were segregating these from the paper waste. It then occurred to me that these bags were medical wastes, coming from some hospital.  Some sudden fear gripped me, since we had started to hear about this novel Corona Virus. Soon others would join in and would collect the dangerous booty! After we inquired about these garbage bags a little more, we moved out to other slums to find out if they too were working with the same sort of medical waste. We were glad to find out that medical wastes were not dumped near any other slums. 

While we were heading back towards the office, I felt an inner voice speaking sternly to act. I feared  for their lives and believe this came from God. I felt like doing something for them to help and make sure they weren’t putting themselves in a dangerous situation even if I wasn’t sure. We decided to take some help from our colleagues in the office. We came back to the office and told Suraj and Ashraye about it.  

I took some others from the office back to Pilli Colony, and then called the ‘Scrap Dealer’ (He normally acts as the head of the Rag-pickers) and explained to him how dangerous it was. To our surprise, the Contractor immediately stopped the activity. He then called the Garbage dumper  asking them to remove these medical wastes and burn them. The contractor then promised not to allow the trucks to dump medical wastes at this site. But then at this place, the Dealer called everyone. We stood there and explained to them what this virus is all about. We understood that they did not know much about this virus.”

Today I am writing from my home. When all the world has slowed down because of this pandemic, we are all asked to be at home. Sure, that’s where I am now. However for how long? India has not seen the pinnacle  of the pandemic yet. I question myself if I am ready for the peak? But I reckon that the fearless Harriet might appear again and point her gun again at me. Maybe sooner than I think…

-Nithin Sam

*Harriet Tubman was an American Abolitionist with a passion to free slaves



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