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Surviving Covid

Love, loss & fightback: A tale of three Kolkata lives in the pandemic

The coronavirus shattered their worlds, but they did not break

Pooja Mitra, Adrija Kundu | Published 01.10.21, 01:40 PM
Sunita Biswas (from left); Adrija Saha with her parents; and Debalay Gan Chowdhury with his wife, Tapapriya

Sunita Biswas (from left); Adrija Saha with her parents; and Debalay Gan Chowdhury with his wife, Tapapriya

My Kolkata

Sunita Biswas has called Kolkata her home for 10 years, a decade that saw her transform from a young girl in a Himachal village to a Bengali-speaking Calcuttan.

She came here after marriage and rebuilt her world, only to see it shatter on April 28 this year when she lost the love of her life, her husband Bulbul Rahman Biswas. He was 42.

Sunita grew up in a small village called Rakeon in Shimla district. Like other village girls, she would help her mother manage the cattle and do the chores. She was an intelligent student. Driven by the desire to be self-sufficient, she completed her MA in Hindi from Himachal Pradesh University.

She met her husband when she went for the interview before her first job as a trainee in the admin team of a manufacturing company. He was her interviewer, who would become her boss and, eventually, the one her world revolved around.

“I did not bring my lunch. It was my first job,” she remembers about her first day at work. “He scolded me for not bringing food and took me to the canteen and ensured I was fed.”

 

Sunita's story

There was no proclamation of love, Sunita recalls, but they knew they were meant to be together. Her family was unsure about sending their daughter to faraway Kolkata but Sunita and Bulbul followed their heart. In 2011, they married and shifted to Kolkata to start living with Bulbul’s family at their house in Salt Lake.

Sunita found a job in Kolkata and for a while it was the “perfect life,” Sunita remembers. Every day, Bulbul would pack her lunch. They would hold hands while walking to the bus stop. Each evening, she would find him waiting for her at the bus stop. Sunita gave up her job soon after Bulbul completed his MBA. Bulbul encouraged her to learn fitness training and swimming.

Even that perfect life, however, was not a bed of roses. Her husband was at a crossroads in his career; he wanted to get into the business of fitness training but his father's health had worsened. Sunita egged Bulbul on to follow his dream.

Looking at the last photograph her husband sent from the gym where he worked as a trainer, Sunita says most of Bulbul’s wishes were fulfilled — except the wish of growing old with her. She remembers how her husband was 'Bulbulda’ for one and all —forever ready to help anyone in distress.

In 2020, Bulbul shifted to Jharkhand’s Dumka with a better-paying job as a gym trainer. A new struggle began for Sunita to take full responsibility of the household — her mother-in-law and the canines Sunita calls her “dog babies”. Once again she picked up the pieces of her life, unaware that fate was readying its heaviest blow.

Bulbul came back to Kolkata in early April, by when the second wave of Covid-19 had hit. He stayed back due to the lockdown. Around three weeks later, both he and Sunita had a cold and fever. The day before the Covid test, Bulbul became extremely weak. By the time they reached the hospital he was declared “brought dead”. 

Sunita's perfect life was shattered in a day.

Her heart aches for Bulbul; she says their pets still wait for him to come back each time the calling bell rings. But Sunita is a fighter. She knows it is hard to find work in a pandemic but she knows she cannot be weak, she cannot break down. 

She knows she must carry on, for her husband's sake. So she has dusted off her CV and is applying to whatever job she can find. 

 

A son's journey

Debalay's story

Debalay Gan Chowdhury had a promising career in the travel and tourism industry when Covid struck. 

At the time, Debalay, a bright student with an international degree, was frequently flying across the globe as a travel executive with a reputed company. 

Confident and ready to take the next leap, he put in his papers and decided to embrace a new opportunity. Then the pandemic-induced lockdown crippled the tourism industry. Debalay lost the job offer two days before his date of joining. He started to apply desperately anywhere he could but the jobs had dried up. 

Soon, a new battlefront opened for Debalay. He lost his father, Dr Rajib Gan Chowdhury, to Covid-19 in January 2021. The family believes that Dr Gan Chowdhury, who was vice-president of the West Bengal Medical Council and deputy director (planning) at ESI, contracted the disease while serving on the frontlines of the war against it. 

Debalay shook off grief — he had to, for his family — and decided to change his career path. As the sole earning member of his family, he joined the health sector too like his father.

Debalay works at the billing department of a private hospital. His wife, Tapapriya, too has found a new job. 

Debalay admits Covid shattered his life, but he is confident of picking up the pieces to make a better tomorrow.

 

She lost her father, found her strength

Adrija's story

Adrija Saha, a 21-year-old biotechnology student, shared that special bond with her father that only dads and daughters have. 

As a staunch feminist, he taught her to be opinionated and speak out against injustice. He made her fall in love with Bengali literature. He was her favourite travel companion. They would have heated political debates over dinner.

Arindam Saha worked as a software engineer and project manager at Zack’s Research Private Limited, a Chicago-headquartered IT company. On November 2 last year, he caught a cold. He tested positive for Covid; he developed large patches in his lungs.  

Soon, the rest of the family tested positive. Adrija, too, was advised immediate hospitalisation but with the semester examinations knocking on the door she decided to stay at home and sit for them. For seven days, she was given anticoagulant injections to prevent a stroke. 

The symptoms of Adrija’s father, a diabetic, worsened. Steroids failed him, plasma therapy only exacerbated his condition. He collapsed on November 16 and was placed on invasive ventilation for 12 hours. On November 28, he passed away. 

Adrija and her mother’s worlds crashed. Adrija struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, followed by depression, anxiety and regular panic attacks. She felt like the walls were closing in on her. Recurring nightmares kept her up at night. 

Even today, she struggles to stay in her room by herself. However, Adrija’s indomitable spirit did not allow her to give up. Her mother became her greatest strength.

“It’s hard to be alive; to cope every day but if my mother can be strong, so can I,” says Adrija. 

It has been nine months since she started working at the IT firm where her father previously worked. She is also preparing for her future studies.

Adrija's bookshelves are neatly stacked with the works of Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Rabindranath Tagore — all gifted by her father. In the pages, he has left bits of himself for his daughter to cherish. 

Last updated on 02.10.21, 04:17 PM
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