The second wave of COVID-19 has been devastating, with some families losing multiple people to the virus. The scenario could have been just as tragic for Ashok Rohidas Jagtap, a farmer from Pune district, and the 20 other members of his joint family comprising four generations. But they overcame the ordeal.
Hailing from Mandavgan Farata village in Shirur taluka, 100 km from Pune city, Ashok tested positive on April 21. As the remaining members of his family include four people aged over 65, the village panchayat decided to conduct a Covid test on all of them. Excluding Ashok, 20 members of the family tested positive, with only three of them spared from the infection.
The youngest patient included a one-and-a-half-year-old boy and the oldest, a 75-year-old man. Ashok (53), a member of the gram panchayat of Mandavgan Farata, said his family is big as his father, his uncle and their families all live together. The 24 members include eight women, seven men, and nine children.
Ashok, who grows melons, was the only member of the family who used to step out of the house during the pandemic in order to sell the family’s farm produce. He said he would quarantine himself in a separate room to keep the rest of the family safe from infection.
Ashok used to visit the market yard in Pune and came in contact with adatdars (brokers), other farmers, vendors, as well as customers. “During the week (before I was tested), I had fever and body pain, but I ignored it as I thought it may be because of exhaustion. When the pain increased, I visited a family doctor, who suggested a Covid test. On April 21, my report came positive. As I was serious, my doctor suggested I get admitted to a private hospital,” he said.
Ashok is the head of the household and his diagnosis left the entire family worried. That is when the gram panchayat decided to test everyone. Of the 20 other family members who tested positive, 15 had mild symptoms and five were admitted to the COVID-19 centre in Mandavgan Farata.
Ashok, on coming to know that nearly all of his family had been infected, was overwhelmed with guilt. “I felt I would be the only one responsible if any of them succumbed to the virus. I could not have forgiven myself if anything had happened to them,” he said.
In-house Covid warriors
All the household and family responsibilities then fell on the three who were not infected — Pooja Suraj Jagtap, Adika Santosh Jagtap and Akash Bapusaheb Jagtap. Pooja and Adika were busy in the kitchen most of the time, cooking immunity-boosting food for the patients. Akash would deliver the food to the Covid centre and hospital.
When he would get time, Akash would go to the fields, but he could not finish many of the tasks as the farmworkers hired by the family refused to come to work out of fear of catching the virus.
Ashok’s son, Suraj Subhash Jagtap (27), said that his wife, Pooja, and brother’s wife, Adika, looked after the whole family. “My one-year-old son Aditya lived with us, and without his mom, for more than 10 days. We were all scared at first, as negative news was pouring in from outside. But our grandfather and grandmother motivated us, they never showed any kind of anxiety. All the time, they would talk to us and tell us that nothing would happen. Their positive words inspired all of us,” he said.
Kantabai Rohidas Jagtap (70), Ashok’s mother, said they were scared, but did not show it. “Everyone started to take care of each other. Daughters, sons-in-law, nephews, and other relatives also helped us. With the love and support of each other and our relatives, we got through the hard times. I have seen humanity in this critical situation. Now, senior members of the family will take the vaccine and others will too,” she adds.
Ashok’s uncle, Subhash Mahadev Jagtap (70), said the family’s farm suffered losses as workers stayed away from their farm and Akash could not harvest the melons or water the crops alone. “It is a big loss to the family, but at least all of us are together,” he said.
Dr Manoj Bhosale of Varad Vinayak Hospital, Mandavgan Farata, said it is important for patients to stay optimistic. “A doctor tries to save every patient, but patients should also believe in themselves. This is the thing I saw in the Jagtap family. As a farming family, they had strong immunity. But also, no one in the family panicked in this critical situation. They took care of each other. This is when I saw the benefit of a joint family. Their love for each other makes them strong. Now I always give the example of the Jagtap family to every patient,” he said.
Looking at the prediction of a third wave in India, Ashok said the virus is bound to infect everyone eventually. “The key is not to delay treatment, be optimistic and love each other. Also, get vaccinated. We are getting the jab too.”
(The author is a Pune-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)