For almost as long as he lived, Sushma Mane worked.
At age eight, she helped her family’s wedding decoration business. At the age of twenty, she found work as a junior librarian in Bombay, where she was born. He worked in the public library for 32 years before retiring as administrative chief. He then became an insurance agent, making sales calls and visiting customers for 15 years. Along the way, she raised three children, separated from her husband, supported a daughter who broke up the marriage, and became the second mother of a grandson.
On August 30, 2020 he died of COVID-19 in a Bombay hospital. He was 76 years old.
“When you think of grandmothers, you have a certain image in your head: rocking chairs, knitting needles, books,” said Viraj Pradhan, Mane’s 28-year-old grandson. “It simply came to our notice then. It was Super Granny. ”
Pradhan grew up in a suburb of Mumbai, clinging to a middle class childhood. The family hurried to put food on the table. His parents divorced when he was 12 and it was Mane who brought both him and his mother under his wing.
While Mane’s daughter worked 12 hours as a school librarian, she put on her shoes, transporting Pradhan to school, attending PTA meetings, serving on school committees, supervising homework, and cooking meals, in addition to working full time.
“It was basically just me and her,” Pradhan said with a melancholy smile. “When I wasn’t in school, I used to label it with sales calls. We were inseparable. “
Mane was the oldest employee of the insurance company where she worked. It didn’t matter. He walked around the city, preferring to take public transportation instead of expensive taxis to visit customers; he carried a heavy bag full of documents on each shoulder and frequently turned down offers to help them carry them.
“At this age, they help me balance my body,” he once told his manager, Swati Mittal.
“I don’t think I’ll ever meet anyone like her again in my life,” Mittal told BuzzFeed News. “I always said I would work as long as I was alive.”
The first cracks in Super Granny’s armor occurred in 2017. A routine medical checkup revealed an unusual electrocardiogram. Shortly afterwards, Mane began to lose blood internally and hemoglobin levels plummeted. Doctors were never able to diagnose his underlying condition. “Every few months, when hemoglobin levels dropped, he became weak and had difficulty breathing,” Pradhan said. “I was too tired to walk even around the apartment.”
Eventually, Mane had to be hospitalized every few months. Hospital employees took blood samples so often that their skin became thin as paper. I often needed an oxygen machine to breathe. “We had a dust oximeter long before it was common because of COVID-19,” Pradhan said, “and oxygen masks were normal for us. The results of their blood reports used to determine what the “Anxiety has become a permanent part of our lives.”
However, that crisis strengthened their bond. Mane spent his days on the balcony of his small apartment talking to his plants, calling his children, listening to old Bollywood songs, and taking pictures of Pradhan on the phone. Like most Indians, she was hooked on WhatsApp, frequently forwarding jokes, funny videos and “good morning” messages to her grandson. She sent him text messages frequently, his long messages written like old letters:
Have you eaten?
Did you arrive on time?
How was your meeting?
Stay fresh and positive.
Take your medication.
I am OK.
Do not you worry.
What time will you be back?
Have a nice day, son.
– Aaji (“grandmother” in Marathi)
In late 2019, Pradhan left her full-time job at a digital media company and went on her own to have enough time to take care of her grandmother. His roles had been reversed. “I used to be the person that people depended on,” he said, “but now it depended on me. I wasn’t prepared for that.”
Thanks to her grandmother’s condition, COVID-19 appeared on Pradhan’s radar long before most of the world realized it. He read reports of a strange disease in China and then in Italy, with growing fear. “Despite our frequent hospital visits, I was used to controlling things,” he said, “but I thought that if this virus ever got here, I wouldn’t control it. I was afraid of what would happen to my grandmother.”
In March, when India imposed a strict national blockade with little warning, Pradhan prayed that his grandmother would continue. Within a few days, hemoglobin levels had dropped again.
During the first three months of the country’s closure, Mane had to be hospitalized three times, which turned out to be much more difficult in a pandemic. Her symptoms (cough, low blood oxygen levels, and fatigue) resembled those of COVID-19 so closely that doctors often refused to examine her without a COVID test, which was difficult to achieve. in that moment. Later, as city hospitals overflowed with COVID-19 patients, only admission was hard; there were not enough beds available.
On August 25, Pradhan organized a COVID-19 test for his grandmother at home. The results would take 24 hours. That night, she was not hungry and was so tired that she needed help walking the few steps from her bed to the bathroom. Pradhan slept a little and then called an Uber to take her to the nearest hospital at midnight. He refused to be admitted until the results of COVID-19 arrived. He spent the rest of the night going frantically to different medical centers until the next day, when Mane was admitted to a government hospital, where treatment would be massively subsidized, unlike a private clinic.
This good news was followed by two bad news: hemoglobin levels continued to plummet, and later that day it tested positive for coronavirus.
“The crying doesn’t come easily to me, but the first time they put it on a fan I broke down,” Pradhan said. When he and his mother were tested immediately afterwards, they also tested positive for COVID-19. They had no symptoms.
“I try not to think about where and how we got infected and if I infected my grandmother,” she said. “Thinking like that will probably make me feel like I could have somehow prevented it from happening.”
His last phone conversation, just before he put Mane on the fan, lasted 45 seconds. Pradhan’s uncle had managed to send a phone call to Mane in the intensive care unit through a nurse. Pradhan told him to stop worrying about hospital bills, to heal, to eat and to get home as soon as he could. She told him not to worry about her and to eat her meals on time (“when you’re on the deathbed freak!” Pradhan said).
When he finished that call, he said, “Somehow I had the feeling that[he’d] I probably spoke to him for the last time. “
Mane had never wanted a big funeral and the pandemic assured him of desire. Only three people attended her cremation: Pradhan, one of her children, and a close friend of the family who was like a son to her. Mane’s daughter could not attend; was in quarantine at the hospital after testing positive for COVID-19.
Like all other people who had died in hospitals from the coronavirus, Mane’s body was locked inside a bag. It was handled by personnel who were dressed from head to toe with personal protective equipment, and no one was able to touch it. Pradhan said he could not take her to see her. He asked his uncle, Mane’s son, to put a letter at his feet, thanking him for everything he had done, along with flowers and a sari.
“What will always bother me is that she went to a hospital alone,” she said. “He always wanted to go home, to bed.”
Mittal, Mane’s manager, said he was surprised to receive the call. “My breathing stopped,” he said. “I used to be in the hospital a lot, but we were used to him coming back every time. We never thought he wouldn’t come back this time. Where it is now, it spreads happiness. I’m sure. ”
Months later, Pradhan’s phone continues to show pictures and videos he had made of Mane. He said he can’t look at them because it’s too painful.
On her WhatsApp there is an unread message from her grandmother. This is the last time you send a text message. It has been there for months and has not yet opened.
“It’s probably a generic thing, like a good day,” he said. “I have not checked it yet. I don’t have the courage. “