For almost as long as she was alive, Sushma Mane worked.
At age 8, she helped with her family’s wedding decoration business. In her twenties, she found a job as a junior librarian in Mumbai, where she was born. He worked in the public library for 32 years before retiring as administrative head. She then became an insurance agent, making sales calls and visiting clients for 15 years. Along the way, she raised three children, separated from her husband, supported a daughter whose marriage had fallen apart, and became the second mother of a grandson.
On August 30, 2020, she died of COVID-19 in a Mumbai hospital. He was 76 years old.
“When you think of nannies, you have a certain image in mind – rocking chairs, knitting needles, books,” said Viraj Pradhan, Mane’s 28-year-old grandson. “It was nothing like that. She was Super Granny. “
Pradhan grew up on the outskirts of Mumbai, attached to a middle-class girl. The family rushed to put food on the table. His parents divorced when he was 12, and it was Mane who took both him and his mother under his wing.
While Mane’s daughter worked 12-hour days as a school librarian, she got into her shoes, dragged Pradhan to school, attended PTA meetings, served on school committees, supervised homework and cooked meals. – in addition to working full time.
“We were basically just there for me and for her,” Pradhan said with a melancholy smile. “When I wasn’t at school, I cut her off with her for sales calls. We were inseparable. “
Mane was the oldest employee of the insurance company where he worked. It didn’t matter. She walked around the city, preferring to take public transportation instead of expensive taxis to visit customers; he would carry a heavy bag full of documents from each shoulder and would often refuse offers to help 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 someone like her in my life,” Mittal told BuzzFeed News. “She always said she had to work as long as she was alive.”
The first cracks in Super Granny’s armor came in 2017. A routine medical checkup revealed an uncommon electrocardiogram. Soon after, Mane began losing blood internally, and his hemoglobin levels dropped. Doctors have never been able to diagnose his underlying situation. “Every few months, when her hemoglobin levels dropped, she became weak and found it difficult to breathe,” Pradhan said. “She was too tired to even walk around the apartment.”
In the end, Mane had to be hospitalized every few months. Hospital staff took blood samples so often that their skin became thin as paper. I often needed an oxygen machine to breathe. “We had a pulse oximeter long before it became common because of COVID-19,” Pradhan said, “and oxygen masks were a normal thing for us. The results of their blood reports used to determine how they would be. and our next few weeks. Anxiety has become a permanent part of our lives. “
However, that crisis has made its bond stronger. Mane spent her days on the balcony of her small apartment talking to her plants, calling out to her children, listening to old Bollywood songs, and posing for pictures that Pradhan had taken on her phone. Like most Indians, she was fooled by WhatsApp, often sending jokes, funny videos, and “hello” messages to her nephew. She often texted him, her long messages unfolding like old-fashioned letters:
Did you eat
Did you arrive on time?
How was your meeting?
Stay fresh and positive.
Take your medicines.
I am fine.
What time will you be back?
Good morning, boy.
– Aaji (“grandmother” in Marathi)
In late 2019, Pradhan left his full-time job in a digital media company and went freelance to have enough time to take care of his grandmother. Their roles had changed. “She used to be the person they depended on,” she said, “but now she was dependent on me. She wasn’t ready for that.”
Thanks to his grandmother’s condition, COVID-19 appeared on Pradhan’s radar long before most of the world noticed it. I read reports of a strange disease in China, and then in Italy, with growing fear. “Despite our frequent hospital visits, I was used to being in control of things,” he said, “but I think if this virus ever got here, I wouldn’t have control. I was scared of what would happen to my from me. “
In March, when India imposed a tightening closed national with little warning, Pradhan prayed that his grandmother would pass. Within a few days, his hemoglobin levels were dropping again.
During the first three months of the country’s closure, Mane has to be refused three times, which has proved much more challenging in a pandemic. Her symptoms – cough, low blood oxygen levels, and fatigue – resembled those of COVID-19 so close that doctors often refused to examine her without a COVID test, which was difficult to get at that. time. Later, as city hospitals discharged 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. Results took 24 hours. That night, she had no appetite, and she was so tired that she needed help walking the few steps from her bed to the bathroom. Pradhan slept a little, then called an Uber to take him to the nearest hospital in the middle of the night. He refused to admit it until his COVID-19 results were released. He spent the rest of the night going frantically to various 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 pieces of bad news: His hemoglobin levels were still low, and, later that day, he took a positive test for the coronavirus.
“Crying didn’t come to me easily – but the first time I put it on a fan, I broke down,” Pradhan said. When he and his mother were tested immediately afterwards, they tested positive for COVID-19 as well. They had no symptoms.
“I try not to think about where and how we are infected and if I have infected my grandmother,” she said. “Thinking like that would make me wonder if I could somehow prevent it from happening.”
His last phone conversation – just before Mane was put on the fan – lasted 45 seconds. Pradhan’s uncle was able 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 return home as soon as he could. She told him not to worry about her and to eat her meals on time (“when she’s on her deathbed!” Pradhan said).
When this call ended, he said, “he somehow had a feeling that[he’d] he probably talked to her for the last time. “
Mane had never wanted a big funeral, and the pandemic assured him of his 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 quarantined at the hospital after testing positive for COVID-19.
Like all other people who had died in hospital from the coronavirus, Mane’s body was locked in a bag. It was handled by staffers who were seen from head to toe in personal protective equipment, and no one was allowed to touch it. Pradhan said he could not bring himself to see her. She asked her uncle, Mane’s son, to put a letter at her feet, thanking her for everything she had done, with flowers and a sari.
“The thing that will always bug me is that she went to a hospital alone,” he said. “She always wanted to go to her house, on her bed.”
Mittal, Mane’s director, said she was surprised to receive the call. “My breath stopped,” he said. “I spent a lot of time in the hospital, but we used to come back every time. We never thought this time he would come back again. Wherever she is now, she is spreading happiness. I’m sure of it. “
Months later, Pradhan’s phone continued to reveal photos and videos he had taken of Mane. He said he can’t watch them because it’s too painful.
On her WhatsApp is a message not read by her grandmother. It was the last time he sent her an SMS. It’s been there for months, and it hasn’t even opened yet.
“It’s probably something generic, like a‘ good morning ’ahead,” he said. “I haven’t checked yet.” I don’t have the courage. ”