Sushma Mane worked for as long as she was alive.
At the age of 8, she helped out with her family’s wedding decoration business. At the age of 20, she found a job as a junior librarian in Mumbai, where she was born. She worked at the public library for 32 years before retiring as its head of administration. She later became an insurance agent, making sales calls and visiting customers for 15 years. On the way, she raised three children, separated from her husband, raised a daughter in a broken marriage and became the second mother of a grandson.
On August 30, 2020, she died of COVID-19 at a hospital in Mumbai. She is 76 years old.
Viraj Pradhan, 28-year-old nephew of Mane said: “When you think of her, you have a certain image in your mind – a rocking chair, knitting needles, books,” said Viraj Pradhan, 28-year-old grandson of Mane said. “She isn’t like that. She is Super Granny. “
Pradhan grew up in the Mumbai suburbs of the middle class. The whole family hurriedly served the food on the table. His parents divorced when he was 12, and Mane was the one who brought both him and his mother under his protection.
While Mane’s daughter works as a school librarian for 12 hours a day, she puts her feet on her shoes, drives Pradhan to school, attends PTA meetings, serves on the school committee, oversees homework. and cooking – in addition to full-time work.
“It’s just me and her basically,” Pradhan said with a wistful smile. “When I’m not in school, I usually tag her on sales calls. We were inseparable ”.
Mane is the oldest employee at the insurance company where she works. It does not matter. She trudges around the city, preferring to take public transport instead of taking expensive taxis to visit customers; she will carry a heavy bag full of materials from each shoulder and will frequently decline offers to help carry them.
“At this age, they help balance my body,” she once told her manager, Swati Mittal.
“I don’t think I’ll see anyone like her again,” Mittal told BuzzFeed News. “She always said she would work as long as she was alive.”
The first cracks in Super Granny’s armor appeared in 2017. A routine medical examination revealed an abnormal electrocardiogram. Shortly thereafter, Mane began to lose blood inside and her hemoglobin levels plummeted. Doctors can never diagnose her underlying condition. “Every few months, when her hemoglobin drops, she becomes weak and feels short of breath,” Pradhan said. “She was too tired to even walk around the apartment.”
Finally, Mane was hospitalized every few months. The hospital staff took a blood sample, so her skin was usually paper thin. She often has to use oxygen machines to breathe. “We had a pulse oximeter long before it became popular because of COVID-19,” and oxygen masks were a normal thing for us, Pradhan said. Her blood report results are used to determine what will be like in the next few weeks. Anxiety has become a permanent part of our lives ”.
However, that crisis has made their relationship stronger. Mane spends the day at the balcony in their small apartment talking to the trees she calls her kids, listening to old Bollywood songs and posing for the pictures Pradhan took on her phone. he. Like most Indians, she loves WhatsApp very much, often forwarding jokes, funny videos and “good morning” messages to her nephew. She texted him often, her long messages hit like old-fashioned letters:
Have you eaten anything?
Have you been on time?
How was your meeting?
Keep calm and positive.
Take your medicine.
Do not worry.
What time will you return?
Have a good day.
– Aaji (“grandma” in Marathi)
At the end of 2019, Pradhan quit her full-time job at a digital media company and switched to freelance to have enough time to look after her grandmother. Their roles were reversed. “She used to be someone people depend on,” he said, “but now she depends on me. She is not ready for that.
Thanks to her grandmother’s status, the COVID-19 appeared on Pradhan’s radar long before most of the world noticed it. He read reports of a strange disease in China, and later in Italy, with great fear. “Even though we go to the hospital regularly, I’m used to controlling everything,” he said, “but I think if this virus came here, I wouldn’t have it under control. I was extremely scared not knowing what would happen to my grandmother.
In March, when India imposed one national key With a little warning, Pradhan prayed that her grandmother would make it. Within a few days, her hemoglobin levels dropped again.
During the country’s first three months of closure, Mane was hospitalized three times, something that proved to be much more challenging during a pandemic. Her symptoms – cough, low blood oxygen levels, and fatigue – were so similar to COVID-19 that doctors often refused to examine her without a COVID test, which was difficult to obtain at times. there. Then, when hospitals in the city were flooded with COVID-19 patients, getting there was very difficult; not having enough beds.
On August 25, Pradhan scheduled a COVID-19 inspection for her grandmother at home. Results will take 24 hours. That night, she had no appetite, and she was so tired she needed help walking a few steps from the bed to the bathroom. Pradhan slept, then ordered an Uber to take her to the nearest hospital in the middle of the night. It refuses to admit her until she has a COVID-19 result. He spent the rest of the night frantically going to various medical centers until the next day, when Mane was admitted to a government hospital where treatment would be massively subsidized, unlike accommodation. a private clinic.
That good news was followed by two bad news: Her hemoglobin level still plummeted, and by the end of the day, she tested positive for coronavirus.
“I didn’t cry easily – but the first time they put her in a ventilator, I was devastated,” said Pradhan. When he and his mother tested right after that, they also concluded positive for COVID-19. They have no symptoms.
“I try not to think about where and how we got it and whether I will infect my grandmother or not,” he said. “Thinking like that would probably make me feel that I could somehow prevent that from happening.”
Their last conversation over the phone – just before Mane was put into the ventilator – lasted 45 seconds. Pradhan’s uncle managed to send the phone to Mane in the intensive care unit through a nurse. Pradhan told her not to worry about hospital fees, get well, eat, and come home as soon as possible. She told him not to worry about her and eat his meals on time (“when she was lying in the wicked hospital bed!” Said Pradhan).
When that call ended, he said, he “somehow got a feeling that[he’d] probably talked to her for the last time. “
Mane has never wanted a big funeral, and pandemic has ensured her wishes. Only three people attended her cremation – Pradhan, one of her sons, and a close family friend who was like a son to her. Mane’s daughter cannot attend; She was in hospital quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19.
Like all others who died in the hospital from the coronavirus, Mane’s body was sealed in a pouch. It is handled by the staff, who are equipped with head-to-toe personal protective gear, and no one is allowed to touch her. Pradhan said he couldn’t go to her. He asks his uncle, Mane’s son, to put a letter at her feet, thanking her for all she has done, along with flowers and a sari.
“What has always bothered me is that she passed away alone in the hospital,” he said. “She always wanted to go into her house, in her bed.”
Mittal, Mane’s manager, said she was stunned when she received the call. “My breathing stopped,” she said. “She used to be in the hospital a lot, but we got used to her coming back every time. We never thought she wouldn’t come back this time. Wherever she is now, she is spreading happiness. I am sure of that ”.
Months later, Pradhan’s phone kept showing pictures and videos he had returned to Mane. He said he couldn’t look at them, because it was too painful.
In his WhatsApp there is an unread message from his grandmother. This is the last time she texted him. It’s been there for months, and he hasn’t opened it yet.
“It could be something generic, like a ‘good morning’,” he said. “I haven’t tested it yet. I’m not brave enough.”