On April 15, Gargi Shindé, a 43-year-old nonprofit executive, logged onto Zoom at 5 a.m. From her home in Charlotte, North Carolina, she watched her relatives huddle around a bright-yellow body bag at a crematorium in Pune, India. They were performing the final rites for Shindé’s aunt, Vijaya, who had just died from COVID-19. All she could do was watch. The bag was almost fully zipped, revealing only Vijaya’s face, which appeared tiny and blurry through Shindé’s phone. “The only contribution I had was writing an obituary,” she told me, “and I’m scared I’ll have to do another one soon.”
On top of the grief and anger she’s feeling, Shindé has been struggling to comprehend the “surreal, stark contrast” between her own safety in Charlotte—where restrictions are loosening—and the catastrophe upending life back home. Then, on Thursday, Shindé emailed to tell me that another one of her aunts had just died from COVID-19.
Over the past two weeks, tragedies like what Shindé experienced are becoming a horrific new reality for Indian Americans. Many are glued to WhatsApp through the night, checking in on relatives as India confronts one of the world’s worst coronavirus surges. Every day, India is breaking grim global pandemic records, and even these numbers may be dramatically lower than the actual toll. The situation has become so dire that it verges on apocalyptic: Hospitals are running out of beds and oxygen, and people are dying while waiting for treatment. Crematoria are so overcrowded that workers are building makeshift funeral pyres in car parks, where grieving families wait for up to 20 hours for access.