October 24, 2021

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Lesson of the Day: ‘As Covid-19 Devastates India, Deaths Go Undercounted’

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If you are reading this from India, The Times would like to hear from you. As the editors of this call-out write, “We want to see what you see and understand what you have endured, and we want to know what you’re doing to comfort one another and pass the time until India can return to its bustle and vibrancy.”

If you are learning about this crisis from somewhere else in the world, and haven’t read or seen any reporting, one quick way to understand what it is like to live where a disease is spreading at great speed and scale is to read the first-person dispatch by The Times’s New Delhi bureau chief, Jeffrey Gettleman. Here is how it begins:

Crematories are so full of bodies, it’s as if a war just happened. Fires burn around the clock. Many places are holding mass cremations, dozens at a time, and at night, in certain areas of New Delhi, the sky glows.

Sickness and death are everywhere.

Dozens of houses in my neighborhood have sick people.

One of my colleagues is sick.

One of my son’s teachers is sick.

The neighbor two doors down, to the right of us: sick.

Two doors to the left: sick.

“I have no idea how I got it,” said a good friend who is now in the hospital. “You catch just a whiff of this …,” and then his voice trailed off, too sick to finish.

He barely got a bed. And the medicine his doctors say he needs is nowhere to be found in India.

I’m sitting in my apartment waiting to catch the disease. That’s what it feels like right now in New Delhi with the world’s worst coronavirus crisis advancing around us. It is out there, I am in here, and I feel like it’s only a matter of time before I, too, get sick.

What is your reaction to this description? Does your own experience of this pandemic, even if it was much less extreme, allow you to put yourself in Mr. Gettleman’s shoes and understand some of what he and his neighbors must be feeling and thinking? If it moves you to want to help, you’ll find resources for that in the Going Further section, below.

In the piece you are about to read, you’ll learn much more about why and how infections have surged. Before you read it, however, scan the images. How do they make visible some of what Mr. Gettleman describes? What do they tell you about the crisis that you did not know before? What questions do they raise for you?

Read the article and then answer the following questions:

1. The first several paragraphs of this piece summarize the urgency of the situation in India right now. What details stand out for you?

2. What did Suresh Bhai, a worker at one of the large cremation grounds in Ahmedabad, share about his experience as a worker in recent months? What does this reveal about some of the issues with death counts in India?

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