First Person

India’s First Unique Chronicle of the Covid-19 Pandemic

Through the voices of those who lived through it.

The year 2020 was one of many emotions, all of which were felt by the entirety of the world. With that in mind, A World On Hold is an upcoming non-fiction book that is the only one to bring out 20 stories of unparalleled bravery, courage and optimism from this period to reinstate hope in a time when pessimism blanketed people from all across.


By Surabhi Sundaram and Divita Aggarwal, 17 Feb 2022


For the first time in modern history, humans — rich or poor, black or white, religious or non-religious — were unabashedly affected by the exact same situation, at the exact same time. COVID-19 brought the world to a long, unpredicted standstill. A World On Hold is an upcoming non-fiction book that brings together diverse voices of people living through this monumental time in history.

It pens down 20 stories of unparalleled bravery, courage and optimism. It includes authentic narratives from all walks of life – frontline workers, migrant workers, Bollywood actress Ms. Vidya Balan, INC MP Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Editor-in-Chief of TataCliq Nonita Kalra, and a gravedigger.

The idea for the book first came to us when India’s first nationwide lockdown was imposed. The goal was to reinstate hope by bringing out stories of optimism, in a time when stories of unforgettable hurt became a part of everyday life. It felt like a responsibility more than anything else. 

Since we were living through the most defining period of our generation, we wanted to provide real-time documentation that could be used as a reference for the future. We drew inspiration from Anne Frank’s Diary of A Young Girl, which was written with a forthright rawness and honesty painted an authentic picture of that period. With an aim to remind humanity of how far we’ve come and what we’ve lost in the process, we decided to write these stories.

I, Surabhi, love the fact that my work and passion involve narrating real, powerful stories of people. In that process, I’m constantly interacting with new faces, learning more about their realities and inadvertently about the society I am a part of. And so, having worked as a journalist during Covid-19 during which I was exposed to crematoriums, quarantine facilities, hospitals and migrant worker camps, I was curious to dig deeper into the impact of the pandemic. More importantly, I wanted to find a medium to convey these stories that needed to be told and heard. 

 

Ever since I (Divita) was a child, writing was like a first love. After Rupa published my first book, my confidence in story-telling was affirmed. Narrating stories (mine or others’) makes me want to be more honest and vulnerable. For that reason, I moved to the non-fiction space.

With A World On Hold, I was curious about how everyone around me was dealing with this crippling emotional, financial and physical stress. I wanted to bring out this vulnerability in the book.

In addition to this, I was working as a Marketing Associate for an e-commerce company when the lockdown was first imposed. I was constantly exposed to how various industries were affected by the situation. Like everyone else, I was curious about the way companies across India were innovating to adjust to the situation. This motivated an idea for the book.

In addition to delving into the emotional turmoils of individuals, the book explores the impact of Covid on healthcare, education, aviation, cinema, business etc. It gives a comprehensive insight into the first and second waves of the pandemic.

Leveraging our professional network and convincing notable personalities from their respective industries to feature in the book, was the first step in telling their stories. However, within three months of the first nationwide lockdown, we had discovered, interviewed and documented 20 unheard-of stories of the lockdown. The first draft of the manuscript was ready in under 100 days.

Surprisingly, conversing about these ordeals proved more therapeutic than triggering – both for us and the narrators, many of whom noted that in the process of writing their stories, they had the chance, for the first time, to share all the emotions and experiences they had been going through. Speaking to people felt cathartic, as it became an outlet to convey bottled up emotions and our own overwhelming fear. 

It was calming to vocalise the many apprehensions our narrators and we were going through. We’d all experienced a sense of loss in different capacities, to varying degrees – loss of opportunities, time, normalcy and, in some cases, lives. For us and the storytellers, these interactions were a source of hope. Knowing that this was a step in the collective healing process helped us bear the gravity of the situation.

 

The second wave of the virus particularly reinforced the importance of writing this book. While the entire world was caught off guard during the first wave, India suffered the most during its second. 

Due to the stories and information that we had gathered for the book, we could see the progression of events and how the lives of the narrators, in particular, were impacted. By collecting stories as well as journaling our experience, this book captures the real-time chronology of events – the uncertainty of the virus and its devastating aftermath. 

Over the past year, the twenty different lives documented in this book have undergone emotional, mental, and life-altering transformations. And we have transformed with them. At the very beginning, both the duration and direness of this pandemic were unknown. However, our purpose has remained intact throughout: to give an authentic voice to these stories of bravery, innovation, and unflinching strength.

 

All views in the piece are personal.