Journalist Barkha Dutt spoke to author Suketu Mehta about her recently published book To Hell and Back: Humans of Covid. She recalled how the Covid-19 lockdowns affected migrant labourers and her decision to report from the ground. She said, “I had to be on the ground to tell their story and so began my tryst with the pandemic.”

She talked about people from the lower-income class resorting to selling and pawning their belongings as a substitute to their source of income. She remembered how the poor had to take drastic steps in order to feed themselves, some of them even taking their lives so as to reduce the burden of feeding yet another mouth. “For a country as stratified as ours, the humanitarian crisis was going to be just as grave, or even graver, than the medical crisis”, said Dutt.

“The shutting down of the public transport was a big mistake”, remarked Dutt. “The invisibilisation of the poorest of our people was terrible.” Dutt was also critical of the government ignoring the needs of the economically precarious Indians and botching up numbers related to Covid-19 deaths. She also pointed at the “delusion” of the government for it claimed to have successfully tackled the second wave of the pandemic. “We ordered vaccines only in January 2021 and they were not enough to inoculate even a fraction of our adult citizens!”, exclaimed Dutt.

Dutt also talked about her elderly father’s fight with Covid-19 and eventually succumbing to it. She recalled how the hospital authorities did not let her visit her father, “The irony was not lost on me. As a journalist I was in hospitals reporting my stories but as a daughter I was not allowed to visit an isolation ward.” She then said, “My father died all alone. That eats me up.”