Cameraperson: Sanjoy Deb
Video Editors: Sandeep Suman and Purnendu Pritam
(COVID deaths are not just numbers. This story is The Quint's effort to put a human face to the many tragedies witnessed across the country during the deadly second wave. It's the story of Aryan, a 15-year-old whose childhood was snatched from him by the virus as he lost both his parents in a span of less than six months during the pandemic. Please support us by becoming a Quint member and help us bring you the stories of India's COVID Orphans.)
Fifteen-year-old Aryan Kandekar lives with his grandmother Shashikala in the Beed district of Maharashtra. He lost his mother Meena to a heart attack following a rise in blood pressure and medical negligence in January 2021 and his father Sanjay to coronavirus only five months later at the peak of the second wave of the pandemic.
Aryan is now a COVID orphan.
The pandemic has stolen several years of his childhood. He no longer wishes to play his favourite sport, watch his favourite films or play with children his age. The Quint caught up with Aryan and his grandmother and we spoke at length about how the loss of immediate family members has affected their present and future.
A Migrant Exodus Which Forced Aryan's Parents To Return Home
Aryan's parents Meena and Sanjay were among the lakhs of migrant workers who walked, cycled, took buses and trains to somehow make it home after the first coronavirus lockdown was announced in March 2020.
But when they started their journey back home to Beed from Mumbai, they left behind Aryan under the watch of his maternal grandmother hoping that he would continue his studies. Aryan never got to see his parents after that.
""One day I got to know that my mother has suffered a heart attack and my father has contracted coronavirus. I could not meet my father because of COVID. The last time I spoke with him was over a video call. My mother died because of elevated blood pressure."" - Aryan Kandekar
Aryan says that he last saw his father on a video call. When we asked what conversation they had, he replied that he asked his father about his health but the latter couldn't reply because of being tied to an oxygen cylinder.
'I Miss My Parents'
Aryan and his grandmother Shashikala live in a rented apartment in Beed. Everything in that house reminds Aryan of his parents. As we sat down to eat, Aryan told us that his mother cooked the best bhindi ki sabzi on the planet. He also recalled how all three of them would sit down to have dinner together.
""I loved the bhindi and methi cooked by my mother. I don’t get to eat that food now."" - Aryan Kandekar
"Papa used to caution me. He told me not to step out of the house, or eat outside. I told him that we don’t go out. Whenever I asked him if he was keeping fine, he said yes. I don’t know how he contracted the coronavirus," he said when we asked him if he was aware of how his father contracted the virus.
A Childhood Left Behind
Talking about his dreams and ambitions Aryan told us that he wanted to be a cricketer, but now only wants to focus on his studies and get a job at a bank.
""I wanted to be a cricketer. I admire MS Dhoni a lot. But since the death of my parents, I don't feel like playing. I just want to finish my higher education and get a job at a bank."" - Aryan Kandekar
When asked why does he only want to work in a bank, Aryan responded that any other course or degree would cost him a lot of money, which he won't be able to afford.
It isn't just Aryan who is concerned about the finances of the house. His grandmother Shashikala is equally worried. "I also feel like an orphan," she says. Unable to hold back her tears each time she looks at a photo of her children she further adds that the only source of income she has is the pension of her late husband, which isn't enough to get Aryan into a school.
State Government Is Helping COVID Orphans, But Here's the Catch
While the Maharashtra government has announced financial assistance for children like Aryan, the money will be given to the minors only when they turn 21. But Aryan needs help, now.
""I don’t know if we will be able to afford my higher education with the pension that my grandmother gets. I don’t know if it will be enough. I am afraid I will have to drop out of school."" - Aryan Kandekar
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