Wall of sorrow

PARLIAMENT’S HOME IS OPPOSITE a wall that runs along the northern edge of the grounds of London’s St Thomas’s Hospital. The wall is separated from the River Thames by a walkway, the embankment between Westminster and Lambeth bridges. Almost every square inch of the river facing side of the wall, which is about 440 yards in length, is covered by hand-painted hearts of various sizes and in various shades of red and pink. Many of the hearts have names, dates, and short, sad messages written on them.

Each of the many thousands of hearts painted on the wall (by volunteers) represents one of the huge number of people who died because of being infected with the covid19 virus. The wall is now known as The National Covid Memorial Wall and work on the painting commenced in March 2021. The mural that records the numerous tragic deaths was organised by a group known as Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice. The names and other information added to the hearts is being done by people who knew the bereaved person being remembered. When we walked past the wall today, the 27th of October 2021, we saw a young lady carefully writing on one of the hearts. Seeing this and the wall with all its reminders of the pandemic-related deaths was extremely depressing. On our return journey, I insisted that we crossed the river and walked along the opposite embankment on which the Houses of Parliament stands. Even from across the river, the reddish cloud of hearts on the wall is visible. Certainly, this would be the case from the riverside terraces accessible to those who work and govern within the home of Parliament.

It is ironic (and maybe deliberately so) that the wall with its many tragic reminders of deaths due to covid 19 is facing the Houses of Parliament (The Palace of Westminster), where had different decisions been taken, sooner rather than later, many of the names on the wall might not have needed to be written there.

Disabled drivers

During our very recent stay in the Cochin/Ernakulam region of Kerala in the south of India, we encountered two drivers with disabilities.

The first was in central Ernakulam. He was the chauffeur working for a friend. His right arm was encased in surgical plaster of Paris from above his elbow to his finger tips. He drove well despite having only one functioning arm. Luckily for him, he was driving a car with automatic gear changing.

We met the second driver twice in picturesque Fort Cochin. He wore a surgical support collar around his neck. It was khaki in colour and matched his khaki autorickshaw driver’s uniform jacket.

The first time we were driven by him, we noticed his collar, but made no reference to it. The next time he stopped to pick us up, we asked him about the collar, guessing that he might have been involved in accident. We were not expecting his explanation.

The poor fellow related that when his wife had deserted him for reasons that he did not tell us, he had tried to commit suicide. Fortunately, his attempt failed because now his wife has returned to him.

Tragedy at the tombs

The Paigah family were involved in ruling the Princely State of Hyderabad in the 18th century. Most of the family is buried within beautiful tombs in a peaceful area south of central Hyderabad

After visiting the collection of tombs, we waited in the rustic street that leads from them to a big highway. Cocks, hens,and goats roamed around. Eventually, an autorickshaw (‘auto’) arrived. We hailed it, then boarded it.

Before heading out of the rustic enclave, our driver stopped by the entrance to a yard. A little boy approached and greeted his father, our driver. The latter gave his son a package. It was rotis, which the driver had specially fetched for his mother. The boy took them indoors to his grandmother and returned to wave goodbye to his dad and us.

We left the area and began speeding along busy main roads towards the city centre.

The auto driver’s mobile phone rang. He pulled up by the side of the road, and answered it. Immediately, he burst into tears, crying uncontrollably.

We asked him what was wrong. He told us that his mother had just died.

Our driver resumed driving. Every few seconds, he wiped tears from his eyes. We told him that we were very sorry for him, and that he must return home. He did so, but only after making sure that we were safely aboard another auto to take us to our destination.

Even though we did not know him from Adam and are unlikely ever to meet him again, his grief was infectious, palpable.