Both were confident that the 48-year-old academic would return home soon, until a coronavirus test returned positive and doctors instructed him to be transferred to an isolation ward – a university hospital known to many as a “dark room” with so few people entering and leaving alive.
“I could clearly see the fear in his eyes,” Hassan recalled.
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Dr. Gabriel died two days later, one of India’s top universities, about 50 professors and non-teaching staff at AMU, who contracted coronavirus that spread across the country in April and May. AMU’s tragedy was repeated across India as schools suffered similar blows to their faculties and their loss of knowledge – and in many cases friendship and guidance – was devastating to the academic community.
“The virus took away our bright minds,” said Shafi Kidwai, a spokesman for AMU, or Aligarh Muslim University.
One of the oldest universities in India, AMU has produced a generation of politicians, jurists and scholars. The university has been a seat of modern learning for many Muslims in the Indian subcontinent and an intellectual credit for the community. It was originally established to educate Muslims in India, who now make up about 14% of the country’s total population.
For the past two months, local newspapers and the university’s Facebook page have been filled with word of mouth from its professors – all lost to the epidemic.
The zoologist “touched the lives of a generation of his students.” The physician was “an exceptional clinician, teacher and man, who advised many generations.” Psychologists were known for their “lively presence” and “high-quality research.”
Gabriel, an assistant professor of history who gave only one name, was a “dedicated teacher who loved his work and cared deeply for the students.”
At the height of the outburst, Kidwy sees his colleagues being taken by ambulance to the hospital; Some will return and be buried in the centuries-old campus cemetery.
“It was deeply sensitive,” he said.
There is no official count on how many professors have died during the epidemic, but many top Indian universities have reported a situation similar to AMU. The University of Delhi, the capital of India, and its approved colleges have lost 35 teachers.
The epidemic has become equally devastating for government schoolteachers in some areas. More than 1,600 people have died in Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s 28 states, where many are believed to have been infected after being forced to go to polling stations to protest the long-running election.
Academics were only a small part of the horrific scene that swept across India in April and May, when its healthcare system was hit by a sudden, severe spike that left the government unprepared.
Some died in the ambulance. Amidst the dramatic deficiency of oxygen and ventilators, those who took place in this hospital often had to breathe out. The crematoriums burn the bodies day and night in pyre at different times outside their overwhelmed facilities.
More than 160,000 people have died in the two months since the epidemic began, with about 383,490 dying in India.
As this rise has slowed in recent weeks, AMU authorities and students have begun to determine the direction of the loss.
They said the deaths of academics have been reduced to zero and that the suspension of monuments indefinitely or held in practice has exacerbated their epidemic by epidemic-induced isolation.
“We want to celebrate the lives of those who lost, but the whole university is empty,” said Kidwy of AMU. “Without these, I feel, students will feel a longer sense of loss.”
The situation has left many students with uncertainty as universities are still closed.
Gabriel died the same day, Shah Mehvish, a doctoral student at AMU, and his thesis supervisor, Sajid Ali Khan, 633, also died of infection.
At 26, Khan has six PhDs. Researchers in her fourth year of clinical psychology said she cried and felt numb when she heard of his death. “His loss has left a void in my heart that is hard to fill,” he said.
Now, a few weeks later, he is contemplating the challenge of completing the study without Khan’s session, which has left him “overwhelmed with anxiety”.
“The collaborative relationship between teacher and researcher takes a lot of time and effort,” he said. “I don’t know how long it will take me to get acquainted with the new guide.”
Hassan, in order to work for his PhD, Gabriel was not just a professor of his former history.
The two became close friends when Hassan first graduated five years ago and Gabriel was his teacher. Over the years, Professor Hassan has gone out of his way to help, lend him books, lead his research on modern Indian history, and even help with financial loans.
In ordinary times, the burial of a popular professor like Gabriel would bring hundreds to the cemetery on the university campus.
However, due to the epidemic lockdown, people including Gabriel’s wife Falak Naz and her two young children were banned from such gatherings.
Dozens of friends and colleagues compulsorily attended the janaza of the Muslims, all of whom were taken out of the cemetery before burial.
Desperate to pay their last respects, Hassan voluntarily assisted in the burial and helped bring Gabriel’s body down to his grave.
Hassan said, “I owed it to him.
Alone in the cemetery on a hot summer evening, the only Muslim scholar who performed the funeral and the three medics who brought the body to the hospital morgue, Hassan said his final farewell.
Hassan said, “I have never seen such a silent and lonely tomb.”
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