One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has seen death, economic hardships and anxiety on an unprecedented scale.
But this tapestry of suffering is threaded with self-sacrifice, courage and a gritty determination to persevere.
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Around the globe, people are reinventing themselves, helping others and even going back to square one in their careers, while never giving up.
Shikha Malhotra, 25, was living a glamorous life of an up-and-coming Bollywood actress in India with several movies under her belt.
From working with industry superstar Shah Rukh Khan in 2016 to playing the lead role in the 2020 release Kaanchli – Life in a Slough, Malhotra had well and truly arrived on the Bollywood scene.
Presenting #Kaanchli – Life In A Slough, showing the plight of a woman who is seeking assurance of love and protection in return of her unadulterated divine love. Starring #SanjayMishra,@iSHIKHAMALHOTRA
& directed by @DedipyaJoshii. Kaanchli releases in theaters on 7th Feb '20 pic.twitter.com/ByqnJymJaG
— Kaanchli – Life in a Slough (@KaanchliTheFilm) January 17, 2020
But when the coronavirus pandemic struck India and her hometown Mumbai, she decided it was time to act, but this time without the beaming lights and rolling cameras.
Two days after India went into a nationwide lockdown in March 2020, Malhotra – who has a nursing degree – started volunteering at hospitals around the city.
“I am first a nursing officer, then an actress,” Malhotra said.
“Seeing lives and deaths, so many expressions, emotions, happiness, sadness, that changed me, I think, all of a sudden, I became a more mature person, more grounded.”
Mumbai was one of the worst hit cities in India, the country with the second highest caseload of COVID-19 in the world.
Tested positive, suffered paralysis
Malhotra said she was inspired to serve as a nurse by watching front-line workers, including her mother – a nurse who worked in COVID-19 wards – risk their lives to try and mitigate the crisis.
She worked as a nursing officer at a government hospital, serving and treating COVID-19 patients of all ages.
But seven months later in October, she herself tested positive for the infectious disease and spent a month recovering alone in hospital.
Soon after her recovery, she suffered a stroke and the right side of her body was paralysed.
This was the second time Malhotra had suffered paralysis.
“It was, I think, a big setback for me because having this attack a second time, I thought, oh, this is over,” she said.
Malhotra has since made a full recovery. She said she believed she could not have recovered without the support of her parents.
As offers to work in movies start pouring in, Malhotra said she planned to continue her acting career while also staying ready to serve as a nurse whenever she is needed.