On one April morning. The lockdown continues. Bengaluru, India.
How have you been?
I have been juggling with writing, admin work, personal stuff, cleaning, laundry, cooking, and staying updated with the news.
Different news clips catch my husband’s and my attention even though we both scroll Google News. We share and collate our information at the end of the day during dinner unless he decides to escape to the bathroom. (For context you would need to read the first part of these pandemic chronicles. I can only hint that he avoids a dinner of raw eggplants and bottle gourd still in one piece.)
Only one morning did we see a video on COVID statistics else we prefer to not distract ourselves at the beginning of the day.
When I shut out the global crisis, I feel peaceful. The atmosphere seems perfect to work and just be. There is no traffic. Most factories have closed down. Office buildings, malls, and stores are closed. Flights are halted. People are at home. Of course, I feel horrible for appreciating the world peace as all these business shutdowns mean lost jobs, unemployment, lack of food, and irreversible life-long changes.
Irrespective of how bad I feel I can’t help but notice that the skies, the oceans, and the land have been reset by a continuous world quarantine.
Within a month of the lockdown, ecosystems are returning to their old states. After years, Punjab saw the Himalayan skyline from its homes and mustard fields. The birds are louder. Civets and nilgais roam on Delhi roads. In Japan, deers have come out of the park and are now on roads. Someone posted a picture of peacocks in Mumbai streets. Olive Ridley turtles are laying eggs on the beaches of Odisha. Dolphins frolic on Mumbai beaches. There was an elephant in Dehradun. Someone saw wild boars in cities. Then there was sheep somewhere. No, it was not New Zealand.
Would anacondas, tigers, elephants, and sloths come out in another two-three months of lockdown?
Not only environments but people, too, are restoring to their adolescent versions when living freely and taking over the world was a higher priority than being puppeteered by the fear of missing out. We work, read, cook, eat homemade food, meditate, do yoga, paint, clean our kitchens, do gardening, and are taking control of our lives like never before.
When I go out in the balcony, I see a foreign woman making milkshakes in her kitchen throughout the day. Or maybe she is making lassi to cool down in this Bangalore heat. From the same building, the confident voice of a guy on his team meetings races towards me.
But here I am pacing up and down trying to call my banks’ customer care. I understand that we are in a tough situation but I feel that my bank relationship managers have got more reason to not do their work now.
If I could be any further frustrated by the dirty tricks that my bank plays, I would surprise myself. I have an account in another bank, too, but they are even more pathetic, if that is even possible. This is the nth time they’ve canceled my debit card (in the pretext to send me a new one) without even asking me. One day I swipe the card at the grocery store, and the machine says invalid card. Once I was traveling in Malaysia, I swiped my card at a store, and the store attendant said something I couldn’t understand. Google Assistant translated the message to say the card was invalid. I have many more stories. If you work at a bank and promise me that you won’t charge me interest on my savings, yes that has happened too, please reach out. (Do message me if you want to know the name of these banks and want to stay away from them. Hint: one of them is synonymous with town. Or should I just write the names here?)
If only systems worked. A car mechanic charged 400 rupees to visit apart from the usual service charges as he claimed that the police are beating the service guys even if they show the identification card especially granted for the pandemic times. I believe him in a blink and pay.
The service industry is suffering. Daily laborers are stuck in big cities, unable to go home. Artists have lost livelihood. The health care industry is overworked. I have still not been able to push away the Italian nurses’ faces deeply lined by wearing masks for a long time out of my mind.
Weirdly, some people are working incessantly while others are losing jobs, businesses, and even future opportunities for at least a few months. Nearly 200 million people are predicted to end up out of work.
Delivery guys must be in high demand right now though.
Amazon, Flipkart, Swiggy— the companies that never sell groceries — are now selling essential items, too. After a few weeks of shut down, the portals opened with limited deliveries due to a shortage of staff and other constraints. My husband and I compete amongst ourselves to see who can book an order for milk and bread first, and we are not the only ones racing for an online delivery slot.
When the daily laborers got a chance to go home, they fled. That there was no commute and they had to walk hundreds of kilometers, all the way home, in the rain and the sun, mostly without any medical help and food or a roof at night, didn’t deter them. Some walked for days on highways and railway tracks with their infants, with their newly married partners, with their hungry dogs, with their clothes in a bundle, with their stoves on their backs, stopping by the railway tracks to cook pulses and rice, or waiting in long lines to get some curry and chapati, so that they could continue walking.
Those daily wagers moved despite their fear. We are all living on despite our fears. The fear of losing jobs, of losing incomes, of losing loved ones, of losing a complete year is slowly creeping up. We clutch onto whatever we have.
The human lot is a restless one though.
A friend said that now when she can’t travel, she wants to travel.
I prefer not to think about visiting any place right now. More than hiking and breathing in the fresh air and stretching my limbs I would be worried about sanitizing and washing everything from the binoculars to the akki rotis. (More on traveling in the pandemic here.)
But how can we complain about not being able to travel when even funerals are banned. The one who had to leave is gone. Left behind are the friends and the relatives, masked and restricted, even from mourning together. They can’t even complain as the restrictions are for their good. Maybe the events should be strictly monitored to make sure people maintain distance and follow the best practices but does the government has that many resources to spare?
I didn’t know while writing this diary in April but soon I would also attend the prayer services of a friend gone too soon. In the hospital, instead of hugging her mother, I would caress aunty’s arm and then would soon soak my hands in sanitizer. Instead of wiping another acquaintance’s tears, I would imagine how bad it would be if I had to get admitted to the hospital due to COVID. The thoughts of getting sick, without anyone close to help, with my partner on my side, who might be restrained from coming close to me, the imminent danger I could put him in, the thought of all the days I would lose, the breath I would lose, and wondering if my body couldn’t fight the disease and how much my family would worry would keep me on my toes. I would keep distance and wouldn’t complain about not being able to hold a proper funeral.
The death rate of Italy, the US, Brazil, and the UK has worried us all.
I wonder how many old people who passed away were prepared to die. How many children and grandchildren were planning their elder’s 50th wedding anniversary or a hundredth birthday or waiting to show them their first published book or excited to have them at their wedding? Those plans must have been buried with the dead ones.
Old people, pregnant women, children, and people with chronic illnesses — people who have weaker or a developing immunity are advised to stay home.
My parents don’t leave the house, they tell me. They have found solace in their garden, which is fragrant with the Queen of the Night year-round. Their madhumalti vine is pinker than usual, bowed under the weight of the flowers. The tailor bird’s chicks growing up in a money plant leaf nest keep my father and his phone busy.
While the elders have to be cautious, the young ones are bored at home.
My friend’s son just received two lessons at home, and his teachers are wondering if they could continue the video lessons. Homeschooling might finally catch up, as work from home is lastly appreciated.
Hilarious work-from-home videos are doing rounds on the internet. Somewhere two furry cats are punching each other in the background while their journalist mother reads live news on the television. Pantless journalists have gotten some limelight, too. Some people didn’t notice their laptops had hung right when they were logging out of a Zoom meeting and undressed in front of their entire team on camera.
Life-long memories are being created.
But not everyone is sympathetic even now. Some Chinese pet parents have been throwing their dogs and cats from their balconies as “cats and dogs can spread coronavirus” news went viral on their social media.
Stray animals seem better but they must be so clueless right now. What about the street dogs who used to eat out of the restaurants’ trash? Wait. What about homeless people? I am not sure about the homeless but on my rare evening walk, I see bamboo plates, some heaped with rice and some half-empty, on the streets. The dogs are being fed.
There are the homeless, and then there are people with homes. Some of them were moving jobs and homes and cities. Friends were to go to college this year. Parents were returning to India after visiting their children. Someone was selling a house. Someone was buying one.
Nothing matters anymore. Life is on hold.
Even crime rates have reduced. But what about those victims who were waiting for their case hearings or whose lawyers were in the middle of collecting proofs? What about the men and women stuck with abusive partners? What about the children who were being molested at homes?
This is an article in which, unlike my usual irritating disposition of wanting to consider every possibility, I don’t want to peek inside the nooks and corners of each and every situation. It is better to be ignorant sometimes.
To keep my sanity, I avoid most news except facts and statistics that come from high-authority websites. But I read on Facebook that people are drowning in the pools of bad news. Please don’t believe everything you see. Also, we can’t control most of the things that happen.
People are worried about getting jobs at this time. The US and the UK might establish universal basic pay and pay their citizens 1200$ a month, but would India ever be able to implement a country-wide support system? Let us ignore for the time being that in the US a forgivable debt of about half a trillion-dollar was distributed to big businesses and public companies and hitherto no one knows the real distribution. (Later both the US and Spain would roll out Universal Basic Pays.)
Beaurecracy, corruption, and religion have made the situation worse.
South Korea, Iran, and India — these are countries where religious congregations turned into coronaviruses’ incubation centers. You must have heard about Patient 21 from South Korea. What a shame and what a name!
But strange things are happening all around. Suddenly the movie Contagion is being viewed all around the world. Even though Netizens warned me not to see the movie in these panic times, I watched it and wasn’t gripped by fear, contrary to the popular opinion. Until we face something bad ourselves, we keep believing that nothing would happen to us. My deceased friend’s brother also said that mental health was never a thing for him much less imagining that depression would kill his sister one day.
So much we don’t know. So much we ignore. As if life would be eternal. As if we are all immortals.
Before this pandemic, I didn’t even know what pandemic is. I never searched. It was never a thing. But now when it is here, knocking on our doors, waiting to barge in, I wonder what we could have done differently. If you had a chance to go back, what would you change?
But rather than focusing on the bygones, let us see what we can do now.
I know that we will find balance out of this chaos. We will move towards equilibrium. We are moving towards equilibrium. But we can’t see it just yet.
Until then, we need to take day by day. We have to hold hands. We have to let go.
Stay safe, stay engaged, and have a nice laugh.
How’s your journey been in the pandemic? How are you coping? Would love to hear from you 🙂