How have you been?
Dictionary.com tells me that a virus means an infective agent that typically consists of a nucleic acid molecule in a protein coat, is too small to be seen by light microscopy, and is able to multiply only within the living cells of a host.
A small molecule that cannot be even seen by the naked eye, that needs us, humans, to live and multiply, has pushed us inside our homes and have locked us from the outside.
Here are some of my observations from the months spent locked inside the house during the pandemic. I wrote these updates as a personal diary for me to look back into the events later. But then I decided to publish the journal entries for everyone. Of course, not before sprinkling a little bit of humor to the otherwise serious matter. I hope you laugh a bit. And if I upset you unintentionally, please forgive me for I am just a die-hard comic.
April 8, 2020. Two weeks of lockdown and continuing. Bengaluru, India.
Bengaluru has stayed closed for more than two weeks now. Markets are silent, office conference rooms have shifted to home kitchens, schools and colleges are closed, and restaurants are as dark as dungeons. Delhi, Pune, Mumbai, Utter Pradesh, and the rest of India and most of the world are no different. In Bengal, the sweet shops are opening between 2 to 6 pm.
Here in Bangalore, I only go out to buy groceries from one of the two nearest limited-supply stores. You want bread, eggplant, Dettol? You are in luck. But whole-wheat Italian pasta, sesame laddoos, Drainx would neither be clogging-unclogging your food pipes nor your kitchen drains.
We bought Srikhand, strawberry-flavored Greek yogurt, and Amul mishthi doi(sweet Bengali curd) to satisfy our sweet
buds bugs. The online food delivery services Zomato and Swiggy would have brought us cakes. But while people are running away skittishly just by the thought of being close to someone bare-handed, how could we trust someone with our laddoos?
I would lie if I say I didn’t indulge in the thought of washing the pastries with water or soaking the gulab jamuns in sanitizer but my husband would have refused to eat them if he had found out. And gulab jamuns are his favorite. You know eighty gone in a day sort of thing.
We wonder if we could order other kinds of cooked food though. In big cities, especially in the gated communities, the cleaning and cooking help has disappeared for all the right reasons. Our house help is gone since March 22. The city is under complete lockdown. Some mindful friends only noticed the lockdown when their cook stopped showing up in the morning.
While cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, washing dishes, unclogging pipes, fixing broken pressure cookers, working, writing, staying healthy, being nice to each other, my husband and I really hoped that our house help would show up. Well, we needed help, right?
We could have dodged the social wrath of letting the lady out in the pandemic and exposing her to the virus by not telling anyone that we had given in.
But instead of expecting anything from didi, my husband and I decided that we could take some of the pressure off by loosening up on being so nice to each other. So we call each other names that we would always remember and don’t even blink before delegating the tasks that we would never do ourselves. Cleaning the cat’s litter box is my partner’s job, but our poop box is my responsibility. Our mutual respect has shot up to the sky for it takes real love to take a few thrashes on the butt and the soul, you know.
Also, our help couldn’t have come as she told me on a phone call (which she made) that the police are stationed outside her house so that none of the service staff in her neighborhood could leave. She was worried and bored. She said her legs and arms hurt from resting too much.
Didi seemed relieved after the phone call, and I felt I had made a new best friend. I wondered if her other employers also paid her well. (Later she told me they did.)
Our food situation was about to sparkle again as a friend said that if not cold food or desserts I could still order curries and then sterilize them in the microwave. I wanted to tell him that I prefer heating food on the gas, better on woodfire, and not through energy send by microwaves, but I shushed myself.
My friend was right though.
When we go to buy groceries every few days, I see a few Zomato and Swiggy guys on their tiny scooters. My husband watches me from the corner of his eye. To keep us safe, I haven’t allowed him to order food for more than three weeks now. I then try to recover the nineteen percent of my brain energy spent on buying and cooking healthy ingredients by meditating. Of course, I am the one who gets blamed for killing the party.
Soon I would give in and start my foray into the online food world by ordering once a week every Friday(Friday was another friend’s idea). Then we would double the per-week orders, until the day I decide to count all our Swiggy and Zomato deliveries in a month, and then I would tell my husband, and he would ask me to leave the past alone, and I would. Except that I would discourage him from ordering from restaurants in ways he would never know(and that is why I can’t write them here).
I also see a few scooter drivers wearing t-shirts of Dunzo, an app where you can add your chores and someone would be assigned to finish them. We don’t even have to step out to buy bananas, brinjals, and Domex.
But if we don’t go to the store how would I see my precious red, green, and yellow jewels placed serenely on the store shelves? We don’t overthink these things. We put our masks on, stride to the store, and bring back two bags, each, overflowing with vegetables and fruits, up the three stairs to our tiny rooftop home. The weight of the bags leave deep red lines on our palms, but there sit my babies looking at me with love, waiting to be cut into pieces, and cooked to be eaten.
I admire my friend who trusted a Dunzo guy to pick thirty kilos of vegetables for him. If I could let someone do that, I will cut off “Learn to Let Go” from my “things I have to work on” list.
Now the vegetables aren’t going to walk out the refrigerator tray, scuttle on the floor, climb up the kitchen cabinet, drag along the marble slab, wash under the tap, cut into pieces, and jump into the pan on the stove. I will have to prepare them into something edible, too.
Which I do, on most days. Else I copy an actor from a comedy episode who made my sister and I roll on the floor when we were little. As the guy stuffed his mouth incessantly with raw spinach, tomatoes, eggplants, cauliflower, and potato as if he was a cow in his previous birth, we laughed out so hard that we could have pushed our kidneys out. When I suggest a raw dinner, my husband closes himself in the bathroom and says his stomach doesn’t feel right so he won’t eat.
We compromise on the chapati and eat rice all the time. And I make rich curries, juicy salads, and fry crunchy papads.
Did you know cauliflower adds the perfect crunch to the coconut tiger prawns curry and grated raw mango with grated onion sauteed until golden brown can keep good for weeks?
Even though there is no police outside our home restricting us to stay in, my husband has been working from the house for the past three weeks, from even before the lockdown was declared by Prime Minister Modi. We have played good citizens for three weeks, five hours, and seven minutes even though we neither came in direct contact with a foreign-traveled person nor did we travel out of India since January.
It is not only him; many companies have sent their employees home, some even perpetually. Employees’ jade plants are dying, stained coffee mugs are drying, and their tennis shoes are stinking in the office.
Working from home isn’t bad at all. Ask me, I have been writing and working from home (and guesthouses when I travel) for about three years now. But a lot of people around me are bored at home. I wonder if they are missing their colleagues more or want to be outside or are tired of being so close to their families?
Some questions should be left unanswered.
As “No Hiring, Only Firing” has been, sadly, the motive of many companies in the pandemic times, work from home people seem to be the luckier ones. It must hurt to think that the situation wouldn’t improve soon but our company doesn’t want us anymore. How would we get the rice and the rent for the next months?
The best way to deal with getting laid off at such a time is to not take the lay-off personally. But looking at things objectively is easier said than done. Only yesterday morning did my partner leave the bed without saying good morning, and I don’t remember taking it any other way than personally.
But when I was laid-off once, I jumped at the opportunity and used the compensation money to fly to the other end of the world.
Layoffs aren’t the only problem. Businesses have gone down, too.
A lot of travel bloggers post frequent updates about how every door seems closed to them. My travel posts are read less, my scheduled trips are postponed, collaborations with the tourism industry are put on hold, and magazines have stopped commissioning paid articles.
Travel has halted. Countries are locked down. States have shut their borders. Flights, cars, trains, buses, trams, tubes, taxis, boats, ferries, everything stands canceled. Travelers are stuck in strange cities and foreign countries. Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, and India are only some of the countries where international travelers would have to wait for months before they could go back home. (I have written more about traveling in the pandemic, restrictions, and best practices here.)
If you Google search for Chile, you would see that my Chile travel guide has been pushed down from the top results by the statutory warning that says travel is restricted to this country due to COVID 19. The warning is displayed for all other countries, too.
The days we are living in!
One of my husband’s friends was honeymooning in Europe when the continent went under lockdown. Having spent most of his savings on a big fat Indian wedding, the friend must be blaming it all on his karma.
One minute, sir. Let me open my Karma balance sheet to see if I deserve this canceled flight.
Karma or not, he did get his return flight and was asked to do home quarantine for fourteen days. The government staff than called and checked in on his and his wife’s health and if they stayed put at home.
I was lucky to be in Bengaluru, near my partner, in these times, else given my traveling lifestyle I was sure to get stuck someplace remote.
Gypsies can’t always have it their way, eh?
While not cribbing about the restrictions and the travel business loss, I have been writing. Though I have got new writing projects, my blog readership has still gone down a little bit. Nobody cares about going to Chile or Peru anymore. The top online searches are for action movies, Casa de la Moneda, Contagion, workout videos, food recipes, cocktail ideas, emotional health, sex, et cetera. My blog has only been able to supply the positivity and emotional well-being part of the search.
The world is closed, except the US. The North Americans have the freedom to move around, even go to their jobs, and meet socially, my friend in California tells me over a Zoom call. But it does not need a clairvoyant person to see that this freedom wouldn’t turn out to be the best.
I feel sorry for my American friends. Some of them told me that their neighbors are blaming the Chinese for the pandemic. Well, no one can beat the humans in the blame game.
The one not to be named is said to be mutated from bats to other animals to humans. Some say that the pangolins were the host of the virus in its transitory stages, but it is not proved yet. The virus has said to be spread from Wuhan, a seafood wholesale market in China, but even this origin is disputed.
If you search for pangolin on Youtube, which I am sure you have already done, you would see comments from people who seem to believe that the pangolins are the Jokers of earth, our eternal enemy, designed to bring chaos to our system. Some think pangolins are bats, some blame the Chinese, and some justify that humans should catch coronavirus for we deserve to suffer for the damage we have done to the earth.
Here are some comments from a Youtube video on Pangolins.
Pangolin: I’ll have my revenge.
Me in 2020: What did I ever do to you?
Here is another one.
Pangolins are bats? I’ve watched the video five times but I couldn’t find a single pair of wings.
And another one.
Don’t buy china products, lets destroy them because of the china virus.
Won’t stop greedy humans though they will keep eating bat and pangolin soups until covid19 S+ comes out. Mankind is a virus and yes we do deserve this.
Here is the last one, I promise.
Pangolins: Help! Humans are eating us into extinction!
Covid-19: Hold my beer
Some Indians were even killing bats, because, of course, the bats are the culprits, and we should focus on avenging for our situation by killing the bats rather than taking care of our families, stabilizing our work, and prioritizing our mental health.
Every country and its people are dealing with the virus in their own way.
Italy’s death rates are mind-boggling, and while I write, I strain to think if I know anyone from there. Only that young and vibrant fellow volunteer in Chile who told me on a walk once that my voice calmed her. Would she be calm right now?
I hope they all get better fast.
My friends in Santiago told me that they are still going to the office while Santiago‘s cases rose every day. Another friend on the Southern Chilean island Chiloe said there were no cases there, yet.
I think about the beautiful Chiloe and its green rolling hills — all under a heavy mist of silence. It is hard to imagine that place with no tourists, but I hope the islanders have barred tourism.
It is not just the peaceful islands that have gone even quieter, but huge cities have also hushed down. Even people seem to whisper in their homes.
One friend rustles in my ear that the world feels morbid. Another confides that he feels as if a plague has descended on us. I smile and tell them that we will be okay. We are in this together. But then I think about those who lost their homes and their families and their jobs and wonder if the world would ever be normal again. And what would that normal be like?
I guess we will find out. Now having written enough for today, let me take leave for I need to caramelize some onions and make use of that raw mango.
Stay safe, stay connected, and have a nice laugh.
Stay tuned. I will publish the next part of Pandemic Chronicles next week.
Update: The Pandemic Chronicles Part 2 or The Acceptance.
What is happening with you in the pandemic? Are you okay? Let me know in the comments.
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