2020 was about praying to WiFi gods, braving dystopia of stand-up comedy on Zoom, writes Anu Menon
'Some shows, the whole audience decides to mute themselves, and you feel like you are performing in a void. Except that the void has people laughing hysterically but silently, sending virtual claps. It's dystopian.'
2020 has been a watershed year in history, and that has also trickled down to the realm of entertainment. In this series, 2020 Unwind, stakeholders from the Indian entertainment scene weigh in on how they view entertainment now, how their skills had to evolve and adapt to changing patterns and whether the year has altered them as artists.
A Thesaurus AND Shashi Tharoor would run out of words to describe the horror show that was 2020. All of us have spent days being up, being down, and everything in between. All of us have laughed, cried, and everything in between. I'm going to take you for a stroll down my Lockdown Lane, in point form and no particular order.
- My husband was stuck on ship for seven months. Which means I was stuck with HIS parents for seven months. Which means I was vegetarian for seven months. Which means I felt like the monk who sold his Ferrari. In fact, I'm currently extremely busy adjusting my halo.
- Midway through the stay-at-home-24/7-process, I had an epiphany. It's deeply philosophical and chicken soup for the soul-ish so brace yourself. I realised… I did not have enough pajamas. That’s right. People ran out of patience and hope in lockdown. I ran out of pajamas. Things got so bad I started cleaning the apartment in little black dresses and a string of pearls. Nineteenth century French maids called me up asking for their wardrobe back.
- My life was taken over by a hitherto-unheard-of little thing called Zoom. It came. It saw. It conquered. Zoom school, Zoom shows, Zoom meetings, Zoom parties. I don’t even remember a pre-Zoom era. I have to say this right now or forever hold my peace: You don’t know real pain until your seven-year-old attends school from home. Eleven years of marriage did not drive me to drink. Eleven days of Ayaan’s zoom classes, and I was on the phone, “Bhaiya, wine ka home delivery hai kya?” 2020 has been a tough year for parents. We have had to remind ourselves that we love our kids and come to the conclusion that our children are actually not very bright. I have turned into my kid’s spot girl. I spend my time downloading classwork and homework, printing classwork and homework, scanning classwork and homework, uploading classwork and homework. When I’m not doing that, I’m holding the iPad at a right angle triangle, usually in a south westerly direction so that Ayaan is clearly visible to his teachers while making presentations on Recycling Paper (for which he had to take many print outs. The irony is not lost on me!) I am one Nagpur orange away from saying “Ayaan Baba ke liye juice leke aao!”
- I took a while to do stand-up comedy on Zoom. I felt like I was in a Dylan Thomas poem. Anu, “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” But I finally capitulated. It is so surreal to perform in a box, looking at other people in boxes, trying not to feel boxed in, while thinking out of the box. Also – I never expected to see my audience so up close and personal: Half naked daadjis walking into frame, boys scratching themselves inappropriately while their mothers did jhaadu katka, women in lacy night gowns sprawled like apsaras , families convincing their pet dogs to listen to my comedy (but the canines were unwilling.) The things I’ve seen, I cannot unsee. Some shows, the whole audience decides to mute themselves, and you feel like you are performing in a void. Except that the void has people laughing hysterically but silently, sending virtual claps. It's dystopian. And weird. And awkward. Normally, I would just pray that my material works. Now, I was praying to the WiFi gods at Jio and Hathway that my internet connection works. The day I saw an upload speed of 80 mbps, I cried tears of joy. It was the happiest day of my adult life. But don’t tell my son that. He is under the impression it’s the day he was born. Sshhh.
- I could not recall how to write an invoice. I had to refer to old ones. And then put in soul crushing figures of Rs 451 and Rs 674 respectively. I called my CA, and asked if GST was even applicable for these amounts. He banged the phone down on me. Poor Bulbul kaka is usually a stoic man but I had successfully broken him.
- I developed acidity watching lockdown over-achievers on social media. Cooking up a storm, while doing push-ups, while learning the guitar, while completing PHDs one-legged in stilettos. My only achievement, on the other hand, was discovering Korean drama and eating Maggi noodles with chopsticks. My husband has been very supportive of my plan to move to Seoul, become South Korea’s favorite plus sized model and marry Gong Yoo. Only problem is, between my knowledge of Korean and Gong Yoo’s knowledge of English, I'm not sure how a relationship would work. But I'm willing to try.
- I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I’ve turned into a domestic goddess-level cleaner. My father is concerned, however, since I use seven different cleansers, sprays, and disinfectants for the job. My bathroom is so sanitized, the doctors of Grey's Anatomy want to perform surgery in there. But I'm too busy taking a pristine shower. Before COVID-19 , my messages to comics read : Great set. Where did you get that joke from?! Now my messages read: Great Insta story. Where did you get that mop from? I don’t have to read a bed time story for my kid anymore because A) He can read. B) I tell him the differences between Dettol, Savlon, and Lizol, and Ayaan is fast asleep.
- As a gift to myself, I was supposed to be in Spain for my birthday. Instead I baked my own cake and ate it too. I attended three Zoom parties back to back, one of which was hosted by my mother. She wouldn’t even let her only child enter, and left me in the waiting room. But I’m ecstatic because my mum finally admitted she loved me more than her cat. Even though the feline fiend made his way into her will.
But all this aforementioned drivel aside, through the valleys and chasms of these COVID times, I've often wondered: Why the hell don’t I possess Zoom shares? I should get on a Zoom call to discuss it with my banker. But my banker is showing zero interest. Because my banker knows about my zero bank balance. In fact, I don’t think I can afford to even have a banker.
The only thing I know about 2020 is: hibernation is not a lasting coping mechanism. And when all else fails, I keep repeating the mantra: Anu, It is what it is. But what it is, we don’t know.
Anu Menon is a stand-up comedian, actress, and theatre artist.
Read more stories from the 2020 Unwind series here.
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