Repeated trips to the refrigerator, a forced acquaintance with video conferencing apps, the ringing of an alarm that signals it’s time for your parent — an essential worker — to leave the safety of the home, the music from a neighbour’s balcony: the coronavirus pandemic has bequeathed a strange landscape to our lives and immediate environs. Small moments and thoughts — once insignificant — now have a weight they didn’t before.
This crowd-sourced collection of narratives highlights fragments of life during a lockdown — from Mumbai to Jerusalem to Lugo; a record of the fears, anxieties, uncertainties and quiet joys that make up our days (and nights) as the world is gripped by a crisis.
KUSUMITA DAS, Jerusalem | 'Comfort zone'
I have never liked video calls. Or video conferencing or video anything. If there’s a camera, static or otherwise, I’d always rather be behind it than on it. But perhaps the Universe needed to orchestrate something extreme to change my mind. And COVID-19 happened. And we soon realised that social distancing is the exact opposite of social media distancing.
Before I knew it, I was downloading strange apps like Houseparty, and warily getting used to it. Having just moved to a new country, I suppose I was in the very gullible mindspace of buying into all things that made me feel closer to home, even if that meant having to step out of my comfort zone. But that was only level one.
I have been taking Hebrew lessons for a month now, and thanks to the pandemic, the real classroom had to shrink into a Zoom classroom. So someone who was just about negotiating the territory with close friends, had to switch to “pro” mode with near strangers, twice a week. What’s more, I now have to keep my eyes peeled on the virtual white board to read the teacher’s notes and attempt to speak the language too. So almost overnight I went from no video calls to doing it all, in Hebrew. A true child of the Corona, if you will.
We've been told the Universe conspires to give you something you really want. The reverse can be true too. When you really don't want something, the Universe may conspire harder to make sure you get it.
Each generation in our family has lived through some sort of adversity. My grandmother arrived in Amritsar from a nondescript village in Pakistan, having walked for several thousand kilometres in search of a sanctuary amidst widespread bloodshed. My parents witnessed the Sikh riots unfold in front of their eyes, spending their nights patrolling the terrace to protect themselves from agitators. As they passed these stories on to me over the years, I wondered if our generation would have anything of substance to share with our children.
Little did I know, as memes about a virus that sounded like a beer brand began to crop up on the internet two months ago, that this was going to be it. Those memes quickly turned into cautionary news pieces, which turned into WHO announcements, which turned into nationwide lockdowns. And in just a couple of weeks, venturing out into the open to buy bread has begun to feel like a particularly dangerous adventure sport.
I once asked my grandmother if she remembered her childhood as a tragic one. She told me that while those days truly were a nightmare to live through, she did also remember them for the abundance of candies her brothers brought home after selling them all day to support their family.
As we live through what feels like a generation-defining event, it's hard to feel like we'll have anything to be thankful for when we look back on this time, years from now.
But last week, as I tucked myself in bed at 5 am after working remotely all night for a company at the other end of the world, I saw my first sunrise in years. Maybe, when I tell my children of the horrors this pandemic brought upon us, that glorious sunrise will also find mention.
MAUMIL MEHRAJ, Srinagar | 'Closing'
It isn’t night for us till something is closed off — the lights, the doors, our eyes. The very act of ‘closing’ is our cue to sleep another sleepless night. But it seems like those nights have been replaced by a strange twilight — while the roads are inaccessible, the phone lines and the internet work in stunted partiality.
Everyone now seems to have had a taste of a ‘lockdown’, similar to the countless ones we have been in before, but this seems different — death isn’t pervasive, a rather calming silence surrounds us, ambulances still run but with lesser urgency, we can let our friends outside of Kashmir know that we miss them, and for once, the news channels seem to have forgotten us.
MAYUKH MAJUMDAR, Mumbai | 'Essential services'
When the 2008-2009 recession shook the global economy and destroyed businesses worldwide, my 12-year-old self wasn’t fully aware of the consequences.
But things are different now.
I’m a working individual in an industry that has been laying off entire teams and furloughing hundreds of employees. Self-awareness has been promoted to a survival skill.
Yes, I could survive multiple months without the zeroes in my bank account because, well, privilege. But do I want to? Oh no.
For someone who is in a relationship with their work (often one-sided), this economic crisis couldn’t have come at a worse time. It’s almost like my ambitions have to be put on hold.
My therapist tells me it’s normal to feel this way and that this feeling of helplessness is perfectly ‘common’ and even universal at this time.
Common, she says.
How I hate that word. But thank God for Instagram and social media.
It lets you know that we’re all in the same boat, essentially.
Another funny word, considering none of us snobs are essential services anymore.
HIMANI KAMRA, Lugo | 'Home'
A month since my plans of travelling through Europe, seeing new places and meeting new people came to a sudden halt, I now spend my days looking for ways to keep myself occupied. Or even just looking out of my bedroom window. Needless to say, I did not picture life coming to a standstill.
I live on a quiet street in Lugo, Spain, away from my family in India. As complaints about people not being able to cohabit with their families flood social media, here I am – desperate to be reunited with mine. Obviously, conversations with mom have turned into three-hour video calls. And when we run out of things to talk about, she goes back to watching TV while I draw, neither of us ending the online session. Sometimes that can bring you a sense of being home.
Even though I wake up with renewed hope every day, it consistently feels like I have lost control over my life, just when I was starting to live as an adult. However, despite being in the midst of a global catastrophe, life returns to normal — even if only for a few minutes — at 8 pm when my neighbour, a middle-aged man I’ve never met, steps out on to his balcony to play the bagpipes. I want to thank him, but for now we’ll have to make do with the long-distance concerts.
As an afterthought, has distance been rendered useless? And even though life seems to return to normal momentarily, the feeling of ‘nothing will ever be the same again’ doesn’t leave me.
JOVITA ARANHA, Mumbai | 'Selfish'
The clock strikes 5. An alarm resounds through our one bedroom home in Goregaon. My eyes are shut but the noise of feet rattling across the room, the flickering of the tubelight, hushed whispers of "don't come to drop me, I'll try to get into the bus the hospital has arranged" become conspicuous. My father still makes it a point to drive to the other end of the city to drop my mother on his bike.
"It's safer," he insists.
My mother is a frontline worker who continues to nurse people amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She works in a place where more and more people test positive each day. I cannot help but acknowledge that it's only a matter of time until it reaches her and in turn, us too.
Am I ready?
But can I ask her to stop?
There are days when her closest aides at work test positive, or when young medical professionals refuse to turn up because the fear gets to them. She speaks to me of expecting mothers who count on her to bring a new life into the world, as the pandemic continues to snatch thousands of others, each day.
She tells me about patients who tear up while thanking her for her service at such an uncertain time. So, I have learnt to tell myself not to be selfish and put the safety of my family first, when thousands of others are counting on them.
And so now when my mother is at work, all I do is whisper a prayer for her.
I pull myself out of bed at 5.30 am, bathe, and eat a heavy breakfast — the only meal I’ll have in the next eight hours of my shift. No water though, because once I’m at work I won’t be able to use the loo.
Is this the closest we can get to dystopia?
I’m tackling coronavirus triage cases this week, and my day starts with donning PPE – the only thing standing between me and a deadly virus. The act of putting it on takes 10 minutes – cumbersome but critical. I spend the next eight hours in the sweltering heat of Mumbai, without air conditioning. Ventilation is key.
The mask has begun to leave semi-permanent marks on my face but the bigger discomfort is not being able to breathe properly. A single shift sees an average of a hundred-odd cases, and we treat every patient as suspect cases. So our guard is always up — no loosening the masks or kits at any point.
Will we be able to save every person that walks in? We don’t know. While letting a patient go is a grief that weighs heavy on our hearts, saving a life is an unparalleled joy.
After eight gruelling hours, I come back home to the best part of my day — my partner. There’s warm food on the table, a lifesaver. We talk about our days and move on to my favourite part, the part where we laugh hysterically and watch the lamest shows (so embarrassing, I wouldn’t name them publicly).
And just like that, in the midst of death and disease, I find peace in her company.
ADITYARAJ SINHA, New Delhi | 'Purpose'
It's almost like there is no semblance of order anymore, especially in this house where we live as a joint family. Even the dog has started acting up; there's no cuddling because he's utterly confused about why we're always huddled together at home. As for me, I've had some spare time.
The other day I was thinking of the role clothes play bringing some sense of purpose to your life. And so, to emulate that purpose in these times when there is nothing yet loads to do, I started dressing up at home.
It started with nice pants, but now I wish I had some costumes I could choose from. I wouldn't care if they were made out of Thermocol. At least I could become the refrigerator for a day. You know how you find yourself walking towards it more times than usual since the lockdown? You open the door and stare at the same things you looked at 10 minutes ago. Of course, it's your way of coping with anxiety, but what do you think the refrigerator thinks of it? Why is it being disturbed for absolutely no reason at all?