Yesterday marked the beginning of Navratri, a nine-day festival for us Indians. And again, as has been the trend this year, the festivities are dampened by the phantom presence and talks of pandemic rampaging outside.
Each year, Ganesh Chaturthi, the long 10-day festival begins the season of festivals here in India. Everyone accepts that once the August dawns, it never is too long when we are already ringing the new year celebrations. We and our families are too busy with one festival after another.
This year the festivals did arrive, but the festivities were lacking. In India, we love celebrating our festivals outside, and with others. With our extended families and friends. We welcome them at home, and we don’t hesitate to visit them and wish them loads of happiness.
So no surprise this year’s festivals have been a lot different and a lot less fun. I understand the gravity of the situation that all us in the world find ourselves trapped in. But we Indians are known to dance away our fears and stresses together, as we celebrate our festivals.
From North to South, East to West of India, there are different names for the each (and at times the same) festival. But the purpose is common – celebrate the feeling of togetherness and of happiness that that togetherness brings to us. In that sense, this year has been dampening.
Anyway, Navratri began yesterday. Unlike each year, we are all working from home and hence have got a chance to be with our parents. Usually, my wife and my mother fast throughout these nine days of Navratri. They are not changing there routine, they will fast even this year. To keep me appreciative of how difficult that is, I have decided to fast today.
But the DJs blaring the loud sounds from the pandals set up for Garba are missing this year. Also missing are the endless debates between left and right on how we should stop spreading the noise pollution. Missing are the colourful stalls selling Gagra cholis and missing is the excitement of getting ready as per the colour schedule for each Garba night.
Sure, I understand the reason for all the gloom and also realize that we have bigger problems in front of us. But I abhor this year because it’s stripping away the opportunities from us to celebrate and gain the strength we need to face the problems.
One of my dad’s closest friend passed away today. Understandably, my dad was very sombre for the whole day. He told me he had spoken to his friend just yesterday when he was all fine.
Just last week, my aunt too had lost her father. She also told me she had spoken to her dad just a day before and even he was all fine.
They both died due to heart failure. They both shared one more truth, though. They both already had a weak heart and both said that all the news around COVID and the resultant lockdown were making them lonelier. They felt burdened — even though they had their close family and friends always around them for support.
Will we also add these deaths to the this pandemic’s toll? Because, of course, these aren’t isolated cases. The psychological fallout is far-reaching than immediately noticeable symptoms.
We should. It has curtailed many more lives than those that get reported.
I recently came across this brilliant article at Quartz at Work suggesting to “move beyond “how are you doing?” and get more serious about the questions we’re asking our colleagues, friends, and family”. It presented a list of questions that one should lead with while talking to others.
I thought I will try and attempt to answer a few of these myself. Maybe you can give it a try too. And if you do, I would like to read how you are dealing with this challenging moment. Here’s my attempt.
Listening to music — spending some time with myself. It’s been some time that I did that. I used to do that very often. Of course, it was a lot easier to find some lone time. Not that easy any more.
The corner with my study table, I am happy that I spent some significant time designing it while I was renovating my home. And another room I like to go relax in now and then is the bathroom.
Body lotion — I do not know why, but I have got many of them now. And biscuits. I never knew I liked biscuits so much.
All the stories of sacrifices that get published every single day — when the humans have behaved just the way they should. It has been rare to read about recently.
I have fallen out of the habit of writing the morning pages. I know I shouldn’t have. But for some reason, there isn’t much that’s different that every new day dawns with.
I have fallen into my old habit of listening to the music — lots of varied music.
I am not listening to podcasts. Or Audiobooks. I am reading lots of books.
Every part of the neighborhood. Everything that’s outside. That’s crowded. The streets. The restaurants.
Finding stuff to idle the time away with.
Air conditioners. Cash.
Internet. Kindle. Plants and Garden.
The chatty, social one. I have been part of many zoom meetings, few even those where I knew no one on the other side.
Illiteracy. Stupidity. Rebelism.
I realize that I have so much time at hand by not doing the activities that I always wanted to avoid. Like those long commutes. Or needless trips to shopping malls. Or attending those guests that I didn’t want to.
So much time at hand. So much that I could do, that I could create potentially. Potentially.
However, I find that my mind wanders off. It can’t concentrate for long. It can’t be creative. I keep staring at the blank screen before I give up and reach out for something to read. I stare at those words that should mean something. But then I again give up. Finally and unwillingly, I land at those apps. The apps that I had carefully spent the last few months on getting into a habit of avoiding.
Wish this wasn’t difficult. But the fact is today everything is. Wish I could better control my mind. But the fact is today I can hardly control anything.
When this all passes over, it is not this helplessness that I want to remember these days for. So it is my photo gallery that is most happening.
It is full of snapshots of everything different that we have been doing together as a family. Cooking. Playing. Singing. Dancing. Not just the photos, it is full of videos now. I am creating movies out of these moments of togetherness. At least, am learning now. The pictures, the movies, they need not be perfect, as long as they bring out the underlying, momentary happiness, hopefulness, that I lived through.
So some years down, when I get a notification for new memories in my photos app — saying “5 years ago” — it is that feeling of togetherness, happiness, hopefulness that I want to personally associate this pandemic, this lockdown with.
Maybe that’s very selfish of me. But that’s the least harmful vice this pandemic could live behind within me.
Empty, lifeless streets. Calm, soundless surrounding. Few overly protected bodies strolling around.
No cars. No motorbikes. No home delivery agents. No horns. No flights zooming through the skies.
Waking up early, trying to get into some sort of routine. As my mind attempts to convince me that it just doesn’t matter when I wake up. A morning tea with family, the ears listening to and the brain doing it’s best to ignore the updates from the news.
I know very well that there’s not going to be any significant change to the state of the world. I am mindful that I can’t expect the things to be back to any form of normalcy anytime soon. But I still have ears to the news – in search of that one downward trend.
Or that one act of human kindness that will bring a smile to my face.
Yoga at home. A half an hour walk across the rooms. And balconies. At home. Work, as the mind wanders every now and then. At home. Play board games, silly pranks with my daughter. Dance. Be foolish. At times play some outdoor games too. But just inside. At home.
Spend evenings with family. Look outside to the empty streets, the calm surrounding. At those few strolling bodies.
Hopeful that I will soon be able to go out. Not being afraid. Or circumspect. Not alone. But being carefree. With family. Take that impulsive walk or a ride. Go for that long drive.
Hopeful that it won’t be so eerily quiet outside. And inside. At the same time, thankful that I’ve my family close to me to lean on to. To gain strength from.
Today marks 14 days that we have spent locked down in your homes. The at-home routine has become our new normal now. I am getting used to it.
I spent the evening today with my daughter, looking out to the clear skies. She asked me nonchalantly why can’t we go outside. And before I could answer, I saw her roll her eyes and blurt without a hint of sadness in her voice, “yeah, the virus”.
She wished it will go settle onto the hilly forests that are visible from our balcony. She wished us, just our family, got fairy wings. So that we could make the clear, empty skies our home. The purity, the genuineness in her wishes, her thoughts brought a smile to my face.
I know it is this zeal in her that will help me pull through this exhausting time. This new normal is fine with me.
I feel too stressed out these days. It is not from the pressure of work. Or from the fear of getting infected by Coronavirus. But from the factors that I have no control over.
How people I do not know just refuse to behave in the larger interest of the community. Or how media ignores being responsible in covering the biggest tragedy the world is facing in a long time.
Or how few people are taking the pandemic too lightly. So much so that they are putting the lives of many at risk, even their near and dear ones. Or how few people are taking the same pandemic way too seriously. So much so that they have simply stopped living. Obsessing non-stop over the negativity and gloominess all around.
Where do I fall? I realized today that the inner turmoil has started to affect the way I behave. The way I express. The way I carry myself. I better find a solution, a distraction. Soon.
Ruth Marcus has written a wonderful opinion piece at The Washington Post on how this latest global tragedy, the pandemic feels a lot more life-altering. Social distancing enforced by the ways the Coronavirus spreads has affected us a lot deeper than what we initially thought.
How much the virus has reminded us of the mundane pleasures we take for granted — walking down the well-stocked shelves of our local supermarkets, chatting idly with our co-workers; kissing a friend on the cheek when we meet for lunch. Oh, to hug again without having to calculate the inherent risk: My mother? My daughters?
When I venture out to walk the dog, there is a grim camaraderie with those we encounter. The dogs, heedless of contagion, sniff away, and while their humans maintain a sober distance, even strangers inquire after one another’s well-being. In the barren aisles of the market, at least the last time I risked a visit, there was an air more of solidarity than panic
So true. What we thought was normal is dreaded now. And it the normalcy that we yearn for now. Together as a society.