Few things are more enigmatic than the unpredictability of life. The COVID-19 crisis struck like a bolt from the blue, stunning us like a deer immobilised by the headlights of a hunter’s jeep. The pandemic changed life as we knew it. A ‘new normal’ settled in, casting its shade of isolation and uncertainty amid a daily battle with an unknown, microscopic enemy. The first two days of Lockdown 1.0 were enough to throw my hyperactive genes—I constantly crave activity—off-balance. The very thought of my home’s front gate turning from an entry point to a ‘no-exit’ barrier overnight was unnerving.
I tried my best to play the role of a fun-loving father to my five-year-old cracker of a daughter and an entertaining, cheery companion to my master, aka wife. While still struggling to answer two moot questions—what now and what next—I stumbled upon former US President John F. Kennedy’s inspirational words: “In a crisis, be aware of the danger, but recognise the opportunity.” And so, I got thinking, what is the opportunity here?
Locked up with little to do, I browsed my Twitter timeline while trying to shut out the background score of clanking utensils and knives at work on chopping boards. I saw #21DayLockdown trending on the platform, with posts about how people were utilising their unforeseen staycation. And voila, inspiration came knocking.
As someone who did not even know how to crack an egg, I thought—or was it the sounds from the kitchen that played a trick—why not set up a cooking challenge? The next second, I had my own hashtag: #21DayLockdown21Dishes. I intruded into the kitchen, the sacrosanct territory of Gopalji, our family member for the past 38 years who ensures that we are well-fed and fulfilled, and took my first cooking lesson. Gobhi paratha was my first culinary creation. The varied shapes and sizes turning up on the rolling board aside, it was quite a success. I patted myself on the back, but my Punjabi blood—or should I say stomach—refused to revel in pride.
So, another day, another recipe—the earthy robustness of shakarkandi (sweet potato) chaat. Then, aloo matar and mixed vegetables graced the menu. So far, so good—relatively easy and vastly satisfying. My ambition, however, resulted in a failed attempt at baking a chocolate cake. Nonetheless, like any other digital addict, I proudly showed off the ‘delicacy’ on my social media platforms, realising mid-way through the video that I had been pronouncing cake batter as ‘cake batten’! The experiments continued—some succeeded, while others, well, not so much.
In my 37 years of existence, the lockdown was my first realisation of what ‘time freeze’ meant. Passing time—by myself or together as a family—was the biggest challenge. As a lawyer and politician, I lead a public life. I love going out and meeting people physically, not virtually. The feeling of being locked up, a prisoner of my smartphone, laptop or television, threatened to career me into melancholia.
Pay attention to your mental health—do not let isolation kick you off-balance. The fear of being sucked into a vortex of boredom and depression encouraged me and the family to devise an engaging routine. We decided to follow a regimented protocol of activities for the day—making our beds, a fixed time for meals, chatting with friends, dedicated family gossip sessions, an indoor cricket match played with the sincerity of a trophy match and the non-negotiable game of ‘Memory’ with my daughter. And of course, we never forgot the most essential chore in a Punjabi household—planning meals for the following day.
I am a licensed private pilot. The lockdown made me recount two important lessons that all my instructors impressed upon during the training: “Do not lose your orientation when in a tailspin. Come out of a tailspin without jangling your nerves.” In my limited flying experience of 200 hours, I have been fortunate enough to not have put my rough-weather-flying skills to test in a real-time situation. The pandemic and the lockdown, however, made me realise that these talismans would hold anyone in good stead during a crisis, whether it be a flight emergency, COVID-19 or something else.
My father, a cancer survivor, spent the past three months all by himself, without ever complaining about the loneliness. He has imparted another life lesson—crises, by their very definition, test you and the only way to come out a winner is to tell yourself, “This too shall pass.” So, no matter how hard you’ve been hit, grab the rudder and control the tailspin!Jaiveer Shergill is a Supreme Court lawyer and Congress’s national spokesperson