This day two years ago, all was quiet outside. The noise was inside our heads. What will happen? What’s this virus? Will we all die?
Delhi roads were cushioned with yellowing neem, pipal and pilkhan leaves. Stray dogs were curled up on leaf heaps, in the middle of the streets, not lurking in corners. In a week, everyone who had a house would be talking about quality family time. We would be gushing about blue skies and birdcall and fresh breeze.
Those who didn’t were walking. Walking to bus terminals and railway stations, to go to Motihari and Muzaffarnagar and Mayurbhanj. We were shaken. So many homeless? This time we couldn’t avert our eyes like we did at traffic junctions or under a flyover or a construction site. Their long walk broke our hearts. We wanted to act. We mobilised our resident welfare associations and organised food packets for the poor. It felt good. We felt less guilty.
Those walking were our maids and cleaners and maalis. So we discovered our kitchens and bathrooms and gardens. Bending down and wiping the floors was more strenuous than squats in the gym. In particular we discovered our kitchens. Is it some primal call to veer towards cooking in a collective crisis? We got into baking. Sourdough and velvet cake and mango mousse. From grandparents to grandchildren were powdered in all-purpose flour. We also made salads. Quinoa and couscous ruled dinner tables. We became thin, we became fat.
We said how little we needed to live. We all became Buddhas. We got into meditating. We pondered about the meaning of life. We wondered about the direction the world had taken. Why was it all about growth? Did we need to wreck the Earth so much? Our past shopping sprees haunted us. Why do we have so many clothes, so many shoes, so many bags? Our throats went dry thinking of all the forests, all the mountains we had razed to buy these. Our throats also went dry as our cellars were fast depleting. Where will the next bottle come from? And cigarettes. Do they come under essential items?
We got to know the virus better than our brother. What it likes (mucous), what it doesn’t (soap). How it lives, how it disintegrates. It needs a droplet to travel. It stays in the nose and throat before it lunges for the lungs. It became public enemy number one. Is it going to be this tiny, invisible molecule, and not a nuclear war or a supervillain, meteor or Martians, is Armageddon going to be so silent and puny?
We were determined to keep the enemy out. We washed and washed and washed. And sprayed. Doorknobs became a thing of horror. Vegetables and fruits swam in tubs of sodium hypochlorite before they came in to the house. To buy milk we attired like we were going to the moon.
We called friends and colleagues we had lost touch with. We called family we were estranged with. We felt pettiness and jealousies and rancour were lowly. We felt pious. We helped strangers. We didn’t cut our maid’s salary. We didn’t sack the driver even though there was nowhere to drive. We donated to charity. We became and caring and generous. Though not overly. Not so much that it would dent our savings. Who knows what the future held.
We had been dreaming of slowing down. Of working less. Of examining life more. But how to hold time? Even if it is of high quality. How many leaves can we see falling, how many birdcall can we hear? How much can we stay home and stare at screens? The spring air started to sour. Nuclear families began to atomise. At home, spaces shrank. Masks started to come off. Men had more time to beat the women. Marital rape increased. More children were abused. A caged brute in a confined space was worse than a free one.
We said the lockdown was a great learning curve. We became aware of our mortality. We learnt to live in the moment. To be mindful. To be aware of our breath. Aggression and ambition was no longer cool. Superpowers were humbled. The world will be a kinder, gentler place. That there will be no more war.