A lot of people (family and friends) that have had their birthdays during these lockdown months have wished this year away. But this man is one of those individuals who has found his love for nature once again, in different aspects of nature, apart from wildlife during this period of isolation – the skies – clouds, stars, moon, storms are a few of them. In between the sunrises and sunsets before the stars shine brighter in the sky, the animal diversity gets some attention. I attempted a timeline of his day, during the lockdown era, as a birthday card for him.
Learning a new skill
Two months into lockdown and wondering if life is going to be back to ‘normal’ ever. I started working out like a mad person to keep my mind off from the highs and lows of nothingness. One good thing– the workout has helped achieve goals that I have been procrastinating for the last 3 years. The 10kgs weight loss that I had been planning (more hoping) has finally made some headway. A little over 8 kilos lost. That is a significant loss considering my laziness and the obvious mastery of procrastination.
That wasn’t enough to keep myself occupied throughout the day and like everybody else I was doom scrolling in the initial days of lockdown. But social media has helped in certain ways. I bumped into people who do ‘sketch noting’. I had no clue such a word existed and that there is a whole bunch of people in the world who do this for a living. Discovering this way of recording was as amazing. I am still learning baby steps and I am yet to find an optimum balance of what to put-on the paper while sketch noting. But it works perfect for a person like me who is scarred by the pursuit of perfection and hence never gets anything done. At least this way, I managed to put my imperfections on the paper yet convey the required message. Added a couple of sketch notes from the learning sessions with Rob Dimeo who generously spent his lunchtime teaching people how to go about sketch noting from scratch.
I talk to my parents twice a week. They are doctors and too busy with their work and social life. I have no complains, in fact, I love the fact that they are such busy bees, because I have no clue what we might talk about if we have to call each other everyday. Thankfully, they have brought us up to be totally independent because that is how they love their lives, not only in their professional lives but social circle too.
Recently, I called her mid morning to convey some message from an uncle who I spoke to before that. She cancelled my call and I sat wondering what is keeping her so occupied on a Sunday morning during the lockdown. I got a call from her few hours later saying she was busy with a webinar. My jaws dropped. Did my technologically challenged mother tell me that she was attending a webinar? This is someone who uses a smartphone to receive calls and for WhatsApp.
In the past couple of months, my mother has figured out how to download and use Pinterest, Zoom and many more apps. Also learnt how to pay the utility bills online. That I think is adaptation to the situation at its best. I have always appreciated my mother for her ability to adapt with the changing times but she might not have bothered sending that gene my way.
The research and the knowledge that is shared freely now is exponentially higher than what happened in the pre-pandemic era. I wonder if a pandemic is the only way that would teach us to be humane and shed the materialistic skin that we have wore for a while. The insane amount of stress on the whole mankind has exposed the best and the worst aspects of us as individuals and as a society.
The ongoing pandemic has changed the way the world works. Every sector that could possibly manage things online, has shifted its functionality onto the virtual medium. And that adds to the stress of everybody who handles interactions better in person rather than over video calls or worse, chats. Assuming that a millennial can handle these better than the senior citizens is misplaced. Even though every age group has a part of the population that is hyper social during normal times, the absence of human interactions physically around each other is harrowing for the same group.
The new ‘normal’ is not so normal for most people but as a species we have evolved for better survival and we will continue to do so. That doesn’t mean we would succeed right away but might stumble along a bit until we succeed or perish.
I have always loved the Darwinian theory of “Struggle for existence, survival of the fittest.” His observations were based on his studies of the natural world where he probably counted humans. But I don’t think he ever imagined his theory at play in the rawest form aimed at our very own existence.
Life during a pandemic
I was approached by one of the science communicators from the team of Indian scientists who have gotten together to spread awareness and bust myths around the CoViD-19 pandemic. They have been working hard to make the presentation of facts and precautions to be taken in creative ways to appeal to the public. They have also added in as many languages as possible to increase their outreach. I illustrated one such story. https://indscicov.in/for-public/popularization-resources/going-out-and-returning-home/
Abdul goes shopping for the family
Abdul woke up in a panic: Arre! I am going to be late for that strict Ajit Sir’s class again! He’s definitely not going to let me sit for the final exam now!
He then sleepily realized there was a lockdown; college was closed and he was at his parents’ home. He turned over to try to go back to sleep. The one room house was already bustling with activity—Ammi had started making tea for everyone, Dadi’s knitting needles were already click-clacking, and Abba was doing his namaz. He might as well wake up, he thought, as he couldn’t sleep through all this commotion!
As he brushed his teeth, Abdul thought about how much he missed the hostel room that he shared with Satish – a room which was probably bigger than his parents’ house. He thought of the endless conversation about politics he would have over chai with friends. And the general sense of independence he felt when he was at college. They closed the college and hostels almost three weeks ago and he had to take two jam-packed trains and a three hour shared jeep ride to get home! It was a tense few days for everyone, and for a moment, he tried to relive the happiness he felt when he finally got home.
“Abdul, it’s so late. I told you I need mutton and tomatoes from the market today. Go get them soon! The shops will start closing,” shouted Ammi. “But be careful. Wear a mask. Don’t touch anything. Stay away from people…” Ammi had already started with her long list of precautions and instructions.
“I am almost out of my BP medicines. Can you check if the medical shop has got stock yet?” Dadi added.
“OK OK I’m going. But I am not going tomorrow. Or even for two more days after that. So tell me everything you want now!” Abdul replied.
“Beta, buy me a newspaper, no? Buy me tomorrow’s also if you can find it!” Abba added with his usual humour. Everyone, including Dadi, groaned. But they all know that his silly jokes were what was making this whole situation feel slightly normal.
Abdul’s elder sister was out of the country, but would call every night and give them new instructions. She was the one who had designated Abdul as the person to go out of the house and get essentials. “Everyone else is old and is at a higher risk” she had said, adding “What else are you doing at home anyway?” Most recently, she had instructed him to wear a mask whenever he goes out.
Abdul picked up one of the washed masks that dadi had stitched out of an old dupatta. “Wear that shawl I’ve kept near the door for going out.” Ammi pleaded. “It’s too hot Ammi! I am not doing that anymore. I will just wash the clothes I am wearing out as soon as I get home.” said Abdul as he put his slippers and left.
Abdul waited in line in the round chalk markings, first outside the medical shop and then the vegetable shop. Good thing he still had an unlimited phone plan — at least he could catch up with his friends from college while he waited.
He finally got to the butcher’s shop where there didn’t seem to be anyone else around at the moment. As Karim Chacha was cutting up the mutton, he shouted questions at Abdul from the back of the shop: “Everyone OK at home?” “When do you think this lockdown is going to end? You must be reading all the news on your phone, no? What are they saying?” Abdul put his phone away. It was nice to talk to someone in person outside his family, even if they were shouting across the shop and the conversation was muffled by their masks. “Ya ya, everyone at home is well. Just a bit worried, that’s all. I don’t know about this lockdown Chacha: seems like this is going to go on for a while. Not sure what the plan is!” Abdul replied. He lingered a few minutes and chatted with Karim Chaha about the current economic scenario.
When Abdul got back home, Ammi had left a small mug of water, soap and a dry cloth outside the door. He removed his slippers, washed and wiped his hands. He then dipped the cloth in soapy water to wipe off the cardboard box of medication. She had also left a clean handkerchief and bottle of hand sanitizer which he used to wipe his phone. (He had got a good scolding from Ammi last time he came back and forgot to do this. She had proceeded to threaten to take away his phone altogether.)
He came in and handed the mutton and vegetables to Ammi. She started washing everything thoroughly before storing it away. He placed the medication box on a table, and then went to take a bath and wash his clothes and mask.
Abdul came back to the table, carefully opened the box of medication and transferred the pills into a small glass bottle. His Dadi was old and he was very worried about her getting COVID-19. He threw the cardboard box into the dustbin near the main door. He then washed his hands and the outside of the bottle with soap to be extra careful to get rid of any remaining viruses before handing her bottle: “Here’s your medicine Dadi. Stock came yesterday.”
As he was hanging out his clothes to dry on the common balcony, he realized that he had forgotten Abba’s newspaper. Never mind! “
Lost and never found
The mist hung around, dense and impenetrable. There was a deafening silence to the place, like that of underwater. In addition to that, numb fingertips made it three non functional senses – vision, hearing, touch. The absence of smell hadn’t dawned upon her yet. The non functionality of the senses made her surrounding appear still. She tried looking through the mist for some clue of what this place might be. Her memory of how she landed here was non existent. She couldn’t remember what was the last thing she was doing before she opened her eyes to the present scene. She continued digging into her recent memory to trace some connection to her current state. Her efforts met with more silence. The lack of any sound on the inside and the outside was unnerving. She was clawing into her memories for a thread of recognition.
The dark grey wall of mist made the scenery appear endless yet a claustrophobic restricted space. It did not help in figuring the time of the day. At the slightest noise of a cloth flapping, she turned around with a start, only to realise that it was her own skirt fluttering in the breeze. There was nothing else moving to indicate the slightest of the winds. Absolute silence enveloped her, along with the chilly damp breeze. It was as if the breeze was only around her body and did not extend to anything beyond. Her senses adjusting to the surroundings made her crave for some visual cue. She looked around for some sign of life… some sort of movement. Nothing obliged. The place didn’t feel right. She wasn’t sure what prickled the back of her mind but it gave her the shivers.
Questions and doubts flooded her mind. What was this place? And more concerning, what was she doing here? How did she get here?
The only information she had- she was standing on hard ground. At a certain height, the mist started. So the ground had a wider view than at the eye level. The ground appeared damp and dark in patches.
“Is that blood?”
A scream rose from her stomach, silenced at the throat for the fear of whatever had spilled blood here. Invisible beyond her nose, the mist hung around close… too close for comfort, blinding her from anything and everything around. She gathered her courage and took a step in some direction. She had to crouch to get a closer and clearer view of ground beneath her feet. Her hands found a cold wet metallic mound-like object which needed a slight tugging to pull it off the ground. A soldier’s helmet! Dark and shiny with the condensing dew on the metal. As if her popping joints might give her presence away in a hostile environment, she stood up as slowly as she could, and began to investigate the helmet in her hand. “But dew isn’t sticky”, she thought to herself and flinched at the realisation that it wasn’t condensed dew but blood. Partially dry, the blood along with grime stuck to the surface of the helmet. Reflexively she dropped it and followed a loud metallic clang. She froze at her place, anticipating consequences of her carelessness. Few moments later, the silence was back with a full blow.
Promising herself to be careful yet helpless in the face of curiosity, she bent down to see what is it that the helmet fell on as it hit the ground. And there it was. Glazing metal and partly buried, as if it had been there for more than a few months, lay a hip flask. The initials “B. D.” scraped on the side. She wondered what was the owner called, or was it a loved ones initials that he held onto. Momentarily lost in her imagination of what life did the owner of the hip flask might have had lived, she took the risk of indulging in weaving a life of the man, she assumed was referred to as BD. Unfortunately, possessions do not help in placing an identity to the respective owner and her sense of unknown geography didn’t help assuming a face. But the life of BD might have been similar to what a typical soldier’s life is like. Prolonged periods of absence from the family home and the sword of uncertainty hanging over his head at all times. More scenes danced in front of her eyes from the innumerable movies she had watched. Unsure of whether to leave the flask back in its place, she chose to carry it forward onto her next step.
She stepped on something. A buckle. Probably, belonged to a helmet. It had bloody fingerprints on it. She ran her fingertips along those, that gave her goosebumps. Did the man survive or perish after he pulled this buckle off him? Did someone respond to his call for help? Did they bury him or never found him? But if they never found the bodies scattered in this place, where did they disappear? There was no sign of any life yet she knew all kinds of life forms had crossed this place. Fear of the unknown crept into her being slowly through every pore of her skin. “What is this place?”, she wondered.
Calling upon the universal forces of bravery, she took a few more steps picking up a ring, a blackened disfigured coin of some sort, frames with shattered glasses, a torn wallet with creases of prolonged use but empty otherwise. None of those things gave her any confirmation of which part of the world she might be. Or what timeline was it? “How did she come here?”, the question was nagging her louder now.
A battlefield of sorts. That’s where she stood. A battle long over and she walked around rummaging the remains of the men who fought it. The mist seemed to fade away into distance with time. Yet all she saw was possessions of possibly dead soldiers scattered everywhere. The fact that men had been killed at the spot she stood, made her uncomfortable. Thankfully, the place had only belongings and not the corpses of the owners scattered. The very thought of dead bodies around made her knees wobble but she held onto whatever strength she managed and kept her senses wide open.
She racked her consciousness to remember news of any recent wars that she had come across. Though there was no logical explanation of how she had landed wherever she was, the threads of information were sewing the place for her bit by bit. The images from a visit to the World War II cemetery in a corner of the country surfaced up in her memory. And came along the overwhelming sadness that she felt while she knelt beside the graves of the men whose names stood evidence as their presence in the battlefields. Everything else lost. How did they identify bodies? She knew for some they had only put names because they couldn’t find anything else that belonged to them. How did the families react to not knowing where their sons or husbands had disappeared? When so many men died in wars, how did anybody know which side the body belonged to? Not the soldier but by the time they were discovered, it was a stiff cold body.
The silence that she thought had been following her suddenly started jarring her with the image of what had happened here. People running from every possible side, some wounded, some ready to charge, some battling for the last breathe, some waiting for help, some looking for shelter from the destruction. “Oh dear lord! Where have I landed?”. She didn’t know where to hide. She heard non stop firing from somewhere close. The vibrations that followed the explosions made it all feel more real than ever. Her heart clenched like a fist, the pain unbearable as if she was trampled by emotions overwhelming her of the loss and the tragedy. Her knees gave away and she shut her eyes tight hoping that this is all an illusion. Nothing happened. She screamed for the fear that she was drowning in. The chaos around her threatened to crush her and her paralyzed self struggled to pull her hands onto her ears in an attempt to shut the noise. It seemed to die away instantly. Except a distant hum which seemed familiar. Yet she didn’t dare open her eyes for the fear of what she might witness, for the fear of what she might not be able to escape, for the fear of the scene that she has no recollection of walking into, for the fear of dying and not being able to let her loved ones know, for the fear of being lost to an unknown cause, in an unknown world, in a battle uncalled for. Is that what the soldiers fighting here or any other battle felt when they knew they would never see their families? The concern of lost individuals and their lost identities plagued her…
The crunching of dry leaves made her turn around and check for whatever was following her. I stood there, bare feet smiling at her. She smiled back with concern in her eyes. “You are not supposed to be walking bare feet in the garden. Your mother is not going to like it.”
“Please don’t tell her. I couldn’t find my chappals and I had to catch up with you”, I said.
She walked back to me with the warmest of the smiles, took my hand in hers and we headed towards the house. “Don’t you have to pick flowers for the puja?”, I asked her confused about the direction we were moving. “Yes”, she replied, “we will go back into the garden but first, we need to find you a pair of chappals.” I didn’t mind the walk up and down from the house to the garden as long as I could shadow my grandmother. We went back to pick a few flowers for her daily puja and then holed up in the puja room for two hours. I had no role to play yet I wouldn’t let her out of my sight.
This was a daily routine. Dad would drop me at Bou’s house around 10 am after morning school and pick me up after a few hours. One could make me do anything with the greed of taking me to see Bou (maternal grandmother). Her house was the warm comfort space that every child looks for… until she was gone and the house stood as a cold reminder of her.
After her passing away, we moved into that house. Every day, every moment, for the next six years, was torturous to navigate through emotionally. But as a 10 year old child, one doesn’t understand grief, except that it is a dark sinking feeling that you find painful yet cannot pinpoint at it. I wondered if I had done something silly for her to abandon me abruptly or if there was a way I could apologise and coax her to come back. Little did I know that it was goodbye forever without saying it explicitly.
It’s been 24 years, yet the loss pricks like it happened yesterday. Certain losses become a tacit mourning for eternity. There is no time limit on how long it takes to come to terms with the void carved by the absence of a loved one. At times of complete despair, I reach into the void, looking for her presence that would warm up even the coldest of the souls. Not necessarily the yearning is fulfilled but I cannot resist the urge to dive into that vastness with the hope of finding her. I was used to being Bou’s shadow and shadows don’t exist without the subject that casts them. At the loss of my anchor, I never stopped grieving but life went on and I walked along with it, hoping someday I will find something to hold onto. Twenty four years and counting….my search continues.
Lockdown diaries iii
Driven by the fear for our lives, every research lab across the world is investing all resources into finding a vaccine or even a reasonable way to stop the SARS-CoV2 rampage. Every individual or organization that can contribute to that cause, is racing against time. We crossed the 100 day mark since the world knew about the novel coronavirus disease. The numbers are above 1,600,000 cases in the world which is an average of 16,000 people infected every day and about 950 people dying each day out of that disease. Too many numbers and too many comparisons with previous pandemics or earlier viral outbreaks and the unpredictable trajectory of this virus. The blame game and the conspiracy theories flood our news feeds.
It seems like a deep dive into the ocean of overwhelming information and misinformation on this new disease. And every individual comes up with their theories and hypotheses. Part of the world admits that it is driven by fear and worries about how this pandemic ends and the other half is busy behaving like Ostriches- in denial cooped up in their dens, hoping no inconvenience shows up in their plans and lives because of a damned virus.
A cure is nowhere near and expecting scientists to pull one out, like the rabbit out of the magician’s hat, is absurd. Vaccines take years of research and trials before it benefits the public. There might be interim solutions but they come with their share of side effects. Until a feasible option is available, why not comply with the common sense of staying away from people to break the infectious chain? There is enough proof of health workers who have died fighting on the frontlines, irrespective of the age group. The only way non health workers can help is to stay away and stay home.
Every member of my family is negotiating their way through the barge of infected individuals headon. A constant worry underlies my actions and reactions through the day. I cannot help but wonder if I should be doing something. It is extremely frustrating to stand on the sidelines and watch them helplessly take on the wrath of the pandemic. Yet on every call, every message, they assure me this is the best I can do to share their burdens.
Lockdown diaries ii
Chaotic as expected. Everybody is scrambling to save their own asses or expecting the higher ups to take better decisions for the sake of the greater good. Both the extremes clash in most cases and results in inaction. The leaders are failing people and a lot of people are failing their communities.
Spoke to G & M. Their respective hospitals have opened their doors to suspected and positive cases. They look around their own colleagues and see an extremely low morale. Doctors or not, they are humans. M fretted over why has the hospital shirked away from the responsibility at such unusual times. With the lockdown on, a lot of employees have trouble getting to work- why not do something for their transport? All the prediction models say we are yet to hit the peak of the outbreak, then what are we waiting for? Indecisiveness at higher levels of management delays actions that can stop the worst from hitting the population. G worried about colleagues fussing over being sent to the frontlines without proper protective gear. Fear can be at an all time high as compared to the sense of responsibilities. In these unusual circumstances, it is important for people to rise up to the occasion and dispel more than just duties. Why is it so difficult to act for the sake of mankind unless one of your loved ones is suffering? Why are we failing to understand the urgency to act and try to avoid dangers of the situation? It is not such a pleasant state of mind to go to work with people who are ready to run away from the pile of problems owing to the pandemic, knowing fully well that they are the only ones equipped to ‘flatten the curve’ of the rapidly spreading disease.
This pandemic is a result of not only a severely contagious mutant virus but also because of multiple weak links handing down chaos to people around. When the pandemic is over, there might be a major chunk of the population suffering from Post Trauma Stress Disorder. And may be much more that we cannot anticipate yet.
Dia de Muertos
The Mexicans celebrate Dia de Muertos sometime in November to remember their dead. Loved ones lost. A few years ago, the movie Coco, was based on this Day of remembrance. In our traditions, I am not aware of any such specific day assigned to remember the lost family members but we definitely delve into our memories deeper on the day we lost them, year after year.
It is understandable when you have lost somebody and you miss them. But I hadn’t ever heard wishing the presence of someone who they have never met. I somehow, fall into that category. After I had completed my earthly presence for three decades, I married into this family. Father-in-law was long gone. Almost a decade by then. Any and every member of the extended family and friends, that I was introduced to, told me the same thing – ‘that man would have pampered you to bits’, ‘The daughter he never had’, ‘you missed meeting a good man’ and many more that I chose to ignore beyond a point. Because each time I heard something on those lines, there was a sense of deep regret, as if I should have met this man way before he was gone. As if I delayed in getting here. Survived by his wife and sons, and millions of friends, there wasn’t a person who spoke any other way but fondly of him. Evenings were full of his stories and how he added life to the room full of people. Everybody’s eyes lit up when he was mentioned and there were always more stories to be shared.
As months passed by, I started seeing the void that his absence had left in the family. I wished more and more that I had gotten a chance to meet him. As I went through the old family pictures, I started forming an image of the kind of person he might have been. With all the stories that I have heard about him from specific corners of the house- what his favorite spot was in the living room, how he loved spending the evening in the bar, his early morning cooking endeavors, his routine through the day- for a long time those particular parts of the house made his holographic self show up to me. It was haunting but in a good way. As if he would start a conversation with me right away. And I would lament away the evening in more regret of not knowing my Father-in-law. I miss never having met him.
If his holographic image in my head had suddenly communicated with me, I am not sure how I would have reacted. If I should introduce myself or does he know that I exist in the family already. I don’t know and I will never know.
A fine gentleman I indeed, missed, meeting!! So I did what I do best. A sketch of him shall do unless I am allowed to be ferried to the Land of the Dead for a day. Until then, may he live long in the hearts and memories of his near and dear ones.
Last night, the Prime Minister called for a 21 day lockdown. It was 8pm. Four hours to the beginning of an unprecedented halt to our daily lives since the Indo-Pak face-off in 1971. Panic-stricken public went on a hoarding rampage right away. Our generation (millennials) were as confused as they were when they hit their teens. They have never witnessed any such interference in their daily lives. The educated mass scrambled through every possible electronic source to check on ‘What on earth is this virus? And why is the whole world in a frenzy because of that minuscule particle? Why is the health industry in such a bad shape? What is the government doing?’ All the research fuzzed up the brains even more. The innumerable infographs on statistics from earlier pandemics to the variables in the present scenario and the comparative studies of action taken by the other countries were of no help to unclench the knotted up guts.
On the other hand, doctors pretended to go about their daily lives, suppressing the fear of life into the deep corners of their minds, making sincere efforts to ensure the growing fear doesn’t clog their judgements in treating patients. They turn a blind eye to the sword of a virulent infection hanging beside their neck and continue to look for hope in the recovering patients. Hope rises within them, as they sign off discharge sheets for few, yet the fear, for numerous patients being admitted everyday, is weighing heavier. Long duty hours as per the roster come to a close and begin again. There is no scope to hang up the gowns, or change the ever-so-scarce gloves or masks and walk out to breathe the fresh air. The cycle of the tests to treatment goes on and the faces behind the masks continue fighting this battle silently.
They won the battle today. They survived today. Tomorrow will bring in more challenges. Their lives had reached the proverbial living one moment at a time…
The unusual war had begun three months ago in a faraway land. And now it is at our doorstep. The health sector stands guard on the frontlines. Their only weapons – team of health care workers, their only hope – lesser number of positive cases. We sit in the comfort of our homes and keep a check on the numbers increasing on the screen, while they scuttle around to save whoever comes their way until they have to send them home or send them to the morgue. We fret over the graph not flattening while they fret over the survival of the fazed and ill people around them. We worry about when and how our lives will go back to normal while they wonder if they themselves will survive the pandemic.
As the lockdown began for the general public, a countdown began for the health industry workers.