Now that the second wave of Covid19 with its deadlier mutants is here, we seem to be in for another extended period of self-imposed isolation and sanitising routines. Strangely it was with a sense of déjà vu that I greeted the news.
That first time, I had begun with determination to make the best of the situation and had even written an uplifting post about the loftier feelings that the pandemic was evoking in people. I felt grateful for the comfortable life we were leading compared to countless people who had lost their livelihood and had nothing to even eat. I busied myself with work, writing and increased my hours of puja and chanting, including a besieged world in them.
The routine was soothing in a way. There were the phone and the internet, and we had all our daily needs and some, met.
After the initial days, I had begun chafing at being confined to the house, upset at not even opening the door to anyone or allowing our own children to come into the house. With almost complete lockdown for the first several weeks, even traffic on the main road which is visible from our window was deserted. The few people who went about on the cycles and scooters/bikes or walked were too far for us to see their faces.
There were days when I would have given anything to go to the market, pick and choose vegetables and fruits, stroll to the grocery shop on the way and get some bread for the breakfast the next day. Even going down to put out the garbage run was a high point in those days.
I heard of others visiting relatives or going to the market or even to the dentist for a root canal treatment. Not us. I even did my walking inside the house.
So I was looking forward to our first outing – our vaccination.
It was almost a year to the day when we went out to get our first shot of the Covid vaccine. It felt strange looking into the mirror to adjust the bindi and comb down my hair. Though I had pulled out my ‘going out’ saris and begun wearing them at home during the lockdown, I worried about not having ironed my blouse when we left home. Admittedly a visit to the hospital can’t be called a ‘social visit’ by any stretch of imagination, but it was the first time we would be meeting a number of people in one place and I didn’t want to look unkempt.
It was also the first time we were going to ride in the new car of the younger one, which he had bought some months ago. We had seen from our fourth-floor window, since going down was unthinkable, leave alone take a ride in it, thanks to the L&M and his virus-paranoia. The ride, though short, was pleasant and comfortable. It was the first time we were going to someplace. Of course, we had started going out for a walk in the small park adjoining our housing society for a couple of months, but that doesn’t count as going out, does it?
But where was the thrill of the outing, even if it was only the hospital we were going to, for the jab? I had thought I would be excited to be out on the road, seeing so many people going about their work, the shops, the market….
Nah. I felt nothing. All I wanted was the vaccine to be done and to get back home, to which my world had shrunk in the past year.
Reams have been written about life-altering events that happened to people during the lockdown of the past year. I recently read an article about how even introverts who preferred avoiding social events yearned to go to a pub or disco as they sat out the lockdown. It was clear that I wasn’t one of those, for I have never been one for constant socialising or been an inveterate traveller, being content to stay home with a book or pottering around the house.
Perhaps my introvert nature had become stronger and I might want to avoid socialising altogether even when the shots took effect or the pandemic receded completely. After all, I had got used to living cooped up inside the house, never going out even once.
Well, not entirely ‘got used to’, since there had been that one episode when I felt I was losing it.
Perhaps it was going through motions of sanitising that bordered on the L&M’s paranoid standards 24×7 that had set my teeth on edge. Perhaps it was a recurring eye problem that prevented me from teaching online to the kids that he and a band of volunteer teachers had been tutoring and mentoring for the past five years.
The object of my anger was the L&M of course, though I knew that it was unfair to him, for I knew he was doing so much for the underprivileged kids and their families, arranging rations, teaching, lifting their spirits with pep talk and much more — he and his teachers.
I was angry and melancholy by turns. I turned silent. It was then I realised that I was sinking into depression and tried to fight out of it, My rational mind admonished me that I had nothing to be depressed about. Millions of people were going through similar circumstances, perhaps much worse. But I didn’t want to be one of the millions.
It was a chance call from a dear friend that saved the day for me. I began ranting about this and that, and though I hated doing it, I couldn’t stop. Probably sensing the hysteria in my voice, he simply started talking about his pets cutting me off midsentence. Then suddenly said, ‘Wait, let me show you around my house,’ and switched on the video.
Having an animal lover and certified Dog Trainer for a daughter*, who had routinely been bringing home strays and sick animals ever since her childhood to nurse and find homes for, I knew that his house was a virtual menagerie. He and his wife not only never stopped the girl from bringing the orphans home, but also gave them love and were their willing co-caretakers.
As he went around the house, my friend showed me where their pets slept and their favourite spaces; he told me how they cleaned their pee and poo as they couldn’t be walked outside due to the lockdown. He told me with pride how he still managed to keep the house clean and smelling fresh.
‘I sometimes feel like a scavenger, constantly cleaning up after them. But it is God’s work and gives me and my wife so much satisfaction,’ he said.
It was a profound statement, but there was no complaint in his voice. The way he said it was so funny that I began laughing helplessly — not hysterical laughter, considering the state of my mind, but a genuine, full-throated belly-laugh. I also felt silly for being depressed despite my relatively comfortable life, while he could laugh at his. As the laughter bubbled out of me, I felt the tension and the depression dropping away and my spirits magically lifting.
I will forever remember that short matter-of-fact conversation and the tour of his house, for they had saved my sanity that day. He could have lectured me about gratitude for what I had, he could have admonished me for my self pity; instead, he made me laugh and that had instantly helped. I am glad to say that I have never gone back into that space again, nor do I ever intend to.
Coming back to the question of whether I have become anti-social, I think not. I might take a while to get back to my normal level of socialising, pre-pandemic — no more, no less.
I feel eternally blessed to never have had to go without the daily essentials and other needs these past months, and for remaining healthy with just minor ailments that could be easily handled at home. And of course, having caring people around me, especially the exasperating L&M!
I am keeping in my prayers all those who are not so fortunate.
*Varuna Kaur can be reached at : https://www.facebook.com/waggthattail/