Though “stone walls do not a prison make”, as a great poet once said, the walls of my “hermitage” are now threatening somewhat to close in. It wasn’t so at first.
Two Januarys earlier, Covid-19 having just spread to our “enemy nation” towards the north, we were coasting along at our usual indifferent pace. Having salivated over the mukbang videos watched on WhatsApp — these have since been banned there — did we not reach for the keypad immediately to share our unfiltered views once the pandemic hit its citizens? True to our judgemental selves, did we not rub our hands together in a spot of unabashed schadenfreude and say, “You all had it coming, didn’t you, eating all kinds of keera-makoda, having bat soup and snake?”
With superior smiles pasted on their po-faces, the elderly aunts’ brigade discussed it during their morning laughter sessions. Gingerly trying out the Surya Namaskar in their saris, they thanked the pure and sacred des-ki-mitti for their supposedly robust constitutions as well as vegetarian karma. We were far away from the deadly “crona” and when one is not a victim it is that much easier to denounce the unfortunate.
But then, slowly and surely, news of people suffering from the effects of the Sars-CoV-2 virus started pouring in from Europe and the US of A. There were no beds for patients in hospitals; dead bodies lay on streets unclaimed. It shocked us and made us wonder at the failure of the superior infrastructure of these countries but failed to stir us from our complacence. Why bother? Weren’t we religious and protected by our gods, after all? The virus could not even touch us, or so we promised ourselves.
Throwing precaution to the winds, defying every voice of reason, we sang the song, “Jaa Carona Jaa”, banged thalis, danced as if in a frenzy, and lit lamps to ward off the evil. Being members of that wise race who reputedly discovered the udan khatole and the test tube baby, if only mythically, rather than historically, we had announced the lockdown only a few hours in advance.
Born hoarders all, the middle class switched off their TVs and raided the stores, making the rich shopkeepers richer. Stuffing our kitchens with food and bathrooms with sanitisers, we imprisoned ourselves in our homes. From our balconies, we saw the poor walking on foot with their meagre belongings and little children, some with pets on their shoulders, some without shoes, but what could we do? Wasn’t their suffering only due to our good karma and their past live misdeeds?
Yet, for the fortunate few who were financially secure, the series of lockdowns that followed were indeed like a priceless long holiday. To some it was a golden opportunity to rediscover oneself. Long lost desires and talents emerged from the closet. Someone was on the path to becoming a painter, another was trying to be a chef, someone else was on their way to becoming a dancer, poet, singer, and so on. We turned the “Corona” into “Karo-na”, or better still, the Nike slogan, “Just do it”.
As far as I am concerned, I made a to-do list in my mind as well as on the page of a diary, which looked very fascinating. There was perfect stillness in the house except for the occasional barking of my dogs. I did not have to worry about the doorbell. No maid, no guest, none to distract my attention. I thought I was on my way to reinventing myself, physically and intellectually. Wait until my friends saw the healthy and clever new me.
Yet every day after my chores, I would persuade myself to catch a few more winks on my couch, and then spend the rest of the day watching Netflix. Reading, writing and yoga could always come later, or so I convinced myself. I even watched movies in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Marathi, as well as Korean, Japanese, Italian and Chinese; forgive me for mentioning it again.
My friends were not as lucky. They had to live with people. Initially, it all seemed like a great, big get-together to them but the novelty soon wore off. Soon enough, I started getting sobbing calls from my married friends who pleaded to be rescued from their particular situations, which all boiled down to living 24 hours seven days a week with a husband of 24 years of happily married life. They argued that I should thank my good stars that I was living alone in the company of dogs and Netflix.
But their evil eye had struck me when one day I discovered that my charger was not working. It was as if someone had stolen the “love charger” of my life. Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s famous tune buzzed constantly in my head.
How was I to take my online classes? Though “no network” was a plausible excuse and a great escape from those dreary monotonous lectures, how would I, on the other hand, watch Netflix and connect with my daughter on Google Hangouts? I felt like Robinson Crusoe stranded on an island sans his Man Friday. How would I report that I would no longer be alive on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al., all lying, like the poetic captain, cold and dead?
Fortunately, my network and I have survived even the second wave! Yet now comes the third, and, hopefully, final one. Will “mild” Omicron pass me by, or would I rather be “taken” finally and get my antibodies before my “booster”? For, what if this is not the end and a new variant takes its place? What if more arrive in its wake? What if we exhaust the Greek alphabet naming this trail of virus variants? Shall scientists then turn to the Tamil alphabet, then Telugu, and so on? I leave the reader with this thought.