The New Normal: ‘I Am Reminded I Have the Privilege of Doing Nothing’

We’re smack in the middle of the second week of lockdown and bore witness to a migrant exodus last week for the history books. The result of the hasty announcement of the lockdown announced by the prime minister, thousands and thousands of daily wage labourers and their families decided to risk the long walk home than face possible starvation in the city. It was heartbreaking to see whole families trudging in the heat, with children being carried in arms and bags and luggage on heads.

Meanwhile, many of us sat in our homes with full fridges and pantries – some horror struck at this mass migration and the lack of planning that accompanied it, and others apathetic as per usual.

Almost everything, besides the comfort of our own homes, feels unprecedented in these wildly dystopian times. ‘The New Normal’ each week hopes to bring you the raw voices of people from across India as they live through these unparalleled times.

Write in to us at [email protected] with your experiences – in no more than 200 words. Mark the subject matter as ‘The New Normal’ and include your age and where you’re from in the mail.

So without further ado, here are some of the accounts emailed to LiveWire this past week. They range from stories of unbalanced gender roles at home to loneliness to looking inward.

Tarana, 25, New Delhi

For the past couple of weeks, my mother and I have been doing most of the housework: cleaning utensils, dusting, cooking, cutting vegetables and washing clothes. My brother and father – in the pink of health – just stroll around the house and do minimal work. I have not seen them doing anything apart from cleaning their tennis rackets, watching random videos on YouTube, counting the number of tiles on the floor. At the most, they get milk, bread and Maggi from the general store.

Besides the housework, I work from home between 11 am and 7 pm. For the men in the house – from what I have observed – office work is limited to making a few phone calls. This doesn’t take more than an hour. After that, it’s just about saying “kya karein” multiple times and sleeping all day.

We are going through tough times and it’s high time that men enter the kitchen and do some work. This is no longer the time to brag about not knowing basic cooking skills.

The next 21 days are crucial and men need to step up and be equal partners in the housework. Otherwise, if not from the virus, my mother and I – and every other woman working day and night – will die of exhaustion.

Yangchenla Bhutia

I’m a flight attendant. Flying was a constant for us, but suddenly coronavirus made it impossible for us to have a normal life. People started calling us names and tried their best to convince house owners to kick us out – just so they can be safe. I’m not mad at them for just being human, but some have taken it too far – like calling the police on us like we’ve committed a crime. All the while, they’re at home praying for their sons/daughters/parents to fly back home safely.

Ironic? Hell yes.

Coming back home felt like coming to the safest place on Earth, but the thought that I have the virus (touchwood) and could infect my family has been a constant fear.

Being quarantined feels like I’m on a layover where I just lay in bed and call my mum from the other room, asking her to get me a fork because she accidentally gave me a spoon with ramen. Living with fear every second is fun and scary at the same time.

Also, huge respect to the doctors, healthcare workers and police who are doing as much as they can with little resources. Having said that, airline workers are still being harassed. Many have no idea about what to eat because they’ve run out of groceries and they can’t go out because they fear being attacked by their neighbours.

 

Photo: PTI

Maliha Iqbal, 14, Aligarh

I stared with horror at the news. A 21-day lockdown! No more outings with friends, no trips to Delhi. Just when my exams had ended. “Why me?” I looked at my grandmother. She stared back and said with little emotion, “It’s not a change for me.”

It stunned me. I realised how true her words were. I had been so busy during my exams I had hardly noticed her. Everyone at home had given her company except me! I had been so wrapped up in my life that I had forgotten her.

My grandmother can’t go out on her own because her paralysis makes it difficult to walk without someone’s help. More so, she doesn’t even enjoy going out anymore. In India, people force you into think if you are of a particular age, then you are “old”. Meaning that you are no longer capable of doing things which you could do, there’s no more vitality in life. Even if you want to do something, you think twice about what people will say.

I was complaining for just 21 days and she didn’t complain about being confined in the house for months. I knew at that instant I would spend these 21 days with her.

Nicolas Nhalungo, 21, Calicut

Day 1: Euphoric with all the free time I have, I started to dream and make plans of the many things I’d finally be able to do.

Day 2: I notice my friends packing up and everyone hastily running home.

Day 3: Jokes are made at my expense as I cannot go home.

Day 5: Few of us remain on campus. Same places, same faces. Everything feels the same. It begins to feel as it I’m living every day on rewind.

Day 7: A week into my college lockdown I have failed to achieve anything productive.

At some point, I just stopped counting the days. Before the national lockdown, my college had already staggered to a halt and as a foreign student I could not go home to Maputo in Mozambique. Out of fear of worse conditions, I fled to a family friends’ home where I’d reside in more comfortable circumstances. Wi-Fi, good food, air conditioning, a posher lifestyle – but I continue to live in the same monotony.

I am reminded of my privilege. I can go about my days carefree in isolation without the shortage of any necessity. I am reminded I have the privilege to do nothing.

Shiralie Chaturvedi, 30, New Delhi

There are people who love the whole “work from home” scenario, but count me out. Entirely. I am a stickler for regimen and routine. I can’t work out of pyjamas, I can’t work out of my bed.

Week 1 of WFH was more productive thanks to fewer meetings and unnecessary breaks – but I did it in a proper clothes, as I would were I to go to work. I took my coffee the same way as ever, ate at the right intervals, and most importantly, sat at my study desk with a calendar and notebooks askew.

But Week 2, ah, it fell smack dab in the middle of my annual leaves. Which was a very unbecoming scenario because suddenly the world was also extra enthusiastic about chatting; everyone was at home, my phone kept buzzing. Adding to that was subliminal anxiety due to the pandemic. The cocktail of it all was heady, and even though I was supposed to be on a sleep-eat-clean-read-yoga-repeat, I was still very occupied.

Now Week 3! The reluctant WFH employee returns, who misses office; while it has been three weeks for my office, the nationwide lockdown is only a few days old! And that’s bittersweet.

Ritwik Tyagi, 19, Navi Mumbai

As I stepped outside my house for the first time in a week, I was greeted immediately by the new world order – the age of lockdowns. An eerie atmosphere of silence shrouded the misery of the situation. In spite of all the clatter that we have been generating on social media about social distancing and self-isolation, the silence on the ground was truly deafening.

As I walked swiftly towards the grocery store, I pondered over the scenes of the Netflix movie Bird Box. Will things come to such a pass that people will begin decimating others in a bid for survival? Was Darwin pointing to this when he propounded the ‘survival of the fittest’ theory? We can only wait and watch.

The idea of the world turning into an apocalyptic battleground, such as those portrayed in several blockbusters, may seem a bit far-fetched at the moment. However, if things do take a drastic turn, we may not be left with a whole lot of time.

Naomi Fargose, 18, Mumbai

I look at the clock. I feel suspended in time. After a while, every tick seems in sync with my heartbeat. It’s almost noon and until now, I’ve tried twice to strike a conversation with two cats, looked out of the window for the sixth time and been updated by my father on the count for the third time.

I feel guilty for being unproductive. I feel guilty when I realise that in times like these the only help I can provide is to not help at all. Here where I have the privilege to lie down and stare at the ceiling fan, hundreds out there can only hope to witness their loved ones die.

I don’t understand what I ought to feel. Happiness because Pa dusted the surface of the piano this morning? Or sadness because the curve is refusing to flatten? Anger, because of the utter inconsiderate manner in which people use their privilege? Or hope because it has been a while since I had seen the invisible bonds of music, art, memes, or unfavourable circumstances, bring us together.

Breathing an air of uncertainty sheds light on the certainties of life. Outside my window, the mango tree begins its seasonal ritual of shedding old leaves. Curled up and brown, they drop to the ground with a heaviness synonymous to tears that cannot be held back. The fresh leaves, tender and a lighter shade of green, hang on the branches with seeming weightlessness.

It’s the same mango tree, the one I’ve known all my life. Yet now it looks as though there’s a breath of fresh air tinkling its leaves. A colony of red ants has started building a nest.The last time I heard, humans look a lot like ants from a distance.

Photo: PTI

Soumya Bisht

Days are merging into a blurry time-stream while I, the privileged youth, lie on my bed till noon – scrolling through posts and shuffling between apps. To think that this is the amount of comfort we enjoy is wild. We have every tool of visual/audio/meme-related entertainment at our disposal (including the cringe content flowing through the family WhatsApp groups). We are, quite ironically, revitalising our social lives online. I am not too sure about the health system’s preparedness, but I’m definitely in awe of our virtual self-sufficiency.

And yet, within a few days of the lockdown, our exploration of hobbies is increasingly being interspersed with complaints of being isolated.

Our generation, which is used to performing multiple tasks, sometimes all at once, is at the brink of saturation. Our eyes are sore, our devices need a break and we are ultimately being forced to spend time alone with our thoughts. That is, by far, the scariest challenge we are facing in these quarantined times.

It’s time to finally shed the layers of trashy-content grime from our minds and truly be at one with who we are. For our sake, may we learn to become our own favourite company.

Avi Kumar, 21, Noida

It’s the last semester and I was struggling to get by. Yes, there are online classes but the hassles of a usual day are now gone. This break was certainly a ‘god-sent’ for my mental health.

It has given my anti-social self an excuse to social distance in the truest sense of the words. I put my phone aside and sit with Dostoyevsky. I occasionally wander onto the balcony at sunset and an unbridled sense of joy springs up within: looking at the deserted streets and hearing the birds twittering – quite unlike them every other year.

Still, the world outside inevitably trickles in. It is appalling to read of the lack of common sense among people especially when there are lives at stake; be it the poultry industry debacle, the racist behaviour towards people from the Northeastern parts of our country or congregating to bang utensils.

I hope we make it through these testing times with minimal resistance. I cannot stress this enough but some people aren’t quite as fortunate as you are and while the country is struggling to find its feet, try helping – while staying indoors and staying safe.

Rashmi Bhushan, 24, Hyderabad 

In August 2019, I moved to Hyderabad for an M.Phil course at the University of Hyderabad. I live in a rented flat and have been quarantining myself for more than two weeks. The last time I was out was with two of the newest friends I have made. We had beer, bitched about bad romantic choices, and had a bacon chicken cheese sandwich from Bake Factory – which was oh so yummy.

Since I love being at home, I don’t feel as restless as many do. Everyday, I wake up and play Ludo with a romantic partner and with some other friends. I am, like most of us, indulging in ‘Netflix and chill’. The show I’m watching right now is Better Call Saul, a spin-off of Breaking Bad. If you haven’t seen either, you must get on the bandwagon now.

I also talk to people. One night, we (me and my two new friends) played truth and dare on our WhatsApp group. I have even started replying to men who used to say “hey” on Instagram – provided they are from my university or universities I have been to (DU, JNU and HCU).

One of the most important things I have started doing is intermittent fasting, which is easy to do now that I wake up at noon.

I am consistently avoiding reading anything related my M.Phil dissertation, which is worrying. Every day, at around 3-4 am, I read stuff related to coronavirus, scare myself and then call it a day.

Featured image: Member of a family play on the terrace of their house during the national lockdown, in Jabalpur, March 31, 2020. Photo: PTI