Astronauts and Rasgullas: Using the Mind’s Eye in a Pandemic

It was a hot and humid afternoon. My father and I were on a scooter driving past the Mahanadi river – a wide, beautiful expanse of water that lives up to its name. I was barely 8 or 9 at the time. The summer sun was beating down on us. There was hardly anyone on the road. In small towns like ours, people avoid venturing out on hot summer afternoons.

But we were running an important errand.

My father said, “Forget the heat. Imagine it’s a lovely evening and a cool breeze is blowing from the river.”

I stretched my hands and said, “Yes. I can feel the cool breeze.”

“I can feel the cool breeze on my face too,” my father said.

We both burst out laughing.

My father was always serious about humour. He continually strived to show me that there was a light side to most things in life. He wanted to train my eyes to see those aspects of life so I could laugh through dark times.

Also read: Bones, Books and Parental Expectations: The Day the Scalpel Lost to the Pen

These days, I seem to be depending on my father’s techniques more than ever before as we all struggle to find ways to cope with the pandemic, social isolation and the paralysing uncertainty of our times.

Some days, I succeed in finding a positive note. On other days, it’s tougher.

On a spaceship

Now let me tell you about the two uninvited guests in my life who refuse to leave – two highly irritating chronic ailments. Since all my attempts to make them leave have failed, I ended up making friends with them. Well, not exactly friends. It’s more like what people do in bad marriages – tolerate each other because they feel they have no way out.

Over the past few months, I did everything to avoid visits to the doctor. I fear the virus and dreaded I would somehow bring it back to my family from the hospital.

But I was forced to make a trip to the hospital recently. Armed with a mask and a face shield each, my husband and I stepped into the hospital ready to deal with whatever came our way. We could only see the eyes of most people there. The rest of their faces, like ours, were covered in masks and face shields.

I felt as if we were on a spaceship as we all looked like astronauts.

Astronauts Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) came to mind from the film Gravity. The large bottle of sanitiser kept in the side pocket of my backpack looked like a mini oxygen tank. I could use it any time I wanted. Of course, my fellow astronauts also had additional protective gear. They needed it. We were on a mission.

Consultation and tests done, I returned home.

Shooting down the virus from fire engines

At home, I saw my little daughter peeping out of the window and looking at a fire engine inside our apartment complex. A man dressed in a PPE kit used a hose to douse the pathways and walls with a sanitising liquid. The chemicals fell on the floor and the walls with full force. One of the towers in the apartment complex had been temporarily sealed.

“Mamma, that looks scary. Is the virus everywhere?” she asked.

“Yes, dear. But the man standing on the fire engine is shooting them down just like Papa shoots monsters in the video games,” I said.

“Oh, good! Then the virus will be gone in the first round itself,” she said, with a chuckle.

Also read: God, Religion and Chicken Curry: Questions From My 8-Year-Old During Lockdown

Like most children, my daughter is trying to make sense of the pandemic and asks a lot of questions. But the COVID-19 era has also taught children what we struggle to make them understand all our lives; that most questions in life have no easy answers.

Sometimes, there are no answers at all.

The sweet taste of rasgullas during lockdown

That night, as I lay gazing at the sky from my bedroom, I remembered a time when my parents, both surgeons, fought like children about the importance of their respective fields of medicine – neurosurgery and gynaecology.

While my father emphasised that we are nothing without our brains, my mother shut him up by saying gynaecologists often deal with not one but two lives. Then she told him about the joy gynaecologists bring to new parents and how nothing could compare to it.

My mother then looked at me and said, “Don’t you like it when people bring a box of sweets to celebrate the birth of their baby. You love rasgullas, don’t you?”

Yes, I do. But I also wanted to help my father gain ground with my mother because she won most debates at home. Sadly, I had no points to make at that time.

I do today.

“Mom, I can feel the taste of rasgullas even during lockdowns and curfews. I can feel the burst of sweetness in my mouth and the syrup dripping down my fingers. I have to thank my brain for that.”

I hope you heard that, dad! You win. This time.

Smeeta Mishra teaches communication at the Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar, and strives to understand people’s words, silences, and everything in between. She tweets @smeetamishra.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty