One Lockdown, Two Women, Two Stories

“There is so much time apart from work,” exclaimed Rupali.

“There is not even a minute to myself. It’s overwhelming!” lamented Geetha.

While the lockdown was the same in terms of the city’s curfew orders, it was far apart in terms of experience for these two women.

Rupali, a tall, long-haired, fair-skinned woman in her early twenties, works with a law firm. It’s been just a year since Rupali started working.

A day in her lockdown story unfolds like this – as an early morning bed coffee greets Rupali, she logs into her company’s operational portal, still in her pyjamas, to quickly check her emails. The first hour of the day is usually spent on office communications and setting up a personal work plan.

After freshening up, Rupali settles into her brown recliner, her make-shift work desk. As Rupali begins to work, her mom promptly serves breakfast. The steaming hot sponge-like idlis and smooth orange tomato chutney kept beside her laptop are too hard to resist.

She tries to multi-task, relishing her mom’s food while still proof-reading legal documents and preparing her company’s legal paperwork. After an hour, her father shows up with a glass of mango juice. “Dad, I’m working from home. Can you please stop interrupting me?” she says curtly, while taking a sip from the glass.

By noon, Rupali finishes all the tasks assigned to her. Notwithstanding the loving disruptions of food, small talk and household help requests from her parents, Rupali says she gets more done working from home than from the office. “The comfort of being oneself and not put ostensible efforts to be professional increases my focus,” she says.

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During the lockdown, Rupali’s second half of the day are usually spent in Zoom meetings or update calls with her team. But these calls typically run up to just a few minutes, and most of her time after noon has remained quite undefined.

“After my work is done, I get clueless about what to do,” she says. “There have been days when there was too much time on my hands, and it got annoying,” she says, when asked about the worst part of her experience.

Things played out very differently at Geetha’s house. A working mother, who heads the business development division of a publishing company, she is also responsible for cooking, household chores, and taking care of her ageing mother-in-law. Lockdown has been a difficult time.

“My day starts at 5 am,” she says. Upon waking up, she first makes tea for herself. While her family is still asleep, she stands in her kitchen, sipping on the tea, and takes stock of the vegetables and groceries to create a lunch menu. She soaks rice, washes dal, slices vegetables. In about an hour, breakfast and lunchare ready. Then there’s jhadu-pocha-dusting and laundry to complete, before she gets to freshen up.

“Thankfully, my husband helps me with the dishes the night before, so it’s one less workload for me,” she says. “I try to complete all my household responsibilities before my workday begins.”

Heading business development and managing all household responsibilities is something that Geetha has always done. But with the lockdown, too many ad hoc requests from her family have invariably invaded her working space. “I work from the comfort of my room. But somehow, in-between responding to my family’s needs and office work, I lose it at times,” she admits.

Outwardly, Geetha pulls it all together well. But, deep within, she yearns to get back to working in her office. “Professional and personal lives are two different things. Each one requires its own space,” she says. “Lockdown has made me love my job. Even more, my office desk and the undistracted focus it gave me.”

Beulah Evelyn is a PhD researcher, writer and a mother of two young boys. She tweets from @beulahevelyn.