At the moment, there are three women at home – a senior citizen (my mother), a middle-aged woman (me) and a toddler (my two-year-old daughter). All three are stuck in a middle class one-bedroom-hall-kitchen apartment in Mumbai – a decent space for a three-member household in the city.
For us, the lockdown started with fear – what does it mean? And hope – what needs to be done? How will things change?
She misses her day-care, her friends and the caretakers. She constantly talks about going out and playing in the garden – she wonders why we stopped leaving the house. Her blabbering has changed from “baby wants garden go” to “baby want to go out door”. She is the fastest one to adjust to the new routine.
She looks outside the window and talks to crows and other birds. There are also a lot of monkeys in our locality, and most evenings, we see them peering into our windows. My daughter talks to them: “Monkey you carrot want?”, “monkey baby, baby’s (referring to herself) friend”.
She colours the walls and talks to her toys. She has accepted the fact that her father and other family members are away and that she can talk to them through the laptop/phone screen. She says things like: “Keep achan (father) on table, he no fall” – and her most repeated line: “Conona ni po (corona, you go)”.
“This is god’s plan. We think something else, god thinks something else”.
She watches news incessantly, announcing every third day that someone has found a vaccine. We (my siblings and I) have started teaching her how to filter fake news.
She is a pillar of support when I have to work from home, inventing new games and cooking up new dishes every now and then. She often spells out a number of scenarios in post-lockdown India: “When will these children meet their friends and play on the ground?…They will probably have to keep a one-arm distance while playing…We should not take anything for granted – even when walking into a shop to buy essentials.”
Also read: One Lockdown, Two Women, Two Stories
She talks about dignity in death, closure in death, a lot. “Path aal pollum indavula onnu koodan (there won’t be even ten people around),” she said. And when I get upset about it, she says, “at least people should be able to gather and get closure… The person should be send off properly.” She is constantly worried – about my father, about her father, about her grandchildren.
She is worried about the increasing number cases among medical staff: “How are they expected to work with basic facilities?” She was angry that the migrants had to walk back home – “This is just cruel! Why is this even happening?”
I try different ways to keep my toddler engaged, and sometimes get irritated for having to do that constantly. I work from home, but it is only possible after the little one goes to sleep.
I think about the missed farewells and convocation of my students. The fun they would have had and the deluge of pictures that would have flooded the social media.
I miss having those animated discussions in class, the jokes, the reactions – a raise of eyebrow, a smile or even a stifled yawn, the laughter. I miss watching students work on assignments or prepare for creative endeavours in the campus; the simple joys of having conversations over chai.
The vibrant colours of the campus can never be compared to the drab screen staring back.
I am also worried about my students who have a poor network connection at a time when classes have shifted online. Education was never a level playing field and more so during the pandemic.
I marvel at the ability of my friends and colleagues for working day and night to help the stranded and marginalised – by providing them with basic essentials, being there for them and amplifying their voices. All this, while being aware that they are up against an indifferent state.
I am infuriated by the state of affairs and the apathy of the authorities who are indifferent to thousands of migrant workers walking back home. The healthcare facilities are dismal to say the least, issues are being routinely communalised and basic rights of many have been curbed amidst the pandemic.
When will the lives of all citizens matter? When will the politics of the coffins end? Do these lives even matter? Why doesn’t this make us all angry?
It was easier to talk as women, not bound by any restrictions. We talked about childhood, marriage, periods, dreams and disappointments, fears and anxieties.
“I couldn’t do much during that time, I had the three of you to worry about,” said my mother while recalling her past. Reflecting on our conversation, I wonder: Even though I have promised myself that I won’t let my little one bear the burden of expectations of being a ‘good girl’, is that enough?
Some things, however, remains unsaid.
We laugh with the little one, reminisce the old times and gossip about relatives. We laugh and talk with the family, albeit through screens.
We discuss our frustrations (toddler doesn’t know the value of sleep). We discuss about the deadly virus everyday – it has almost become a part of our everyday conversations, with medical jargons slipping into our chit chat: “life thane quarantine aayi poyi (life has only got quarantined)”.
We also get angry and upset about what was going on around us: “Ini idhinte kurave ullu, baaki ellam theganju (this [voluntary work] is all that is needed… as if everything else is taken care of).”
We get angry and upset with each other. The closed space often leads to many arguments – some long forgotten issues at times raise their heads and some new ones also emerge, of course. We have also realising the futility of such arguments while being stuck in a closed space with nowhere to go.
I decided to pen down these snippets while discussing the situation with a friend. She laughed and said “Life with three generations together at home during a pandemic”. It got me thinking how the pandemic plays out in everyday life and how these thoughts and narratives become a part of pandemic experiences and memories. It is these everyday experiences of people across age, caste, class, gender, religion and region that when documented helps us understand the differences and similarities.
It makes us realise that this unplanned lockdown, as a disciplinarian measure, has for some meant a lack of freedom to go outside, but for many it has also meant a lack of freedom and dignity.
P.S: I showed this to my mom and she said, “You wrote about our everyday life. Everything will change after the lockdown, but when will the lockdown end and when will everything change?”
Smitha Sasidharan Nair teaches at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
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