The New Normal: ‘I Feel Trapped With My Inner Thoughts’

With the national lockdown extended till May 3, the next few week are critical when it comes to battling the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought much of the world to a standstill.

Many Indians, even those who have the privilege of being home and with access to food, are facing a variety of different circumstances, some painful, some introspective and some downright brutal.

So 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 email.

Here are some of the accounts that were emailed to LiveWire this past week.

Diana Fernandes, 19, Mumbai

The time since lockdown has made me believe that your education or genuine facts will always fall short in front of the WhatsApp forwards our elders receive. However much you use Google and present them with legitimate references, their trust when it comes to WhatsApp and Facebook posts is unbreakable.

The other day, my uncle happened to send me a post which claimed that the US has discovered a vaccine for COVID-19 and that it can cure a patient within three weeks. I instantly googled to check the authenticity of the message only to find that it was bogus.

I showed my uncle every possible reference, but he swatted me aside by saying that the Indian government is simply hiding this news and that he cannot be wrong as his certain XYZ colleague who holds an XYZ esteemed post had sent it.

I tried to argue some more, but my family taunted me for being “too rude”.

Well, they say that technology in the hands of the younger generation is harmful, but COVID-19 has turned the tables and shown us otherwise.

Vaishali, 28, Gwalior/Melbourne 

I married my best friend of ten years 15 days before the lockdown. He is part of a reputed joint Marwari family and I moved back from Australia to be with him.

It was alright adjusting to some of the customs and traditions, I love a lot of them as any Indian does. But for the first time, I faced inequality in a home – and that too triple-fold. There is inequality in ‘what boys can do’ and ‘what girls can do’. There is inequality between the daughter and the daughter-in-law. And limited freedom.

After being brought up in a family that gave me wings to fly, I ended up in a cage.

I have realised that my friend – now my husband – can’t help even if he want to. In this tough time where everyone is trapped in home, I feel trapped with my inner thoughts. Freedom has a whole new meaning for me and I respect it more than just a word.

Shreya, 18, Gujarat

It wasn’t that things were perfect. But we had learned to be happy, survive and normalise everything. But a few days ago when my parents were at the vegetable mart, the police came and started behaving brutally; not just with the vendors and shopkeepers, but also with people who had come to buy essentials.

It has apparently become a crime to fulfill the needs of our stomachs in order to survive.

My parents managed to escape somehow but all they saw around them was fear. Yes, social distancing is to be followed, but what of people who do not have proper access to it and who need crucial supplies? What about daily wagers and the vendors, who ran, leaving their wares and stalls in the open, to save themselves from police brutality – heinous, yet ‘normal’ somehow?

Beyond the dread, all we have is hope. And I hope that it is not just a mirage.

Vindhya Vatsyayan, 29, Delhi

I miss looking at the trees I used to meet everyday on my way to office. I am still getting used to the long-distance relationship with my work. It has been unsettling to sit and work from the comfort of my bed, when I know that several of the tuberculosis patients I work with are struggling to meet their daily needs.

I have found peace in cooking, baking and washing dishes every day. Virtual team building sessions with my beloved team, which is still working hard on the ground, has been rewarding, but they always leave me feeling a little helpless. Virtual yoga sessions have made me a little less anxious about the uncertainties of the future.

I miss travelling in metro, the strangers I used to meet, and the rush with which everyone used to start their day. Things have slowed down; we don’t set alarm clocks at home anymore, sometimes have no track of the date, day and time. Everyone’s contributing at home, it is no more just my mother’s duty to clean the house and deep down I am strangely thankful to the pandemic for that.

Amrita Roy, 24, London

Four weeks into the lockdown and I was doing fine. Rather, great actually. Maybe because this wasn’t my first time? Having lived through the 2002 Gujarat riots, which lasted for around three months in Ahmedabad, I remember the anxiety of the uncertain and unpredictable. Schools closed till further notice. Economical meals and rationed groceries. Eyes brimming with doubt. Air filled with terror.

But this time felt different. Everyone preached that we would emerge with more empathy for each other and the planet. Everyone spoke of the plight of health workers and of the poor cut loose. People donated. NGOs and local community networks assembled. I meaningfully connected with family and friends 10,000 km away. For most of those four weeks, I believed we would come out ready to create a better world.

Then four days ago, Bernie Sanders dropped out of the presidential race. In that moment, my bubble popped.

We elected Modi, again. We voted for Brexit, again. In the US, we will vote for the big business friendly sexual predator, again.

Is this the first big sign that maybe nothing will change? Like all of the pain that came before this, will this too be in vain?

Shailja Gusain, 24, Delhi

I live on a street where we have multiple vegetable vendors dropping by. One of them is a Muslim and has been a regular for years.

After the Tablighi Jammat event was blown out of proportion and with the irrationality that followed it, a lot of my neighbours have now refused to entertain his services. There has been talk of how he ‘charges more’, ‘stinks’, how the ‘fruits are not clean’, and how he ‘only has old, torn notes’. Not only are these claims vague, but they are alarming signs of concealed Islamophobia.

The Muslim vendor is now desperate to makes sales. He not only covers his nose and mouth with a mask, but uses a gamcha to hide his beard. The other day, when I went to buy some vegetables from him, I noticed him constantly trying to adjust his gamcha to avoid it from slipping. Looking at him that day made me realise that we as a nation and as humans have failed miserably.

Adeeba Lari, 20, Kanpur

This pandemic has forced a lot of intense habitual changes, the most devastating of which is that I have become scared of reading the news. Despite being a journalism student, I avoid the paper like it would bite if I got closer to it.

This fear has several root causes. The first is the constant loop of dreadful news on coronavirus and the rising number of cases and deaths, as well as the misery that has accompanied the spread of COVID-19.

The second is the swiftly growing Islamophobia, especially on Instagram. It’s heartbreaking to see my peers put obnoxious memes on their stories and even a polite FYI is like asking a rapid dog to bite. It’s a visible rift between the haters and the defenders; both asking for complete submission to their ideologies. It builds up a new fear in my throat about the future state of my country and my place here as a Muslim citizen.

The third is this unending guilt that screams about how privileged I am. My day is lined with luxuries and if I read about the migrants standing on the highway, my hunger disappears into a lone corner inside my skin. My body surrenders completely whenever I think about a wage worker’s family starve, resulting in an unending and long mourning on my bed. A funeral only I attend.

Of all the changes, I miss reading the news the most.

Khush Kalavadia, 20, Bharuch (Gujarat)

For many, this quarantine is boring. But for a photographer like me, it has become an opportunity to explore things around us and capture them in innovative ways.

One such thing is the ordinary soap bubble. It is the same bubble which we all come across everyday but never observe keenly. When I glimpsed the beautiful colours present, I started capturing them from different angles. Initially, I wasn’t successful, but after trying for while, I captured some photographs of the vivid colours. Observing the most vibrant colours that are present on the surface of the bubble is itself an unforgettable experience.

I am the secretary of the photography club of Ahmedabad University and we organise many photography related events, activities and competitions. With the support of the club, I have organised two workshops of bubble photography.

Photo: Khush Kalavadia

Kajal, 19, Jhansi

Busy in our lives, little did we know,
we would all be trapped in the so-called show.
Seems like lives are facing a rewind,
leaving every desire, all plans and motives behind.
The future is vague and time is a blur,
who knows this will pass, or remain forever.
But my soul hasn’t any boundaries,
as it is reminiscing underneath memories.

Sanjana Raj, 26, Kerala

Every morning, I have those bleary few seconds post-sleep when I forget that we are living in the times of a pandemic. Then I remember, and my heart sinks anew. This is followed with the inevitable scrolling through the news, hoping that some miraculous cure was invented while I was asleep.

As a student, I have a thesis to work on but often I am too paralysed to focus. It feels surreal to have anxiety be a part of my daily life so persistently, while I worry about myself, for my brother who is still working at a supermarket, for my parents alone halfway across the world, for my fiancée who I’m unsure about when I’ll see again, and for the entire wide world.

I try and type the words, but it feels silly to worry about a paper when lives and livelihoods are crumbling. Yet, I persist in what is surely my own form of make-believe and I remind myself of the greatest motivational phrase to ever come out of a movie: “just keep swimming”.

Nishtha Berry, 19, Dehradun

I watch my mother work tirelessly around the house from dusk till dawn until she collapses on the sofa, exhausted. My father’s work has pretty much come to a halt. My sweet, 85-year-old dada can’t go for his daily walk.

We all know the situation. It’s taking a huge toll on our mental health; whether it’s paranoia, helplessness, grief or fear.

Many among our generation are empathetic and proactive, but sitting at home during this time of turmoil makes us feel like our hands are tied. My mother won’t let me step out of the house. All I can do is cope and send out prayers.

I have been translating my feelings into art, but it makes my concept of self-esteem even more distorted. Should I feel guilty for my privilege that it allows me to stay inside and find ways to cope? Am I failing to acknowledge the pain of the ones out there? Am I finding my happiness while others are losing theirs?

But we’ve all gotta do something, right? Be gentle, I say to myself. At least my rotis are getting rounder by the day.

Md Mustafa, 26, Delhi

On March 20, Jamia Millia Islamia University asked students to vacate hostels with the onset of the coronavirus in India. Many students left for their respective homes in Bihar, Jammu, Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh and other states.

Later, the university instructed its faculty to conduct classes online and continue academic activity, but everyone is not as fortunate as we are – living in metropolitan cities with accessibility to the internet. Many do not even have a conducive environment at home to allow them to participate.

Many kinds of exclusion prevail in our society, but these have been more visible since the pandemic made its entrance. Digital exclusion is one of them. One of my friends, who is from Firozabad (known for its glass making industry), Uttar Pradesh, is being unable to join the online classes despite having internet because of poor internet quality in rural areas.

It’s not just my friend, but many other students are in the same boat. The attitude of family members is also not supportive in some cases. I have realised how much of a difference privilege really makes – even when it comes to the digital world, which is supposedly the great equaliser.the

Rituparna Dey ,24, Assam

After completing my MSc in Kolkata, I thought I’d give myself a little time to work on my PhD research paper proposal and came down to Assam two weeks before the lockdown to arrange my parents 25th wedding anniversary.

I am trapped now.

Trapped inside the feeling of how long do I have to wake up in the morning next to someone playing loud podcasts? How long will it take for my retired Dad to step outside the house and meet his old friends and discuss their lives at 18?

These days, my entire schedule revolves around thinking and imagining things. Most of the times, I just have questions:

1. If this does not end, will I ever be able see the December snow as I sit at a study table going through my thesis at McGill University in Toronto?
2. Will I ever be able to keep the promise I made to myself and propose to my partner while we cruise across Thames?
3. Will I see the mountains in Uttarakhand again?

And there is a lot of ‘will I, will we be able to’ going through my mind the entire day. I just know that my heart aches a bit every time and every day – a little more than it did just yesterday.

Sadhana Khamkar, 25, Pune

No family is perfect. Even though differences in ideologies is normal, it can take toll on mental health – especially when family is involved.

Staying at home has made me resent every irrational and wrong belief that the family has, be it countering fake news, unscientific claims, communalistic beliefs etc that they see on news channels or on WhatsApp. The deeply ingrained patriarchal and orthodox beliefs at play become unbearable at times.

Even though I understand I cannot change it overnight, at least in that very moment it becomes unbearable.

Not that this is new to me. It has always been the case, but due to the lockdown I’m only reliving it closely.