The 25 x 35 foot apartment has two rooms. In one room, there’s a shrine and a little bed; the other room has a closet and a single bed. Most of the time, my family sits outside.
Nowadays, during the lockdown, we have been getting bored of the constantly playing Videocon television that sits on our table. Everyone in the house – my brother, sister, mom and dad – half-heartedly keep changing the channel to what they like.
Once they get bored of watching TV, each person grabs a corner to sit in and chooses some friends to call. Or, they rifle through the fridge, turning it upside-down. And, on not finding anything, begin washing the dirty dishes in the tiny kitchen.
But this is the surprising thing: before today, no one ever showed this much interest in the refrigerator or the television. But now, we can think of this as a kind of desperation – everyone is trying to find ways to keep their mind occupied.
While I read a book, I keep an eye on the small and big black hands of the round clock, hanging on a wall painted green and pink. Normally, I rarely look at the clock, but as this lockdown has progressed, the clock and I have become friends. When the clock moves towards 5 pm every day, I feel my gaze being pulled towards it.
The influence of the clock is so great that these days, 5 pm is always spent on the roof. In normal times, people might make one or two rounds to their roofs – I would usually go to the roof to hang clothes out to dry. But these days, 5 pm comes and I am neither hanging clothes nor watering the flower pots.
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When the clock strikes five, I feel like I am being released. I grab my necessities – most importantly, my phone – open the door, and hurry up the three or four steps to the roof. Once I’m on the roof, I don’t have the feeling of being under lockdown as much because I am rarely able to meet everyone anyway.
But these days, I get to meet everyone daily on the rooftop. When I look at the sky from the roof, I feel like I’ve never seen such beautiful clouds with my naked eyes. The birds fly overhead – I’ve never watched their flight and games as closely as I do now. I keep taking pictures of the different shapes that they make in the sky. Seeing me do this, the kids also insist that I take photos of them. They are on another roof. I zoom in on them and click their photo.
As the evening begins to set in, the roof assumes a different colour altogether. From the rooftop, the houses look like zigzagging lines. And on those zigzag lines, the clothes hanging out to dry look like colourful ribbon decorations.
In the evening, it’s as if there’s a festival happening on everyone’s rooftop. Someone dances on their roof; another person spreads out a sheet to do namaz; somewhere else, someone puts incense and diyas (oil lamps) under their Tulsi plants, spreading light and sweet fragrances.
In the distance, you can see a few kites made out of newspapers. Amidst all these activities, our neighbourhood aunties – the ones whose age one can’t really be certain of – put on their saris or suits, place their dupattas around their necks, and become local news channels, each broadcasting from their own respective roof.
They sit on their roof and tell everyone the daily news, like this one from today: “Arre, I’ve heard that the patient count keeps rising.” (That’s our Sharma aunty, who must be at least 35, speaking as she adjusts her chunni.)
Right then, another aunty jumps in, covering her mouth with the pallu of her sari, and says: “Well, the people who are still going outside will find out soon enough when they get tested and a pipe is put in their mouth, am I right or not?”
And in this way, the aunties mocked those being called ‘corona spreaders’. “They are all doing this deliberately… did you see the news yesterday bhabhi ji, yesterday the Prime Minister said that on April 5 at 9 pm everyone should take diyas, candles and, what’s it called, torches and go on their balconies for nine minutes.”
“Yes, but we don’t have any diyas in my house.”
“Let’s just light some old candles then.” (That’s Rani aunty speaking, whose beautiful saris are always the talk of the neighbourhood. She must be at least 45 by now, but even today she doesn’t look a day older than 30.)
When the news broadcast will end, nobody knows, but the people dotted on the rooftops are oblivious. Leaving behind what is happening in the world, they become engrossed in the playful banter of their own small worlds, discussing and deliberating amongst themselves. They share a familiarity with each other. They stroll on their roofs for a few minutes and then return to continue their yacking.
After all, how long can they keep making faces? Everyone knows that it is uncertain how long the lockdown will continue yet we all have live together.
Every evening, the roof radiates a different colour and the people, soaking in all of the colours, become colourful themselves. I, too, keep taking pictures of this colourful tapestry, as I look at the sky.
I wonder what will happen when it gets hot and we are still under lockdown. Will the rooftops still be decorated with people? One rooftop aunty blurts out: “So what, we will just have to cool down by washing ourselves with water.”
“And brother, where else can we go…if we stay in the house, we will suffocate…please just let this plague leave us soon!”
Deepali Tonk is 22 and lives in a neighbourhood called Sunder Nagri. She is a writer at an alternative education NGO called Ankur, which runs creative writing centres in marginalised neighbourhoods of Delhi. Deepali is studying to be social worker at Ambedkar College in Delhi. She has published her writing in several newspapers.
This text was translated by Thalia Gigerenzer.