Bach’s cello suite No 1’s prelude plays as I sit in the balcony. I have spent so much time in front of the laptop screen today that my eyes hurt. A giant shroud seems to loom large over the planet. In the alternating cycles of optimism and paranoia the country has clocked twenty days in a lockdown. It is not appropriate to compare these days with wartime. There is disease and death around us in uncertain numbers. But, for a change it is not us killing each other. A virus is blowing up things for us. In India’s lockdown, twenty days have passed in near total suspension of work and general life that is conducted outside the homes. The prospect of extending this lockdown by fifteen more days seems a bit fatiguing tonight.
A friend messaged that the pre-dawn sky tomorrow will have a rare astronomical event – the pre-dawn moon will have Jupiter, Saturn and Mars in a row by its side, a ‘mini-parade’ of planets. I decide to wake up early to see this. Besides, deep blue colours of pre-dawn are an invitation into the memory chamber of road trips taken over years. Road trips, cycle rides, marathons and treks, all of them originate in pre-dawn.
Every evening I photograph the treeline visible from the balcony. Some are radiant evenings. Some are marked with early signs of weather ahead. Around sunset, a baby is seen in the balcony by the tree, cradled in hands by a man and a woman who take turns. From a distance, I can see a dot like head bobbing every time a bird calls from the tree. A woman is seen on a distant terrace every evening, speaking on phone as she paces aross its length. The dogs bark breathlessly. There is a house with five Golden Retrievers and they can lose their mind any hour these days. One begins barking at will and others join in making it a group recital. Movie dialogues and songs fan out of another house interspersed with laughter in what sounds like at least two kids watching Hindi movies late into the night. I tease out different laughs and count the number of viewers every night. These lockdown evenings and nights have acquired a unique rhythm and flavour now. The neighbourhood seems to be perfecting it. These laughers have been heard for the first time in the time since I have moved here. One year is good enough I thought, to know what everyone around prefers for their entertainment and leisure. But these midnight’s children watching Hindi movies like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai late into the night are confusing. In the mornings, I compare the growth of foliage around with my haircut. Soon my hair locks might join the sway of branches in the gentle breeze of these April evenings.
I have traded early morning reading with a session of yoga and some cardio workout. Since the leg is not yet healed, I am restricted to aasanas that I can do while sitting only. A forty minute session involving deep breathing cycles, aasanas and ending with the classic pushups and crunches has become a substitute for the routine running and cycling. Once again, the value of ‘slow’ is realized. These yoga aasanas performed slowly seem as rejuvenating as a 10 km, 5.15 pace run on the GKVK trail.
Most household activities feel magnified now. One needs a drive to cook every meal. There are at least two of them to cook everyday. Drives too, need a constant kindling perhaps. Otherwise it is hard to keep at an activity where interest, rewards and similar self-gratifying outcomes do not apply. Today, domesticity is foregrounded. A groceries app has no delivery slots for the next two days. Vegetable hawkers can be heard in the lanes around. Supermarkets have changed their hours of operation, limiting it to one shift from early morning until noon.
A typical lockdown day now oscillates between the personal and the impersonal. It launches off from domestic work and thoughts into the local and global as the day progresses. By the evening, all the raging debates are known – is this a new normal, will things change, wil there be a new world order post-pandemic, how long should the lockdown be and what is the best exit strategy from the lockdown? Saturated with these, mind moves from these to poetry, fiction and podcasts. In a new podcast series, I heard George Saunders read a note that he wrote to his students when they found out that the school was shutting down.
(But) it also occurs to me that this is when the world needs our eyes and ears and minds. This has never happened before here. At least not since 1918. We are, and specially you are, the generation that is going to have to help us make sense of this and recover afterwards. What new forms might you invent to fictionalise events like this, where all of the drama happening in private essentially. Are you keeping records of the emails and texts you are getting, the thoughts you are having, the way your hearts and minds are reacting to this strange new way of looking. It is all important. Fifty years from now, people the age you are now won’t believe this ever happened or will do this sort of eyeroll that we all do when someone tells us about something crazy that happened in 1960.
The cliche of ‘bearing witness’ does hold meaning, I realize. For, during these days, I have relied heavily on diaries of people to understand human lives living through adversity and global shocks. The paralysis of life is near total which also affirms our vulnerability. Saunders adds in his letter that ‘It is only when we expect solidity, non-change that we get taken by surprise. And we always expect solidity no matter how well we know better.’ The year’s work plan has been rendered irrelevant now. As for the personal, it holds true that solidity was always expected only to be proved wrong, often.