It rained in the morning. Heavy rain early morning makes the day dreamy in a uniquely tropical way. One can’t help imagine water sliding down broad-leaved shrubs, pattering down back alleys and pouring down from the roofs. All of it happened without the usual sight of anyone scuttling past, trying to make it to a shelter before it soaks them. It is the thirty second day of the lockdown. The neighbourhood is quiet. Virtual living has taken off for those who can afford to stay off from the worries of wanting to step out and get going with their work. They have settled well. The new necessities sequence might just be roti, kapda aur makaan, with zoom, Netflix and home delivery.
I came across some photos of the KRS railway station opening for travelers. Since the Indian Railways has not yet announced resumption of train services, I am not sure where those people were going. It could be a drill for post-lockdown passenger management. It will be challenging for sure. The police and other security forces in-charge of railways, airports etc have a tough job at hand in the months ahead. The stress on the personnel involved is high.
The city is known to me only through photos, news and social media posts by those who are out. The connection feels weak. The scene outside the balcony doesn’t change. These days are a disruption that will make some of us reconnect slowly. Some changes will be irreversible. Cooking, self-care and keeping entertained are new behaviours in some age groups.
Meanwhile, a group in this city began ‘sundowner sessions’ – a series of online conversations via zoom where participants talk out their state of minds, situations and concerns. On two evenings that I tuned in, the conversations appeared like mini catharsis for those who chose to speak and share their mind. The hosts (three women) keep their videos on. The participants are on audio and they get to speak by raising their hand in the group and the host activates their audio. It seems to be about mental health. There are people talking of loneliness and anxiety.
A voice shares that this lockdown has affected her severely and she is ‘being pushed out of her comfort zone’. She shares that she is a college student. A queue of participants is building up, those who want to speak. The host sequences them out. People are reaching out. ‘I want to see really close friends. And I want to hug them’, a longing voice says. The session starts at six in the evening. It goes on for an hour. I hear that voice longing for a hug and imagine someone having lived nearly seven hundred fifty hours alone. That is how many hours it makes for thirty one days of lockdown and since that voice was pushed into isolation. A young man connects in to share that he was asked to leave his paying-guest accommodation in the middle of the lockdown. He had to find a new place to live. It hasn’t been easy, he adds but the halting voice is steady. The struggle is on. One of the hosts wants to join the previous voice in its desperation – ‘I want to do something really normal – walk in the park, hug someone’. The co-host, who I can see, is connecting with it. She sounds confessional and reflective – ‘I just want to go out on the streets to see life in the way I have seen. I am never gonna complain about traffic again. These empty roads are bizarre.’ While this is on, I stand in the balcony feeling like a voyeur. The hosts look out for participant requests again. There is another voice who strikes a thankful note without ascription, for having made her way to her parents’ home before the lockdown began. ‘My house is next to a park. My parents have three balconies and a terrace. I am noticing birds.’, she began. This is new to her as she informs. She has not noticed birds and trees in the same way before. She adds that she borrows a binocular and looks around. The voice finishes her thoughts by adding, ‘I have gotten close to nature’.
It is nearly seven and the hosts check for quick thoughts from participants. There is a discussion about the frequency of these sessions – once a week or twice? The participants prefer it twice a week. The hosts were specific in mentioning that these conversations are not a substitute for professional therapy. These are to share and live the times collectively. Misery doesn’t seem collective in these conversations. There is discovery, there is reflection, there is grief and a whole lot of uncertainty.
Sundowner, as they call it, comes across a series to share collective pain, of journeys that have come to an abrupt halt.