March 13, 2020. Friday the 13th, I remember thinking. I am sure each one of you can easily recall what you were doing that day – probably the same thing I was doing…cursing the government, cursing Bangalore traffic and, for good measure, cursing the Coronavirus as I dashed back to school, unexpectedly early, to pick up my kids (let’s call them M&S) at noon. That was over 11 weeks ago.
After a rather unusual business meeting in February, I recall describing to M&S how we all had greeted each other with elbow-bumps and air-fives to avoid shaking hands. That brought peals of laughter at that time, but as the days unfolded into weeks it was apparent how the world as we knew it was immeasurably transformed by teeny tiny microbes. Now, as we stand at the brink of the country reopening, and people cautiously returning to what can only be described as a skewed normal, stop for a moment and reflect on the impact this pandemic has had on us as a community, on your family and friends, and on all the little things (like a daily walk) we took for granted. Remarkable, isn’t it?!
Personally, I wonder how the pandemic so gently morphed my family, as I am sure it did each of yours. My husband always loved experimenting in the kitchen, the pandemic made him a remarkably versatile cook who has saved my kids from many a dal-chawal meal. I don’t think we are ever going to allow him to return to his work. M&S discovered the joys of laundry, dusting, mopping, dishwashing…they gained a whole new respect for the domestic help who do these chores in multiple households, in addition to their own. The courtesy of a “thank you” to anybody who helps them – whether the domestic help, an auto driver or the Swiggy delivery person – is second nature. Heartfelt too. We enjoyed the mute doorbell so much that now, when we go to another house, we apologetically knock on the door. Perhaps the hardest thing to accept was the disappointment of a summer spent doing “nothing” – no friends, no movies, no sports, no travel – all the trappings of a privileged lifestyle. We had to redefine fun in the realm of social distancing and went through board games over Zoom calls, movie marathons, family fitness challenges and the inevitable PlayStation sessions where M&S just ran circles around us. We had a whole lot of time together, we were lucky to have been well through it all. Not a bad summer holiday all things considered.
Think back to January though, or February. What was happening in the world? What was important to you? This is what I asked M&S as the start of the academic year became imminent. They looked back at me, blank. Well, almost. The routine is all that stuck – school, friends, basketball, exams and summer break. I am blank too. I try to remember how I felt reading about the impeachment of President Trump, the civil disobedience that turned into a long drawn battle against the government in Hong Kong, the consternation of so many in India that were protesting the NRC and CAA, the quiet retirement of Leander Paes, the tragedy of Kobe Bryant’s death…so many events that have faded in our hearts.
However it is the toughest of times that seem to test humanity in each one of us and I choose to celebrate what I saw of it during the lockdown. Bear with me as I list a few and yes, please do think of the instances that come to your mind. A good friend began a small local volunteer group to run errands for the elderly during the lockdown. She ended up running this at great personal cost – staying away from her son for two months to keep him safe. That group has over 40,000 volunteers scattered around the world, doing whatever they can to help those in need, from delivering medicines, offering rides to hospitals, to even getting broken mobile phones fixed. My neighbours run a “roti group” asking for a donation of rotis from the residents on a daily basis. These have been delivered every day, for the last few weeks, to migrants travelling back to their hometowns by road or by train. Another friend is raising funds to support artisans – folk musicians, dancers who have been without work for months now. Yet another buys groceries on a weekly basis and delivers them to orphanages and old age homes in her neighbourhood. Kids in our own school have been baking goodies to deliver to children in poorer homes, raising funds to support animal shelters. The list is endless. This is happening in every nook and corner of the world. If nothing else, the pandemic has restored my faith in humanity.
2020 has a nice ring to it, all the way from the implied perfection of 20-20 vision to the comfort of a repeating number. 2020. The year that held promise, hope. The first few months have been traumatizing to say the least, but we still have days and weeks to go. Vacation is about to end, routines resume. We have had more than 70 days to cultivate habits that demonstrate empathy, compassion, thoughtfulness. To my kids I say, cherish these memories, cultivate these habits, remember these experiences. This is what gives me hope that they will grow to be kinder, wiser and “more human”.