The air is glum. It reeks of a strange kind of solitude. An imposed loneliness, segregation, a feeling of losing something I had taken for granted. My freedom!
I had plans. We all had. I was excited to meet my parents who live in Canada and whom I have not seen for the past two years. Dad is having a medical condition and cannot travel to India any more. My visa was rejected twice by the Canadian embassy on the pretext that I had close family relations but finally this year I had been granted a visa after a fervent plea that I had no intention to overstay in their country. That I have a government job and a house, a husband, a daughter, a future at stake which I will not put to risk. And now everything is at risk. Life has gone topsy-turvy.
One fine morning before Corona invaded our lives I had booked Air France tickets. Delhi to Paris to Vancouver. And now I am checking the airlines site all the time wondering if they will be flying at all. And though I am hopeful that things will be fine a little fear creeps my mind that my travel plans would be jeopardized for once. Travel will have to wait. I will be able to see mom, dad next year probably. I am not alone in this. A thousand itineraries have been altered, plans shelved, lives affected. I understand that this is not the time to grieve for a lost trip. I need to be prepared for what life throws at us next.
At home front things are cozy. I will not say that life at home is hard and I am not able to cope up. I have the resources. But I realize there are many out there who don’t. The migrant labourers are fleeing to home states leaving their territories. People are getting laid off. The daily wagers are losing their everyday income. For some people, their world has been thrown into a tizzy. But I count myself lucky that this growing tide of uncertainty has not hit the anchor of my life the way it had affected millions. I only lost the luxury of freedom, not my livelihood.
I do not watch TV anymore because every new piece of information hits me like a bolt. These are the times over which I have no control so why panic! I have taken myself away from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for a while. I read e-paper every morning just to keep track of things and even if I do not do it, things will be fine. They will be okay soon. I am an eternal optimist. This too shall pass.
My husband is home because his company has shut down operations for the time being. I am working as a Veterinary Officer, an employee of the state government. I have been told by my department to report on duty. But for the past one week as we have been placed under state curfew there has been hardly anyone coming to the hospital. Perhaps the animals are scared to get sick reeking in this air of lassitude or their owners are too fearful to report them sick.
I and my husband spend a good deal of time with our eleven-year-old daughter. There is more than enough for leisure and activities that have been forgotten. Staying at home is not that bad.
My daughter is learning to cook these days. As she chops the capsicum, broccoli, and tomato to add to her rice salad she exclaims, “It is so satisfying to cut the veggies”. I laugh at her enthusiasm feeling gratified that she is sane amongst all this brouhaha grabbing the world. She is hopeful. She grabs tit bits of the information from the elders in the family and patches up the information in a corollary only to construe that things are not so bad. That even though there is a pandemic in the world she has her parents with her. That there is a loving family beside her and it is more than enough to survive. That things will eventually fall into place like lost pieces of a puzzle and it does make sense.
This staying at home and social distancing is indeed for our good. So, if the state has put a curfew it means something. She understands and believes that this is all a big vacation for her. I do not contradict and make her anxious. Kids need room to grow and normalcy to flourish. If she is happy in her own patch in this vast garden of the world, I just let her be. Too much information often creates chaos. We need to save our kids from knowing too much. Her only worry is that Amazon has stopped their operations and her Lego’s delivery had been put on hold.
I have never seen anything like this. Life has been brought to a halt. The shops are closed, the roads deserted. I drive to work with a mask on though my husband is apprehensive of its potential to thwart a potential infection. But then I hardly come into contact with a lot of people these days. We are only three people managing the veterinary hospital. It’s the medical doctors who are bearing the burden. People at the frontline who are dealing with the cases of a highly infectious disease without protective gear. I am glad that my job does not put me at that kind of risk. We all wish for that safety net around ourselves and if it’s not there we weave an imaginary one. Only safe and secure citizens of a country can make strides and achieve their personal goals. But what about the medical doctors who have been quarantined in their own homes after the gruesome hours!
I feel that our government, the Indian government has taken protective steps. Yes, the prime minister is anti-Muslim, pro-Hindu but in times of the pandemic, there will be a collective loss of lives. He closed the borders, shut down places, indicating a firm will to safeguard the lives of its citizens. He only needs to thaw his heart a little more and be kind and humane towards our Muslim countrymen. While most of the developed countries in the world, the superpowers are grappling with a surge in cases we do not have cases yet involving community transmission.
As a child of the eighties, I have witnessed militancy in my state. The scrabble for Khalistan was at its loudest in those days. I was of the same age as my daughter. I carry memories of those difficult times when Punjab, my state suffered through the flux of killings and militancy at its peak. There were frequent curfews in those days. And though the situation is peaceful on the streets right now, this curfew reminds me of those forgotten days. But I do not like to dabble in the past for long. The past, the pain should not be exhorted out and researched. It should be forgotten with convenience. It should not serve as a deadly reminder of something lost. I hope years, later on, I would put the memories of this lock-down and these difficult times in the same casket and bury them deep.
Life is moving very well for now. We are taking precautions, not meeting anyone and just doing all that we have been asked to do. To stay home is mandatory, it is not an option anymore. There is no point aggravating the situation by putting our self-made fears and beliefs into the thick of things.
Life in times of Corona is okay, I will say. It will be better when the surge dies down. It will be good when we win over this pandemic and drive it away from the face of the earth. It will not happen in a day. It might take months or probably years but it will happen.
I am just trying to stay calm and quiet. As I sit in my garden I am grateful for the blessing of good health. My job is to stay healthy and guard my own sanity. Each of us only needs to carry the burden of ourselves right now. Life will heal and time like a balm will erase all the grievances. We only need to stay put. Listen, follow and take care of self. And rest will fall into place like those missing pieces of a puzzle which go astray but eventually find a place, their place.
We will be back in our places soon but till then we have to hold hands, all of us so that we do not get lost in this melee. We cannot afford to be missing pieces of this puzzle called life.
Rana Preet Gill is a Veterinary Officer with the government of Punjab, India. Her articles and short stories have been published in The Tribune, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The New Indian Express, Deccan Herald, The Hitavada, Daily Post, Women’s Era and Setu Bilingual. She has compiled her published pieces in a book titled Finding Julia. She has also written two novels – Those College Years and The Misadventures of a Vet.