The financial year ending March 31, 2020; and the new one starting April 1, 2020; does not augur well for the coming economic period. COVID-19 has made sure the adage ‘life is meaningless,’ is being borne through by all of the planet’s human species, especially for our fellow citizens – the migrants of India. To find meaning in these times, is possibly through finding it yourself, or the people you find yourself with, or with the one’s you’ve been together with, whosoever they may be.
The date March 31 bears significance to me personally too. It so happens to be my younger child’s birthday. And it fell on the day when her two-week self-quarantine period ended. She had returned from Kent abruptly, when the COVID virus issue caused realignment in educational institutions and classes went online overnight. The State government was tracking all travellers who came in mid-March, so we also had a COVID sticker, ‘do not enter,’ pasted on our exterior house wall. My regular house staff also decided not to enter till the sticker was removed. Hence, my daughter was eagerly looking forward to being together with all of us. We hadn’t interacted with her in person, ever since she had come back.
This virus is known to have a fondness for the older generation, as the statistics indicate, a 60-plus target audience, but newer data is showing even younger people at risk. My independent, ‘can take care of myself,’ mother living twenty minutes away, resisted moving in with me, as the Kent-returned younger granddaughter was in quarantine. So along with her long serving house staff of one, she is coping in these ‘strange’ times. My dad, were he alive… I wonder how he would have dealt with it. He was quite content at home, post-retirement, and never looked outside for satiation. Yet mystifying circumstances bring out different facets of people, don’t you think?
I had to stay as ‘okay’ as possible, so I couldn’t touch my child to make sure I could keep visiting my mother. To get her basic necessities, to see if she was doing okay, to converse with her, to have a cup of tea with her, to do all of the above from a distance, not to forget ‘washing’ my hands. So challenging, especially when all you want to do is be close to her and tell her, ‘it’s okay!’ We can hope it’s okay and for everyone to be okay. My friends, who are abroad, have elderly parents who live alone here. I have called their parents, told them I can do errands for them once a week, but no calls coming in as yet. Fear has taken over, trusting the one’s they see every day, not the ones that drop in once in a way. This strange virus has isolated everyone, making the human race lonelier than ever. All of us are trying to care from a distance.
And when the sun rose on March 31, and when those bleak thoughts rose in my mind again, a sudden hug jolted me out of those thoughts, bringing me to the present moment. My younger daughter’s arms were around me, hugging me tightly. She couldn’t wait longer. She said, “it’s my birthday today and I can give you a hug. The virus can go to hell!” All I did was hold back my tears, hugging her tightly back.
March 31 announces the beginning of a series of birthdays in my family, of my daughters and my husband, which continue into April. Both the English birthdays (date of birth) as well as the Indian calendar (nakshatra/star) birthdays are celebrated. Creating happy memories of the birthdays was challenging this year around. Every year for each of them, making it special, surprising them, inviting friends, outdoing the previous year’s celebration kept taking my creativity to newer heights. And as my daughters kept growing and participating in the ideation of the celebrations, contemporary and sustainable scenarios came in.
The world has uncannily adapted to this ‘social distancing’ norm rapidly. People talking to families, friends, colleagues, subordinates, all digitally. Google, Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, Chime, and others, are the digital vocabulary known to most people today, across all ages. If one could not go across to a house to party, you still party digitally with your drink in hand – it doesn’t matter if it’s just a ‘screen presence.’
To be home is isolating, so perhaps digital is the way forward. People exchanging their thoughts, performing their music, their exercising, their dancing, their cooking, revealing how unlike centuries ago, anyone in any corner of the world can be seeing and knowing how ‘you’ are doing instantly. Not that it makes this new kind of ‘loneliness’ vanish, yet it keeps people hoping together, that sharing this common uncertainty will remind themselves that ‘this too shall pass.’ Tomorrow will be a new day!