Two and a half months – that’s a long time to be locked up at home—no office, no parties, no friends, no gym, no pool, and no shopping. Being under house-arrest with nothing to do had become a way of life for all of us. For me, it was a life-altering experience. Stranded at home, alone, with my family away in Jaipur, this was a time I got to relive scenes from some of my favourite childhood movies.
There was Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone, who’d been left behind by his parents while they took off on a family vacation. Then there was Tom Hanks in Castaway; a FedEx executive stuck on a deserted island. My lockdown was a replay of some of these movies’ most endearing moments. From learning how to make a meal to cleaning my surroundings, buying groceries, and doing the laundry, to sometimes talking to myself and other inanimate objects – solitary confinement does that to you.
The housekeepers couldn’t come. They’d been blockaded in their parts of town. Going out of the house meant meeting an invisible enemy that could potentially kill you and buying food from the neighbourhood grocer, thus became a mission on its own. Masks, gloves, and hand sanitisers – these became our weapons to combat the microbe holding the world hostage. Queues and lines that led to a guard pointing an infrared gun to one’s head welcomed me right before being able to buy some bread. Inside, I treated everyone else as carriers of the bug. They had it, all it would take was a sneeze or a cough, and I’d be on a bed in Gandhi Hospital, with IVs stuck in my arm and a ventilator helping me breath.
The hypochondriac in me came alive and overtook everything. A single cough sent me into spells of paranoia, and I’d check my temperature at random intervals, “was the ache in my lower back a symptom of the coronavirus?” I drank orange juice and lemonade for Vitamin C and ate chicken soup for the extra lysine. These were precautions prescribed to me by my doctor, with whom I Skyped at least once a week.
The initial phase of the lockdown was lonely. Friends and family were coming to terms with their imprisonment and grappling with the new rules of life. When things settled, we all thronged to Houseparty, FaceTime, Zoom, WhatsApp Video, and Skype. The liquor I had with me was soon over – drinking alone while staring at my friend’s faces on the iPad had become the high point of my evenings.
Since we were in a state of effective prohibition, finding alcohol became almost impossible, and that gave birth to an entire black market system that we Indians organically gravitate towards when all else fails. People were bartering everything under the sun. I presided over a deal where eight Cuban cigars were exchanged for a bottle of Black Label. Favours were called in, liquor cabinets raided, and bootleggers were added to the speed dial list. Soon I was the master of my war chest, a collection of alcohol that if I were to consume would surely lead to a case of liver cirrhosis. It was the same for cigarettes and food. Friends of mine exchanged exotic salads for Chicken 65 and coffee pods for bottles of wine.
Having initially stocked up, thanks to a few trips to QMart, I then found myself in the novel position of having to cook my meals. This was something I’d not done since university. Maggi was not too difficult, and neither was frying some eggs and heating a couple of sausages. But if I endeavoured into a territory beyond that, the result was usually disastrous. Rice boiled over and resembled a white paste used to brush teeth with, whereas the chicken was undercooked, but still had to be consumed, bloody tendons and all since wastage was now a cardinal sin. However, I had to survive somehow and show off to the family in Jaipur. YouTube came to the rescue, recipes were followed to the T, and I soon found myself transforming into the next Iron Chef. Like a hog sniffing for truffles, I differentiated between masalas and rummaged for ingredients already in my kitchen. I was now churning out meals faster than a newly-wed bride.
On the other hand, cleaning up was a whole different story. Domex, Harpic, Surf, the fluffy setting on the washing machine, these were all alien to me; entities that I now had to befriend if I were to wade through the lockdown with some self-respect. Dusting, sweeping, and mopping, all in that order became regular exercises, so did taking out the trash and watering the plants. In each activity, there was a right way and a wrong way, the result of which could only be fathomed after considerable experience. This wasn’t easy stuff!
When I wasn’t doubling up as a housekeeper and cook, I watched hours of Netflix until my eyes watered, and I read, books became my best friends. For physical exercise, I’d walk around my compound at two in the morning; time was no longer a quantum that governed my days. Online, there was nothing but bad news. A collection of horror stories that resembled the plot of an episode of The Twilight Zone. Thousands of deaths worldwide, politicians bungling up, speculation, and conspiracies. Nothing was certain, and this made living in the moment impossible. Enjoying anything and feeling satisfied became difficult since all one wanted to do was reach the inevitable.
How these months passed is difficult to explain. I have a newfound respect for the people whom I had earlier taken for granted – the work that went into making dinner, keeping my clothes clean, and my home tidy! We all experienced the effects of withdrawal from our rat races. This was a time when consumption no longer mattered, and rationing became the norm. Money could only be used to buy food. The lockdown has been a great leveller. It made paupers out of princes and brought many of us down to earth. In some ways, as we get out of this quarantine, I’ve learned to appreciate the things I have. There are millions, if not billions around the world, who were not as lucky as some of us. Humbler and more humane – that’s what the lockdown made of me.