This article is part of our series ‘Lockdown Diary’, where we invite women in the creative fields to share their experiences at home during the COVID-19 nationwide lockdown in India.
By Anita Panda
The Earth has put the brakes on the human race. As India faces an unprecedented battle with a microscopic organism, we are like terrified chickens huddled up together in our cages. This quarantine has taught us to empathize with all those morose and sad creatures in zoos, while the coronavirus has the last laugh!
But even as we stew in our collective and individual prisons, we are learning, unlearning and relearning pretty fast too. The brain is capable of extreme adaptation, you see.
After two weeks of lock-in by myself, peppered with fresh updates on the latest breakouts and virus cases and casualties around India – besides all the WhatsApp gossip on which homes in our building were quarantined or had positive cases – I was spooked out at the thought of stepping out of my safe ‘home, sweet home’.
But I had to – supplies were low, and I had to replenish my diminishing perishable stock. I felt like the ill-fated son of Arjuna, Abhimanyu, trapped in a treacherous Chakravyuha (battle formation in the Mahabharata): idhar bhi khayee, udhar bhi khayee (ravines on both sides)!
I took deep, deep breaths in my morning pranayama. Breathe in. Breathe out. I looked up at the sky for divine deliverance and braced myself to step out for my first solo trip outside the secure confines of my home. I quaked in fear of falling prey to the lethal virus – though I am fit at 53, I have heard enough stories of how COVID-19 targets older people, and I have no intention of playing with fire!
Armed, masked and hand-gloved, looking like a bandit queen, I uttered “Jai Bajrangbali” sotto voce as I stepped out of my Lakshman Rekha and gingerly pressed the lift button with my sanitized pen nib. My paranoia was at its peak like the COVID-19 cases graph: I thought I saw the red glowing button flashing in the shape of the nasty looking coronavirus waiting to make me its next casualty!
I felt bolder as I alighted from the lift and queued up in the orderly line of my building residents, patiently awaiting their turns at the vendor stall. The sun blazed overhead burning my skin so I shifted into the shade, ducking every passer-by in panic mode, lest they flout the much advertised six-feet of social distance, each one wary of the other.
Finally, it was my turn. The luscious red tomatoes, purple eggplants, green chillies, coriander and spinach, yellow lemons as big as golf balls and the eclectic mountains of vegetables enticed and winked at me. There was no sign of the malevolent virus lurking anywhere beneath their skins or colourful exteriors unless examined microscopically.
I bought the fruits with trepidation and shooed the fruit seller away with my gloved fists each time he came close to show me his wares. “Arrey bhaiya, COVID hai. Door rahiye aap (brother, it is COVID, stay away)!” I admonished him as he laughed at my phobia behind his mask looking like a dangerous bandit himself.
With the goodies in my loot, monetary exchange done sans human touch, I started back with two bagfuls in my arms, nestling them like my babies. I felt like weightlifting champ Karnam Malleswari as I stoically marched back home, my arms stiff and taut carrying the many kilos of produce. Thrice, the crisp white errant cauliflower plopped out of my overflowing bag; I bent and picked it up, huffing and puffing.
The trek from my building main gate to my home felt like the longest and most challenging walkathon as I trudged back drenched in sweat. Mehnat ka phal meetha hota hai (the fruit of hard-work is sweet), I kept reminding myself as I lugged the heavy bagfuls.
My mind raced back to my childhood when my industrious mother would walk back many kilometers from the wholesale vegetable market, lugging bagfuls with her neighbours to store for weeks and feed our huge family. I’m a chip off the old block after all!
I opened and closed my main door, took off my footwear, scrubbed and washed it, dunked the lot of veggies in boiling hot water, inhaled lungfuls of steam to clear my system of any possible trace of the virus that could have sneaked in like a traitor, dried out all my currency notes in the bright, streaming sunlight, took a thorough shower, hand-washing my clothes, cloth face mask, gloves and shopping bags. I wasn’t taking a single chance to let that nasty virus infiltrate into my system!
Finally, I sat down to eat my skipped brunch, rewarding myself with a big, luscious orange I had bought, peeling off the fibrous rind and feasting with delight on its succulent flesh. ‘’Mehnat ka phal meetha hota hai.”
Anita Panda is a Mumbai-based freelance writer, poet, spiritualist, yoga enthusiast and traveller.