Day-in-and-day-out, counting; crossing the calendar, marking; tik-tok-tik-tok, the clock chimes. “Another month? I cannot quarantine anymore!,” reads my WhatsApp. Staying sane is a distant thought; impatience, restlessness, irritation, suffocation, fear. Fear of being suffocated by the four walls of my privilege, irritation of the same 24-hour routine; wake up at 2, eat, binge, eat, binge, repeat, sleep. The restlessness of staying away from the hustle, away from the club, the theatre, the shopping, the food, the music, the fests. Impatience; the desire to go out, desire to go back to the routine, desire to not live the dream of lying in bed, weaving words into stories, the catharsis of my misery.
I scroll, down and down, ‘you’re all caught up!’ they say. Pop, a notification, ‘favourite singer’ going live. Ah! the happiness, living guilt-free of failing to miss their concert because I was wrapped inside my blanket with my 101 degrees fever.
An escape, a beauty, calm envelopes me, my privilege knocks, hi, lie down. Mesmerised as his pitch rises and your heart leaps with joy, maybe life is indeed good, you think. An escape from the monotony, the boredom, the entitled safe house provides you with a bed, a family, a kitchen, an ability to hoard, to fight over toilet rolls, to break laws.
Instagram live, an escape, they say. As the strings of their guitar hit my soul, right then and right there, a family, barefoot, with swollen and torn feet, growling hunger, heavier luggage, lost; lost in the abyss of profound difference, between class, between caste, between karma, they say. Give a different glass, sit on the floor, donate worn-out clothes; dusty house inhabited with creepy crawlies, old utensils wrenching of a day old Maggi, “Why do maids have to go away,” they say.
Oh, to be lucky and rich, relatively rich, relatively luckier. To not have activities to while away your time, “Wish they’d release Season 2 now,” “I have finished all of Netflix,” “I want to eat their red velvet cookies.” Pop! A notification, ‘favourite stand-up comic’ going live. An hour of mindless laughter, shared woes of missing momos, mocking the Supreme Commandant, “You have been a lovely audience, stay safe, stay healthy, see you soon!” Yet again your life falls back, “Wish I had a quarantine boyfriend,” “I am so sex-starved ya,” they say.
The world sees one, the country sees two; the world sees pandemic, the country sees communalism. Religion, politics and the nation, the three deadly worlds. Conflict, tragedy, distress, anxiety, “Why don’t you seek therapy?”, bereft of a hearty two-square meal, surviving on a day-to-day basis, “Didi, itna paisa kahan?” . Work from home, workout at home, a balanced diet, dalgona coffee, light a candle, bang utensils, balcony, hoard, stack, stack, stack!
A burning country, depreciating public healthcare, care funds, and growing congested population. What if Dharavi becomes infected? Can the poor afford the humongous medical bills? Are we understaffed? Are there sufficient N-95 marks? Sufficient ventilators?
My mother narrates an anecdote from her hometown Coochbehar, a small princely state. A man infected with the virus remains untouched by medical professionals due to faulty, inefficient, incapable facilities. It takes one touch, one spit, one transfer and soon, the underprivileged shall bear the brunt of the tragedies of the upper class.
The virus is not a reminder of us being humans, the virus is a reminder of us being unequal; unequal facilities, inequitable distribution, unattainable access to medical treatment, unequal. A candle can lay off the darkness, the fear, the ghosts, but not the poor. A candle is the only light for the poor.