“It was just the other day that it was all just fine, no?” my little girl asks me. Since the morning, we’ve been watching a video on loop, in which a girl of about her same age breaks down completely to realise that all KFC, McD, Nando’s, and for heaven’s sake even Chinese food, is now gone and she’s but left at the mercy of her only choice: her mommy’s food.
We shriek and laugh every time it runs on my phone, and by that, I mean it is the seventeenth time in the last 2 hours. We’ll run it a few more times. Or many more times. It is good fun. It is unreal how much fun it is to watch the video. It is the only fun thing, actually. What else do you even do now; now that it is now?
Just the other day, we learned the quick few real facts. We’ll all get it with time, sooner or later is the only thing we can — try to — control. All we can do at all is to buy time. My country is locked down now. At a whole point, three billion people. Home. Indoors. Locked and down. And that is the happiest thing that we’ve done most recently, since last week. Happiest, most sensible, proud, laudable, even exciting. Yes, the times are such.
The times are such indeed. We are waiting in a way we never thought we would, and for what — if you ask — we won’t be able to answer that either. Destiny, perhaps. Yes, even as many of us do not believe in God. Still. Of course. Me neither. And anyway, the temples are closed, just like the churches, mosques and gurdwaras. It’s only inwards you got to go if you still want to look for that chap.
We aren’t. We’re watching the news instead. Yes, the papers have stopped, but the television is still on — thank God for small mercies. Not God, okay. Electricians. Whoever. We’re watching the news, but we aren’t exactly watching either; well, truth be told, we are toggling between movies and catastrophe at the press of black back-buttons, pretending our minds don’t have a mind of their own. As if.
It is afternoon suddenly and the Finance Minister comes afloat on the screen. She’s been at the end of the ire of many a people, but today suddenly we are kinder. Keen, even, as we hear her spell the abundant terms of disaster management. Next 3 months, she says over and over. A clear suggestion, this. You heard it right. No, not 3 weeks. 3 months.
And that too sounds optimistic now.
We switch the television off and step out into the balcony. Someone has died in the EWS buildings in the adjacent society and they’ve laid out a large red carpet for visitors to sit on. They are more than 20, I count, and yet, they are so few. 20 is the maximum number of people who can gather over a funeral, the current lockdown rules say. Does that include the dead?
Above, the sky is clear. Bluer than on any other day of any other year. The sky, it seems to know what’s going on, and yet, it doesn’t seem any sad. Birds chirp and wake you up, these mornings, and the winter Sun is plain sweet. You can chase it through the day, first at this angle, then that, and then fading at right angles. We don’t just water plants anymore; we watch the earth open up, bubble, draw the droplets in. Air swaps place with water. Shall we be safe if we could go live in water? Say, in submarines?
No question sounds stupid anymore; now that it is now. The times are such.
We’re living it backwards now; I tell my girl. Cotton clothes, plain meals, oiled hair, now that no one’s watching. Who cares who drives what car anymore? We’re watching what we ask for, telling needs from wants, see!
The times are strange, indeed. You cannot step out of your home, and yet, the world comes calling to you at your fingertips. I read reports on utter truths, on sheer lacks that are our lives. And now, even deaths.
“This pandemic kills twice,” says Andrea Cerato, who works in a funeral home in Milan. “First, it isolates you from your loved ones right before you die. Then, it doesn’t allow anyone to get closure. Families are devastated and find it hard to accept.”
And all so sudden, the white-wrapped body that came out of the EWS house with red carpets start to seem lucky.
“With time, there will be vaccines. Medicines too, maybe,” my husband offers. “Yes,” I agree with him. “18 months, they’re saying. By then we’ll all have it. We’ll either die — which we won’t — and so we’ll grow immune. And virility of the virus will diminish over time, with mutations. So later, the weaker.”
But I’m the impossible kind, so before I know, I set out to ascertain. Or otherwise. For the latest opinions have changed: you can have it again, and the virility isn’t going anywhere at all.
One test is to draw air in and hold it for 10 seconds, I tell us. WhatsApp forwards have filled our days now, and so we fill up our lungs. We don’t need the AQI on our phone, one breathe and you can tell the difference that is this air now. The difference. The difference that is life. And death.
It is big; I speak as I let the air out. It is so big that even political adversaries have reached unanimous goodwill. So big, that even they’ve started to do good and be good even when no election is underway and no media is undercover. That difference.
Last evening in the middle of her eighteenth run of the same animation movie, my girl paused and turned: “I wish we had a time machine.” She pulls her dangling feet and springs up on the couch. “You bet,” I tell her. It makes me nostalgic, that word.
As children of the 80s, 2020 was our common favourite for a future, a “hot choice” for the poor man’s sci-fi that never quite saw the light of the day beyond spiderly scribbles in the last few pages of Maths notebooks. From that point, somehow, 2020 always seemed like an enigma. We all had different plots, different climaxes, different characters on different missions to save the world, and in all of it, we always had flying cars and time-machines when it ever came to 2020.
Her spark passes the current to me.
“I’d love to go six months ahead,” I say. “Why?” she’s not convinced. “Well, I could then see who lived and who didn’t, no?” I offer. “No,” she shakes her head and slips down to my side. Her eyes betray her, and I can see she’s shocked at my stupidity. “Silly, we’d go back 6 months and make sure it didn’t happen at all, okay?” she puts an arm around me as if to console a child.