Where masked men stand in chalked circles
It’s something outside you. Perhaps it’s inside you too. You don’t know. Perhaps you are infected. And can infect. Just not showing yet. You step out when you run out of bread. The neighbourhood is suddenly still. With a silence slowly scooping away. Everything you had known here. Every face is now a mask. Scared. Scary. Your local shopkeeper doesn’t smile at you today. Perhaps he doesn’t recognise you. You’re wearing a mask too. There’s this queue. Where masked men stand in chalked circles. Carefully away. From each other. Carefully clutching. What they think they own. Bags, keys, wallets. You stand too. Suddenly someone falls. On the third circle from the shop. Nobody rushes. Nobody touches. He lies still. You watch him breathe. He isn’t dead you think. Gets up slowly. Nobody speaks. Somebody leaves. And then it’s your turn to get in. You notice the price of bread. Is still the same. Just a number. But familiar. A tiny bit that hasn’t changed. — Avishek Parui
I don’t squash bugs. I blow them away or if they are particularly large, I make them amble on an A4 sheet and shake or flick them down from my 4th floor balcony. I like to think that they fell to their deaths and not just fly away to a different window, balcony or a tree, an act that I call these days “assisted suicide” - blame it on the TV series and movies.
While packing enough chillis at the supermarket to last a few weeks, a small bug landed on my index finger. Instinctively I blew on it, but there it was, still, round, small, impervious and unshaken, like our lockdown efforts that just blow up in our faces everyday. A realization set in slowly as I felt the settling perspiration on my lips and heard the breaths I drew - this is going to stay a while. — Shantam Raj
बहुत तकलीफ़ है मुझको अभी ज़माने में
बहुत तकलीफ़ है मुझको अभी ज़माने में,
दीवार-ओ-दर मुझे घेरे हैं आशियाने में।
बनाने बैठता हूं जब उदासी की तस्वीर,
उतर जाती है मेरी ज़िन्दगी बनाने में।
बहाने हम नहीं कर पाते तुमसे मिलने के,
तसल्ली हम ये ख़ुद को देते हैं बहाने में।
यही हम सोचकर ले आए साथ घर अपना,
न ही सहरा न ही है दश्त इस फ़साने में।
ये कमरा और दीवारें तो आज़मा ही चुके,
तो क्या ही हर्ज़ है ख़ुद को भी आज़माने में।
कि यूं तो ख़र्च खुद को बेहिसाब करते हैं,
लगाएं वक़्त ये ख़ुद को ज़रा कमाने में।
इसी ख़ुरफ़ात में ख़ुद को सुबह जगाते हैं,
सुनेंगे आज क्या चिड़ियों के चहचहाने में।
बराए नाम ही उम्मीद है बची लेकिन,
बराए नाम होगी कारगर बचाने में।
— Sujeet Saurav
Flowers for my mother
I have been given the duty of saving lives by staying inside. But as I look at my mother, dread creeps back into my mind. Mother hasn’t had the blessed luck to stay inside and save lives. You see, my mother is one of those people who are literally saving people’s lives. I have heard numerous stories of her adventures at work. Some fill you with hope, some scar you for life and all of them make you look at her with wonder. I have always been proud of her work. But this time, everyday as she steps out, I imagine invisible foes ready to bring her down. It feels as if this time the stakes are too high, for she is not only fighting a disease about which we learn something new everyday, but also the helplessness of the system.
Soldiers are armoured when they go to the front line. I watch my mother put on her armour - her white sari, white apron and a flimsy surgical mask. Flimsy? Because the health centres are out of N95s. I don’t even want to bring up the debacle involving PPEs. Everyday I send her off with this thought that maybe today is the unlucky day when her fragile armour falls short and Coronavirus comes home. The horror of the possibility perturbs me and leaves me terrified. I ask her to make fake excuses and stay home. I ask her to outright resign and just stay home. I brush aside any grand ideas of public service and ask her to not go out. When it comes to your loved ones, all ideas of selflessness seem futile. But she smiles and reminds me of the oath she took when she chose this profession. I curse her oath, I curse her selfless heart. But more than that, I curse this failed system. The system that spends billions on weapons of mass destruction but turns impotent when it comes to equipping the health professionals with adequate tools.
The other day there were flower showers to show appreciation. The same day I saw exasperation on my mother’s face as she asked me if this gesture means that now all healthcare workers will get enough protective equipment. Next day she goes out to work in the same old attire. I look at her walk away and agonize over the futility of flowers they showered for my mother. — Angkana Kalita
2 weeks remained for the next story to begin. A story about another world. May be one of hope. Or hopelessness. Or both. And then a sudden abrupt recess. From everything that meant. From everything that was meaning to be. A recess, grappling for a parentheses, to be able to mean.
A recess that felt utterly devoid of meaning. And yet, silently a lifetime of meaning froze into it. A recess that proved that after all, this recess is all. A potent teller of stories never meant to be told. Stories so precious that they are best never told. — Priyanka Saha
The Lockdown Conundrum
As the lockdown stretches on, I’ve lost track of how many days have passed. I get out of bed at 1 p.m. and skip straight to lunch. As for work, I’ve been putting it off till evening, sometimes till night, and most often, till tomorrow or two days later. Lockdown makes sure I am not accountable to anyone.
For the first time since forever, my schedule for the day is empty. Sure, this sounds wonderful because I’ve opportunities to indulge in creative pursuits. But, I’ve no clue about what creative pursuit to indulge in and that’s terrifying.
I call this problem the “Lockdown Conundrum”.
But what is the solution?
Just because motivational pages on the internet urge me to not “waste” time, there’s no need for me to pressurize myself if I’m not doing enough. The world is consumed by a mad rush to produce more, to “invest in the future”. But it pays to remember that we humans shouldn’t measure our self-worth by how “productive” we are.
It’s wonderful on days when we manage to work. But on others, we need to learn to forgive ourselves for being lazy.
Not being productive doesn’t mean we aren’t good enough.
— Anangsha Alammyan
I come out to the grilled balcony of my ground floor flat. A self-involved couple lives in the flat on my left, and an office of a real estate agent occupies the one on the right. Since the lockdown, a peon lives there. Mahesh. I drink my evening tea as I look at the semi-greenery in front. The flats around look desolate. The pavement in front is empty. Normally, would have been evening-walked.
I wait for Mahesh to show up. We talk, from balcony to balcony, as we both sip our evening drink. I, my green tea; he, his black. That’s what he prefers, he says. I don’t know if he has money to buy milk every day with his peon’s salary. A distance of around three metres separates our balconies. We talk of the economy, food, health, Corona… in the evenings. He hasn’t shown up today. Yet.
I notice a masked man walking, carrying a big bag in the distance. Must be on his way to the grocery’s. He seems to avoid visual contact too as he treads.
Hello sir! Kya haal hai? I hear Mahesh’s voice. He calls me sir reverentially. Maybe because I teach in a college. We begin chatting. Lockdown, home, to eat chicken or not. Our distant balconies come close in the evenings.
— Manoj Hazarika
You have more time now
The alarm goes off. It’s 9 o’clock. Quick, get ready for office. Oh, work from home…no waking up early and travelling to the office. Yay! You get more time now. What do you do, you think. Go back to sleep. What time is it? 10? 10:30. Quickly, get your breakfast and take a bath before you change into your shorts again. The day starts with a meeting. You keep the video off then. Meeting over? Let’s get to work. Tired of sitting at the same place? Grab a mask and get some milk. Back to work now. But, now you are tired of staring into a screen. It’s okay. You have more time now. Take a break. Go for a walk. Right, you just dawdle in the hall! It’s evening already? Office hours are up, unpaid overtime starts. But first, you watch that movie that’s been waiting. After all, you have more time now. It’s night. The movie was amazing. But you are exhausted. You are going to sleep now. You can always work tomorrow. Because you have more time now.
— Ashish Poddar
Ignorance isn’t bliss
A week before the lockdown started, my mother suggested me to buy some homoeopathic medicine, claiming to cure COVID-19. I showed her an article that proved otherwise. Since then, for a whole month, it seemed like that was all I did - bust myths that circulated as WhatsApp forwards mostly among the elderly (and sometimes even educated people my age). Felt like I was fighting a completely different war - against fake news.
One thing that this terrible situation has triggered is the increased amount of fake news and scams, but also an increased number of people fighting the spread of misinformation, which in turn has led to a general apprehension for these mystic cures and too good to be true message forwards. Ignorance isn’t always bliss. That reminds me, do not inject yourself with bleach, and no, drinking alcohol won’t keep you safe from the virus either. Practicing social distancing and good personal hygiene will.
One such WhatsApp University forward claimed some citrus fruits have pH values of 15.6 and 22.7 that help kill the virus - which is acidic.
Highest pH value on the pH scale 14 and viruses don’t have a pH value.
— Zenitha Das
Lockdown 2020: Finally the Earth Breathes
One day at a time as we moved deeper into this global lockdown, with extension after extension, most people were cribbing about the adversities of shutdown. Despondent terms like economic crises and recession were circling around, however, I was jumping with joy as day after day I read one good news after the other - the water in the canals of Venice looked pristine, dolphins were sighted in the shores of Mumbai, turtles were relaxing by the beach in Odisha, animals were sighted roaming freely in the streets of various countries, the air pollution has decreased substantially even in hopeless places like Delhi, and the latest (and my personal favorite!) spectacular bioluminescent waves with glowing dolphins sighted in the coasts of California.
A few months back, there was a discussion on climate change and someone said something that has stuck with me ever since - “The earth doesn’t need saving, it is us human beings who need to be saved from the after-effects of our actions.” In just a matter of a few months, if the Earth could heal itself, imagine what it could do if this lockdown lasted longer!
— Anandita Pattnaik
A grey squirrel is nesting by the brown window. Three baby squirrels peeping out, getting fed, jumping nervously to the trees. Always coming back to their nest, looking around with their laser eyes.
They see another little room. A tireless AC, a slow fan, lights that cut into the nights. A screen left open, blank and black or colourful and moving or growing unsteadily in neatly spaced lines and rows. A table for reading, writing, sitting, dining, meeting.
They see more.
A cup of freshly brewed tea beside leftovers of snacks. Colour pencils that stain the walls, baby fingers that draw on curry stains, overplayed toys, calendar dates that are weeks old, wardrobes that are rarely opened, cosmetics that are abandoned, bags and shoes that gather dust, keys that have forgotten their turns, alarms that are silenced, and a bed that is no longer clocked.
They see more.
The rushing in between chores, the metamorphosis on screen, the uncapped conversations that bookend time.
They see less now, from the trees they have disappeared into. Never returning to their nest by the window. This little room stays, never letting go of the nest, waiting to be witnessed and remembered.
— Merin Simi Raj
An empty ceiling hangs numb
I stand behind a window
A void glares at me back
It was only
We loved to live
On the other side
My feet ache
I try to make sense
And yet I fail
My eyes forage
For empty words,
And all that would
count the most
The window panes
Latched onto them
A no man’s land
And birds flock
The sun shines bright
On the other side
All dust and rubble