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2020: Hysterical times

New twists keep developing in these uncertain times, with no return to normalcy in sight. The pandemic has brought out the best and the worst in people–from charity to downright callousness. What is a person to do?

meditate, mantra, life skills, reflection,

How do you sum up a very strange year that derailed everyone’s plans and reminded us all of our frailty? Since I can only speak for myself, take this as a journal entry if you will. I realised that for me, the focus has been on food and caretaking. Those two do boil down to essentials. At first, I was enthusiastic about cooking for just the three of us but since my culinary skills are limited, we started ordering in. Almost daily! At first, when the lockdown happened, we got paranoid and asked the house help to stay at home themselves. Cleaning the house and manual chores will make anyone realise the dignity of labour. Yes, the child and husband did help for a few days but eventually their enthusiasm dwindled away due to a pressing schedule–classes, Zoom meetings and calls. So, as the woman/anchor of the house, I could either nag endlessly or choose to find my own solutions. I relented and called the help back. It did make me ponder on two things: privilege and patriarchy. I think the ultimate privilege is being born a man in a patriarchal world (it supersedes economic status, race and caste). Don’t get me wrong, I do value a man’s work. But I just had to say this on behalf of every employed woman. You’re still expected to shoulder or manage most of the housework robotically, especially in joint setups. Even if you yourself try to, it’s hard to shake off what you’ve internalised. Growing up, you learn by watching women around you. Someone must take charge, right? It’s even more trying in these times, when instead of cutting slack, offices are either laying off people or exploiting them to the point of exhaustion.

I’m speaking from the point of view of a homemaker but it’s not like I don’t see the plight of others. There are artisans who aren't making nearly enough, doctors who've caught the virus themselves but still have a duty to perform, teachers who've never been trained to handle an entire school day online, young mothers whose kids aren't going to school and hence are their constant playdate, businesses which are forced to slim down, teams who're managing remotely, abuse victims who have no let up, delivery guys and cabbies who're doing double time, overwhelmed retired persons... the list goes on and on.

Coming back to the year that has been. I spoke with many people who’d lost their loved ones and were grieving. On the other hand, some people were trying to normalise life by meeting with friends occasionally, citing covid fatigue. Since at no other time has anyone been so vulnerable mental health-wise, I reserved no judgement. I’ve always said ‘To each, his own.’ These are not times for social niceties either. I myself have forgone attending family functions because it didn’t seem worth the risk. A friend said, “We asked everyone not to come but when someone dies, people show up anyway. What can be said then?” But patience running out or not, what we see on the news is just statistics. When you speak with an individual, you realise what the family’s been through. There are seniors who feel isolated or are suffering from anxiety but don’t believe in seeking psychiatric help because they’re skeptical or think that video calls with friends and family are help enough. There are children who haven’t met someone their age for a long time, and are demotivated to do anything. Yet others are trying to figure out their academic calendar (will there be entrance exams and admissions or do they take a gap year?)

video call

It’s not all doom and gloom though. In the midst of this chaos, we did find more together time as a family. Since everyone was working from home, we took as many lunch and tea breaks together as possible. We adopted a cat and have been caring for it. Since travel was out of the question and shopping wasn’t required, we managed to save a bit as well. Visits to local parks and less populated galleries have been our getaways. My daughter got to attend many online courses which would have otherwise been offered on campus only. It’s great to see her creativity unfolding. I myself have read dozens of books and watched most films that were on my wish list. I can’t boast of discovering some hidden talent but I did attend many workshops and talks, for my fondness of learning. I helped dad write his autobiography, and got to hear many interesting stories in the process. I organised an online baby shower, and attended weddings and birthdays virtually. At her new school, my daughter made some friends anyhow, without having stepped on campus till date. Without realising, we’ve relied on the two things that help us keep going–resilience and hope. We owe it to each other to keep negativity at bay and learn coping skills individually. It’s tough for everyone. And it is what it is!

Let me conclude by sharing my (not so secret) mantras: This too shall pass, Always choose kindness and I shall remain calm this day.

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