Author Archives: Deepika Sahu

About Deepika Sahu

I earn my living through writing stories, editing what other people write (in simple terms, I am a journalist). I dream of opening a cafeteria in the mountains, owning a beach home on the shores of Bay of Bengal... but right now, they all seem like wild dreams. A gypsy at heart --- am passionate about India's rich diversity, life, music, words, cooking for people I love, soaking in the lashing rain and just looking at the changing colours of the sky. I am a great fan of the Indian Railways and I long to travel in First Class AC coupe across India with my man.

Tiny Love Story – 2

It was raining. The night was deep. The only source of light was the flickering street lamp.
They were together on the last range of the Arravalis. She was lying on his lap.
He was talking passionately about the book Lady Chatterley’s Love.

Suddenly, she  drew his face close to hers and whispered, “ Do you remember the first line of the novel?”

He paused. She said, “Ours is essentially a tragic age. So, we refuse to take it tragically.”

 

 

A very very Indian middle class post

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Many years ago, my friend’s aunt came to see us in Delhi and at that time we were studying in JNU. Apart from sweets and savouries, she gave us a plastic bag which had lots of tea bags, sugar sachets, tomato sauce sachets, little jam packets and the like. She was travelling by Rajdhani Express (from Bhubaneswar to New Delhi). She was travelling with a group of friends and she had collected all these for us from the breakfast and evening tea kitty offered by the Rajdhani express. We squealed in joy when she gave us this bag full of ‘precious little joys’. Never mind, even if we were getting enough jam and butter during breakfast in our hostel mess.

And needless to say, I have also embraced this great habit of collecting little joys of life. The tiny round soap you see in the above pic is from Ramada hotel in Amritsar (I stayed at the hotel last July). Is it stealing? I don’t think so.

The only thing I am seriously thinking now is: Why did I get the soap? I only use Fab India’s soap. But you know, there’s something called middle class psyche. So, let us leave it there only.

My husband travels much more than I do and he stays at nice, luxurious hotels (as part of his work). My only instruction to him is to pick up all the Forest Essential and Biotique products from the hotels with single minded devotion. I don’t have much interest in other brands but then they should be picked up too. But he can be forgiven if he falters here. I will not make a hue and cry.  Like, I only pick up Earl Grey tea bags from the hotel rooms where I stay. I give a royal ignore to other tea bags. As tea is my passion in life, I am choosy on this front.

When the Covid-19 pandemic induced homestay forced me to clean some of my drawers, I found a goldmine of moisturisers, body lotions, shampoos and conditioners— all collected from different hotels. Well, in spite of a salary cut, I felt very rich using my Forest Essential body lotion, shampoo and conditioner. I mean, what more can I ask for in a pandemic? I sincerely pray for the hotel industry’s good health in future. May I get more chance to add to my collection.

Earlier this year,  another well-travelled middle class friend of mine came to meet me in Ahmedabad. He got me lots of gifts which also included a pretty little bag having an entire set of manicure and pedicure accessories. Well, he didn’t buy it but picked it up from  some fancy hotel he stayed in during his foreign travel.  It’s a definitely a pleasure to have friends who have the same philosophy in life.

I am eagerly waiting for things to be better so that I can travel and stay in some nice hotels. And of course add to my rich collection of moisturisers, shampoos and conditioners. I can’t wait to do that.

PS: Even if you are judging me after reading this post, I am fine with it. For once a middle class person, always a middle class person. And here I am happily so.

Remember, I pay my taxes with utmost honesty. 

 

 

 

Tiny Love Story

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(A still from Raj Kapoor-Nargis starrer Shree 420)

She: It could have been us (she messaged him on whatsapp with this pic) 

He: It is Us  (Full Stop).

PS She read his message and went back to her Work From Home desk. With a smile. She believed even her Macbook Air smiled that moment.

From my mother’s home: Lessons learnt

JULY 17, 2020
ASHALATA. That was my mother’s name. I learnt more from her than anyone else in this whole wide world. Her home was her shrine. She bid goodbye to this physical world on October 18, 2013. Today is her birthday. In an ideal COVID-19 free world, I would have offered prayers for her at the Golden Temple, Amritsar. Like the way I did last year. But, this year,  I am sitting at my home in Ahmedabad writing this blog. Writing about her is also prayer. 
Home (for those of us who are privileged to have the luxury of having one) has now become the centre of our universe. To deal with the cruelty of COVID-19 pandemic. Home is not just a place, home is all about safety, security, peace, love and nurturing. If you have one, nurture it, respect it and share it with people in myriad ways.
In this note, I am sharing some of the lessons I have learnt from the way my mother managed her home with love, care and wisdom. The beauty was that she  never let any of us feel deprived even though she managed home with limited resources (I grew up in a single income household). I sincerely hope (the literal meaning of my mother’s name is HOPE) that her lessons will strike a chord with some of you. Here’s to Maa, the essence of my home. 
MAINTAIN A ROUTINE:  For my mother, maintaining a routine was sacred. Even when she was battling cancer, she followed her routine — waking up early in the morning, having a shower and doing her morning puja (prayers).  She was disciplined and it reflected in the way she managed a large family. She took her responsibility of managing a home seriously and did it with total commitment.
maa
(FROM MEMORY: My mother sitting at her home in Bhubaneswar)
BE WELL-DRESSED AT HOME:  Work From Home (WFH) was her forte even before it became a COVID-19 induced necessity for many of us across the world. She was always well-dressed at home (Now that I am into WFH mode, I really need to embrace this). She always wore ironed saris at home and her blouses were perfectly matched with her saris. Her hair was properly combed. Her logic was, “You must dress well for yourself. Just because you are at home, you need not be badly dressed.” Everything in her wardrobe was kept in their place, the silk saris were kept on the middle shelf of the wardrobe, the cotton ones were put on the other two shelves, The shawls were on the top shelf of the wardrobe. As she wore saris even at home, she only wore cotton ones (at home). And the saris were always rotated so that all her saris stayed well-circulated and each one of them got a pick.
BE INVOLVED: We always had part-time domestic staff (sometimes full time too) at home to manage household chores.  But my mother was the conductor of this orchestra. She was totally involved in all household matters. Nothing ever missed her sharp eye.  She was always a hands on homemaker or rather home-manager. Every Sunday, she changed all the bedcovers. A small diary was always maintained to keep track of groceries bought, clothes given for ironing and the like. Everything was well-documented even though she had no idea of an Excel sheet.
BE KIND TO YOUR DOMESTIC STAFF: My mother always looked after the needs of  people who worked with us at home. She helped them with groceries, vegetables and money as per their need. She always maintained that one must look after a hungry stomach. Dhira bhai was the one who worked with her at home for many years and later on he went back to his village. When my mother passed away, he came to our house to mourn with us. He tonsured his head (a ritual in India… a son does so after he loses his parents) because he considered her as his mother.
STOCK YOUR KITCHEN WELL: Her kitchen was all about everything that tasted delicious. She could whip up a delicious meal without making any noise about it. She believed that one must have potato, onion, tomato and eggs in the kitchen to sail through any emergency. This lesson really helped me a lot when Ahmedabad was in a complete shutdown mode for little more than a week during the pandemic. She always kept homemade snacks so that a guest was treated well.
ALWAYS KEEP NEW CLOTHES AT HOME: At any given time, you must have new clothes at home so that if you have an unexpected guest, you can gift him/her a gift. You might not get a chance to rush to the market to get a gift or there are chances that the market is closed. So, it’s better to have new stuff at home.
KEEP EXTRA CASH FOR EMERGENCY: Well, I know we all live in an age of net-banking, and plastic money.  I don’t use a credit card  but I am quite a net-banking person. At the same time,  I have her genes. So, I always keep cash with me. In fact, like my mother, I keep cash in different wallets and handbags of mine. This habit of mine helped me a lot during demonetisation. It also came to my rescue during the lockdown. I could pay my domestic staff regularly without going to an ATM. I could also help some people during the pandemic because they needed cash and I had it to share with them.
KNOW YOUR HOUSEHOLD INVENTORY: My mother could have given stiff competition to any efficient housekeeping chief of a five star hotel when it comes to inventory management. Every time she took out the last toothpaste/soap/shampoo bottle from her kitty for use, she would buy the new lot so that the inventory stayed well-oiled and well-stocked. No need to run like a crazy soul when something gets over. You just need to take it out from the cupboard. So, keep an eye on your inventory.
TREAT INANIMATE OBJECTS WITH RESPECT: There was one fundamental principle my mother followed and encouraged all of us to follow. She believed that one should be able to locate things even in darkness. She truly believed that every non-living thing too has a soul. If you take a scissor from the table, keep it back there only (after using it) so that you won’t waste time looking for it when you need it again.  Treat everything with respect and care. I grew up seeing her looking after LP records (Yes, there was a time when we used to listen to music that way only) with great love and care. She had a suitcase which was home to all her precious LP records. I  never saw a LP record lying sans a cover. At regular interval, the records were wiped gently with a cloth. To keep them dust free.
WASTE IS JUST NOT A COOL WORD: Long before slow living, sustainability, up-cycling and re-cycling became cool new-age words, my mother practised all this at her home in  Odisha. So, a Horlicks bottle (after its use) was cleaned in the most efficient way and was reused as a spice bottle. Large orange cream biscuit tins were reused to store lentils and rice. Everything was put to good use. Same went for vegetables too. My mother used to cook an amazing dish with the stems of cauliflower (which many people just throw it away).
LOVE IS HOW YOU SPEND TIME: Time is precious. So, respect time and make the best use of time so that you make your life more textured and rich.  My mother did not have a fancy university degree. But she was very aware of what’s happening in the world. Every day, she spent time in reading three vernacular newspapers. She was the one who introduced me to the rich, vibrant world of Odia literature. She was a wonderful storyteller and whenever she read a good poem or short-story, she shared with us. She listened to music regularly. She made sure that her world became much larger than the one she was living in. One of her bedroom cupboards was full of Odia books and magazines. I still turn to that cupboard when I visit home. So, love is what we do with our time.
P S: (My younger sister Subhrasima Jesthi (who lives in Atlanta) helped me in writing this blog on our mother. Happy Reading)

My father, my moral compass

Like many daughters across the world, I always considered myself as ‘daddy’s daughter’ during my growing up years. I guess rightfully so. My father was my first teacher in life as he was the one who taught me the alphabets. My mom always looked after my sisters’ studies whereas my dad looked after mine. Being an academician, he took his job as ‘my home teacher’ very seriously. In addition to teaching me, he had his own way of testing my learning and grasping abilities.

The common practice was that dad would give me a test paper and the test timing would be set just like the school examination. I would quietly sit at my study table and write the exam. I was always looking forward to these tests because I was only competing with myself. It always felt special and different. Most importantly, there was no pressure of coming first and there was no sight of invigilators hovering around me. So, in many ways it was quite fun.

This was about one such fun test on a Sunday.  I was in Class IV. I was looking forward to my mother’s delicious mutton curry  when my father suddenly told me in the morning, “Let’s have an English test.” Well, there was no way I could have said no. My dad got into the process of writing the test paper. He had an enviable handwriting and  he always used a fountain pen.

Even as I had started writing the answers of my questions, I suddenly spotted my English book on the table. I immediately called my father. He came quickly and asked me what was the matter. I told him, “Baba, you have left the English book on my table. Please take it and put it on the top of the almirah so that  I wont be able to see it while writing the test.”

Then my father said,”No, let it be there next to you.” I asked him, “But why?” He told me, “There are two reasons why I want the book to be here next to you even as you are writing the test. The first reason is that I trust you completely. And I know that you will not betray my trust. The second reason is that you are the person because of what you do with your conscience. There will be always temptations in life and there will be times when you will be tempted to do something because nobody is looking at you. But then in the end, it’s about living with your conscience and staying true to yourself.”

Those words have stayed with me since then. There have been temptations. But I know what to do. Just look at my own conscience and act accordingly. I have never bothered about whether others are looking at me or not. I have always tried to stay true to my core. Thank you, Baba. For being my greatest teacher.

(I lost my dad in January, 2011. But his teachings remain with me. A longer version of this story was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Indian Fathers)

(One from the album: Dad and I at my sister’s wedding. I was a student of JNU then)

baba

My #LockdownDiary: Unlocking thoughts

PROLOGUE: How will history look at 2020? How will history look at stories of ordinary men and women living through the horrors of COVID-19 pandemic? Will the future generations believe our stories of loss, love, hunger, death, grief, gratitude and of course privileges? Will they believe that in one lifetime we grew up without ever knowing words like social distancing, home quarantine and then we ended up embracing these words in our day-to-day life? And no matter how many times they say, “We are all in it together’, remember it’s not true. Remember, it’s a luxury to have a home, food on the table, a job and an internet connection to enable you to Work From Home. The world is not equal and it will never be. That’s why, one man’s story is different from another. So, here are some pages from my diary written during the Lockdown India 2020 and Unlocking 1.0.
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AHMEDABAD
March 25, 2020 : The first day of the lockdown in India. For me, it started on a note of loss and grief. I lost my father in law today. When I reached his house in Ahmedabad’s Walled city, I was totally numb. How will we manage the funeral? That was my predominant thought. But then life has its own way of operating. In the midst of a complete lockdown, the way our neighbours helped us reaffirmed my faith in humanity. All is not lost. Even in times of Corona.
March 26, 2020 : As we are all Working From Home (WFH), I have to come back to my own apartment in the Western part of Ahmedabad. My in-law’s home does not have Wi-Fi. I need high speed internet for my work. As I have an auto-immune disorder,  I need to be very careful in times like this. My husband and I arrive at a decision that  he must stay with my mom-in-law to give her support and care. Because of the lockdown, we could not have any rituals after my father-in-law passed away.  My mom-in-law is not ready to move out of her home without performing those rituals and we decide to respect her wishes.
So, here I am living in my apartment all alone. A river (Sabarmati), a bridge (Nehru Bridge… It still surprises me that its name is not being changed), a deadly virus and a lockdown — keeping us separate as a family. We have to live with this separation. I have no idea about how the lockdown would be for me. We are just on the day 2 of the Lockdown 1.0.
March 27, 2020 : It’s late evening. The soft yellow light of my lamp makes my living room look gentle. I look around my home. I am all alone. I can almost hear my own breath. I remember Vikram Seth’s poem, “All you who sleep tonight/Far from the ones you love/ No hand to left or right/And the emptiness above/ Know that you aren’t alone/ The whole world shares your tears/ Some for two nights or one/ And some for all their years.”
March 28, 2020: All these teachers and mentors who told me : “Everything is in your hand.” Well, they were all right but right now we all need a soap in hand. I keep on washing my hand every now and then. Sometimes for 20 seconds. Sometimes more than that. With a sense of fear and uncertainty.
March 29, 2020:  Taraben and Gopi, who take care of us and our home, are on paid leave since March 23. I am cooking, washing utensils, clothes and cleaning the house. Do you call this being ‘Atmanirbhar’? My day just revolves around my office work and household work. Nothing else.
March 31,2020: I imagine my phone and my laptop  having a conversation, “Why is she clinging to us so much these days?”
April 1, 2020:  I  complete 25 years of being a journalist. On April1, 1995, I had joined Press Trust of India (PTI), New Delhi as a trainee journalist. I think of writing a blog on this long journey. But half way through the process of writing, I leave it. I will look back later, I say to myself.
April 3, 2020 : Taraben, my cook works in 4 houses. She has not received a single phone call from three houses since March 25 and there is no sign of her March salary. They are her  super rich employers. Probably, being rich and being brutal go together.
April 4, 2020 : I have no idea from where so many utensils gather in the kitchen sink. Are they on steroids? How do they manage to grow so fast?  I tweet, “Aagle janam ki bartan bhi aaj saaf kar diya (I have cleaned utensils from my next birth too). My respect for my domestic staff has gone up. They do so much to make life better for me.

April 5, 2020: Every single tomato in my fridge now looks like a diamond to me. I have never looked at my fridge with so much of intensity. Sometimes, while looking at the items in my fridge, I feel like an ISI agent.

 

April 7, 2020:  It’s Buddha Purnima today. It’s also the night of the Super Moon. I want to see the rising moon. I brace myself, wear my mask and open my door to go downstairs so that I can see the rising moon from my apartment’s parking space. But, as I walk out of my door, I come back. I just don’t feel like going out. The moon looks distant. May be it’s fear in my mind.
April 12, 2020: My air-ticket to Bhubaneswar scheduled for June 7 pops up in my gmail inbox while I am searching for something else. I had booked it in the first week of March when I, like millions, had no idea of the life waiting for us ahead, I look at the ticket in my e-mail and think to myself, “Odisha, I hope to see you in June. Till then… stay safe.” My mind wanders — I think of home, the dancing waves, salty breeze of the Bay of Bengal, tiny samosas with cubed potatoes, maccha manji bara (Fish egg fritters fried with gram flour and finely chopped onions). I am suddenly pining for this pre-monsoon and monsoon Odia delicacy.  It’s April 12 and June 7 seems far away. I will make it,  I think to myself.
April 16, 2020: Woke up terribly missing my dad who was a good cook too. Tried his recipe of gobi aloo. Felt a lil better. Food is a necessity, food is memory and an emotion too.
April 23, 2020: After a month of Working From Home, my mind can’t differentiate between #WFH and #WTF. I put this status on my Facebook timeline. Working from Home has been one of the most brutal, aggressive experiences of my life. It has taken away my sense of being and self. On most days, I feel like my sleek, stylish MacBook Air. Fabulously productive yet without a soul. Every day, I remember Stud Terkel’s brilliant and deeply evocative book Working. Salary cuts, pink slips have become part of our  work vocabulary. I dream of opening a cafe in the mountains.

April 27, 2020: Had ordered a hard copy of Joan Didion’s Blue Nights on Feb 28. I don’t know when will the book be delivered in real time. Today, my intense Didion longing forced me to get the book on kindle.

April 28, 2020: Today is yesterday, today, tomorrow and day after tomorrow. Today is everyday. Today is Sunday and Wednesday too. I have lost sense of day, date.

April 30, 2020: I finish reading Blue Nights at one go in the stillness of night. “Time passes. Memory fades, memory adjusts, memory conforms to what we think we remember,” Didion writes in Blue Nights. Finishing the book at one go gives me a rush of happiness. In the entire month of April, I have read only one book. Everything seems to be in a still mode. Other than work.

May 1, 2020:  Home. I am sitting in the comforts of my home and thinking about home. Images of migrants walking back to their homes haunt me. Home is a long, long walk for them. Some will reach home, some will never. Some walking with few rotis and green chillies in a small plastic packet to see them through this harsh journey back home. Some can’t even afford that. I think of the word ‘migrant’. Migrant in  your own land, in your own soil. Whose land is it, anyway? Not theirs by any stretch of imagination… if you see their struggle to reach home.   
May 3, 2020: Indian Air Force (IAF) planes shower petals on various hospitals and thereby honour our healthcare professionals. And then you read news reports about doctors and nurses not being allowed to enter into their own houses because their neighbours suspect them to be Corona virus carriers. For many of them, PPE kit is a luxury. I remember the achingly beautiful narrative by a nurse in NewYorker. She writes, “This is what I am trained to do. I did it in the past. I will do it in the future. This appreciation for my work overwhelms me. I know no other way of working.”
May 4, 2020: Ahmedabad is getting worse in terms of corona crisis. The death tolls are increasing. Everything seems to be in a mess. The public health care system itself is on a ventilator, gasping for life and breath.

May 6,2020: In the midst of a Zoom call, I get to know that Ahmedabad shuts down for a week from May 7 -14. Only milk and medicine shops will remain open during this week. I make a mental note of what vegetables I have. I realise that I have no option but to sail through. My friend calls me late in the night to find out whether I have enough to manage for a week. Enough has taken a new meaning during the lockdown.

May 8, 2020:  Sixteen migrant labourers were crushed to death early in the morning by a goods train in Maharashtra after they fell asleep on the tracks. The accident happened between Jalna and Aurangabad. They were dog tired, as no passenger trains were plying, they had no idea of any train running on the tracks. My heart sank when I read this news. Trains taking people home, people getting crushed to death under a train when they were on their way home. The irony called life.

May 12, 2020: I am thinking of food, hunger, vegetables. Aloo, aloo … my intense love affair with potatoes has gone horribly wrong now. We still have three more days before we can get fresh vegetables. I share some nutrela chunks with Gopi and she gets some parwals from her home (she knows that I love parwal). Our survival depends on being inter-connected.

May 16, 2020: Have been thinking of home. I think of  my friend Avijit’s words in an article, “Home is the only place that the GPS of our hearts is programmed to take us to when we feel lost or in trouble,” Home is where we feel safe. Home is the place we turn to when the world abandons us. When we feel hurt and wounded, we rush back home.

May 18, 2020: I am missing touch. The tactile experience of life. I am missing hugging another human being. Every other human being feels like a potential enemy. Everyone is an invisible enemy.

May 20, 2020 : After 57 days, I ventured out of my home for the first time to buy few grocery items. At 6.30 in the morning, the city felt intimidating and I felt like a total stranger in my own Ahmedabad  which has been my home for the last 20 years. I came home and burst into tears. Why did I cry? I have no idea. But something precious has been lost.

May 23, 2020: I open my wardrobe, I see kurtas, saris, jeans, skirts perfectly ironed and stacked up. I look at myself and I am surviving on four T shirts and four tights. Do I need so much of clothes? How much do we really need? What defines me in the end?

MAY 24, 2020: I am reading and rereading  Italian writer Francesca Melandri’s deeply moving piece, “A letter to the UK from Italy, this is what your future looks like’. She writes, “When all of this is over, the world will not be the same.” Her writing feels like  a healer during this isolation period. I keep going back to her words to draw strength. She makes me aware of the fact that it’s a luxury to have a home.

May 27, 2020: The state government has come up with easing of lockdown guidelines. Following the new guidelines, my beloved Taraben is back in my home and kitchen.  My home feels loved with her presence. We laugh, talk and she cooks a delicious lauki kofta curry for me. This is the first time she is cooking this dish for me. She wants me to eat more as she feels I have lost weight. She tells me, “Didi, this two month break is God’s gift to me.” People like her can’t afford to take a break from work. They are not privileged.

 

JUNE 1, UNLOCK 1.0

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June 1, 2020 : First day of Unlock 1.0. Wow, I thought. I sailed through the lockdown without making Dalgona coffee/ banana bread or even taking that mindless sari challenge on Facebook. I managed being all alone at home. I developed a more intimate bond with my neighbour and her daughter during this lockdown. We shared books, kachoris, cakes, chocolates and kheer. We celebrated a birthday with whatever we had.

June 2, 2020: I look at my overworked laptop with a sense of tenderness. The laptop feels like an old trusted friend.

June 4, 2020:  The South-West monsoon has hit Kerala, I take out Alexander Frater’s Chasing the Monsoon from my bookshelf to savour it once again. It has been a personal ritual for many many years now. Some things do not change even during a pandemic. And they should not also.

June 5, 2020: I finish work before sunset. It feels surreal and I am incredibly happy. I go to my neighbourhood grocery shop. He is very happy to see me and my beautiful cotton mask. I ask him, “Will you give me a change for Rs 2000?’ He tells me, “Have I ever said ‘No’ to you?” That human connection makes me feel happy. I come back home and see the colours of the sky changing. And then it’s time for flying curtains, dancing lamps, a steaming cup of tea and lashing rains. I stand in the balcony and stretch out my hand. Raindrops fall on my palm. Luckily, there is no social distancing between the rains and me.

I sit on the floor, lean against the wall and look at the rains. I think of life, relationships. I think of friends who called up in the beginning of the lockdown to say, ‘Oh, you are all alone. Will call you regularly to check on you.” And they never called back. Each to his/her own.And there are some who have made a phone call every single day. Just like that. Without making any promise. Or without making it sound like a favour they are doing. Friends who  sent Earl Grey tea bags when they came to know that my tea stock was getting over. Friends who came to give me a bottle of homemade lemon pickle. Friends who made me laugh when I felt lost.

And then I would not have survived this lockdown without Gopi, my rockstar, who came home every week to give all my grocery essentials, vegetables and fruits, If I didn’t venture out of my home for 57 days then it’s only because she made sure that I get all the provisions I need. I can’t repay her love and care in this lifetime. And to top it all, she doesn’t feel that she has done anything extra-ordinary.

JUNE 7, 2020: In an ideal world, I would have been in Bhubaneswar today. But right now, I am sitting in my Ahmedabad home.  Life is not ideal. Anything can change, anytime. But a little empathy can go a long way in making this world a better place. A little virus has taught us this.

 

 

ON JUNE 8, 2020: THE MALLS, RESTAURANTS WILL OPEN IN AHMEDABAD.

First rains…

Ahmedabad, June 5, 2020.

Flying curtains, dancing lamps, steaming cup of tea, social distancing,  isolation life and  rains lashing against the lamp post.

Parched soul feels happy. Everything feels soft, gentle. A sense of being content even in the times of Corona.

Ironically, it’s World Environment Day. Are the rains telling us something? Is there a message from above?

May we all heal.

Eid Mubarak 2020

Eid Mubarak.

I am really happy that one of my close friends kept roza for the first time, this Ramzan.  I have been also thinking to do the same for last few years. But I guess, you really don’t plan these things and then consciously dive into it. It just happens organically when the right time comes.
History will remember this Eid. Future generations will look back at Ramzan and Eid 2020 to understand how humanity sailed through this extra-ordinary times. Every Eid, in newspaper offices, we journalists go through pics of young, smiling kids hugging each other, believers offering prayer in mosques,  kneeling next to each other. This year, it’s all so quiet, so different.
But then beyond everything, there is something called FAITH. I was reading in an  article yesterday in which the embroidery workers of Lucknow told, “Our livelihood has gone because the workshops are closed for the last two months. There is no money left. All that we have is our faith in Allah.”
I remember reading about Bibi Zulaikha, or Maa Saheba,  mother of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya telling her son when there was no food in the house, “Nizam, Today we are the guests of Allah.”
The more I experience life, the more I am in awe of ordinary men and women who have faith and the way they sail through life in a quiet, dignified way. Our rational, limited linear thought process just feels so inadequate to understand that faith.
Looking back, I feel my mother had that faith. I wish I had her faith. She never felt the lack of anything in life. She could always whip up the most delicious meals even when there was not much in the kitchen. Faith gives you that ability to turn less into more.
As I write this note, I realise today In India, we complete two whole months of lockdown … March 25 to May 25.
I hope, in the days ahead, we become better versions of ourselves and offer ourselves to the world so that it becomes more humane and gentle.  We owe it to the world which has given us a chance to experience love and belonging in its most tender form.
 

#Lockdowndiary: Stranger in my own city

MAY 20, 2020, AHMEDABAD (LOCKDOWN 4.0)

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After 57 days (since the lockdown was announced in India on March 25), today early in the morning I ventured out of my home for the first time. The city felt intimidating. I felt like a complete stranger in the city which has been my home for the last 20 years.

Since yesterday, I have been mentally preparing myself to go to the neighbourhood shop to buy certain items. Even essential items for me are luxury for some. As I could not find   the shop’s contact number, I looked for it in google. I had made a call to find out about the shop’s timing. The person who picked up the phone told me to come at 6 in the morning. I set my alarm clock before hitting the bed.

In the morning, I got ready, put my homemade cotton mask and ventured out. I felt nervous, unsure. I was happy to meet Santosh bhaiya, my building’s security guard. We exchanged greetings.

As I walked towards the shop, the city felt intimidating. I felt like a complete stranger in the city which has been my home for the last 20 years. Few masked men and women were on the street as it was early in the morning. I could not see contours of any face.

I had to wait for a little while as the  owner of the shop had not arrived. He then came on his two-wheeler. ‘Good morning,’ I told him.  He said, “Beta, good morning.” He fed grains to the pigeons before opening the shop.

His shop always had shelves full of things. Today, his shop did not fit into what I have always seen.  I had never seen empty shelves in his shop. I felt odd, a sense of emptiness. I bought things I wanted, some things were not there. We exchanged money with a sense of caution. Before leaving the shop, I told him to take care of himself. He wished the same to me.

I walked back home with a sense of urgency. The vegetable, fruits vendors were arranging their carts to start another day. The police van was moving around asking everyone to follow official guidelines. Behind masks, everyone looked distant, cold. It was as if I walking through a ghost town.

I reached home, put my clothes and mask in a bucket for washing . I washed my hand with soap for little more than 25 seconds. I then burst into crying. I still don’t know why did I cry. But I just couldn’t stop the tears.  I don’t know whether the tears are for the uncertain times we are living in or for the faceless migrant workers walking back home under a brutal sun, some dying on the road, some being run over by a train. Some gracious enough to refuse food because they want someone more hungry to have that food.

Or may be at a deep personal level, I just could not come to terms with that feeling of being a lonely stranger in my own city. My Ahmedabad. Aapnu Amdavad.