Unless we have been living under a rock, I’m sure all of us are aware of what’s going on ‘out there’ right now. Most of us are holed up in our houses – though our reasons for doing so may be different. Some of us are worried about contracting the contagious disease if we step outside the comfort and relative safety of our homes, a lot of others are forced to stay put because their cities or areas have strict lockdown in place. Some others are indoors simply because there is nowhere to go right now, and others are absolutely content being home because they’ve never lived any other way anyway. Whatever our reasons, we’re all experiencing this together, ironically.
I arrived back home on the 11th of March after a trip that lasted a little over 10 days. I wasn’t supposed to be back until much later, but all my plans were thrown out the window when my friends began to bail on our travels planned together, which was then followed by suggestions for me to just go home for a while. At the time I just rolled my eyes at them. I understood why I had to shelve my plans to spend April in Japan and Korea but was sure that India wasn’t going to be impacted so drastically that I should cancel all domestic travel plans also. Even after getting back from my trip, I continued to meet people for work and leisure, work out of coffee shops all day, go to board game and book club events, as well as dinners with friends.
Come 24th March, my world was turned upside down. I realized I had never learnt how to stay at home. When I was home normally, I would still be out running, going to Cult Fitness or the gym, out swimming, or more often than not, exploring flights and keeping an eye on weather statuses for my next travel adventure. Suddenly, I couldn’t do any of these. I’d seen Skyscanner and Makemytrip throwing blanks for the first time in my life.
Some of my friends might say I’m a travel-holic, but I’d like to offer a little perspective on that. I’ve spent a better part of the last 5 years of my life creating an impetus to move further ahead in my quest to be “sustainably location independent”. If you think it’s the same as travelling all the time, it’s not. I just want the choice of being anywhere I want at any given point in time. Choice is the keyword here. I may choose to be home for a whole year, for that matter. Making that choice a reality is what has driven me for a long time now. And the pandemic threw a spanner in my best-laid plans. It took away the freedom of choice in an instant. And the fact that we are all in this together was no solace to my restless mind.
On Day 1 of lockdown, I worried about my venture – I’d invested a little over 15 months in it by now and this lockdown meant pushing back our break-even point, that was in grabbing distance until a day ago, further away. In just about a week from that fateful day, we were supposed to pay ourselves a small salary for the first time since we started. Little did we know that in about five weeks, we would be investing a lot more money into the venture in order to pay our employees.
By Day 7, I worried about the man I call my rock. He was home and working all the time, so much so that he wasn’t getting 5 straight hours of sleep a night. His job fell under the essentials category, and so life was turned upside down for him too, in a different sense though. I continued to worry about my venture.
By Day 10, I worried about our country and its economy. I didn’t think a lot of small businesses were going to last the entire 21 day period of initial lockdown. I worried if this extended too long, people would start starving, families would start scavenging for food anywhere they could, looting would begin and it would lead to anarchy. Life as we knew it was coming to an end. I continued to worry about my venture and my man.
By Day 14, I worried about my health and that I wasn’t enrolling in enough online classes to ride through this storm unscathed. I learnt that some people in our residential complex have started going downstairs to walk, keeping complete distance from each other. I tried adding that to my newfound routine at home. I continued to worry about my venture, my man and the country.
By Day 19, I worried about the death and infection toll rising like smoke in the western world. By then, I’d spoken to a lot of my friends in Western Europe and the United States to make sure that they were doing alright. I mostly got expected reactions from my friends and family. By then, it was also clear that this pandemic wasn’t getting over anytime soon. I continued to worry about my venture, my man, our country and my health.
By Day 25, I worried about the people in Delhi and Bombay. They’d sure gotten the rough end of the stick. The fact that a whole lot of my friends and family are in these two cities didn’t help the case either. Though I spoke to everyone close to me as often as I could, stories from buildings, pizza delivery boys and hospitals always made the conversations a little heavier. I continued to worry about my venture, my man, our country, my health and the western world.
By Day 30, I worried about my future. I hadn’t stepped outside for a whole month by now and my way of life was under tremendous pressure. I had stopped reading completely because I realized that I did most of my reading on flights anyway, and I didn’t know how to sit in a corner with a book at home. In my life, this was the longest stretch I had eaten only home-cooked vegetarian meals. I hadn’t met anyone new for way longer than I was used to. Though I was still working 8 hours a day, I knew I couldn’t do this for long, let alone the rest of my life.
Day 31 came with a new found realization. That was the day we had crossed the dreaded 25,000 mark in the number of cases in the country, and I understood that this was only going to get worse for a while now. Until it got better. I didn’t know when – not as yet – but I knew it would. By now, I’d read articles and analyses, talked to people and thought a lot. And I knew that the day would come when life would start seeming a bit more normal than yesterday. I didn’t worry about my venture, my man, our country, my health, the world, my friends and family or my future that day. I breathed and smiled.
By Day 35, I’d made a couple of new acquaintances in my complex. I’d smile at them from a distance while walking or running downstairs, and they’d smile and wave back. The air felt a tiny bit lighter when they did.
By Day 41, my man and I had walked to the lake that’s at a stone’s throw from our house. We saw a small electrical store opening up for the first time since 24th March, and crossed a house that had an old man watering plants in his balcony with his dog by his side. The world seemed a tiny bit prettier on that walk.
By Day 46, I’d made plans to go to a neighbour’s house in the building and play some board games, while wearing our masks and gloves. That day, they had cooked chicken, and the first bite put an abrupt end to my temporary vegetarianism phase. My stomach felt a tiny bit happier that day.
By Day 52, I had read 2 books in a week. I had discovered Audible and started listening to books instead of music on my morning runs within the complex. This day also marked the 20-day streak on my language learning app since I had been added to a group where people learnt English and Spanish from each other, and I was speaking Spanish on voice messages again. And my man was playing the guitar again. Our hearts grew a tiny bit bigger when we did.
By Day 60, I had stopped tracking the number of cases and deaths in the world. I know it’s probably still getting worse out there, but in my head, I’ve stopped worrying. I had realized that how we feel need not be directly proportional to the outside world and what happens around us. THAT is also a matter of choice. I was so devastated with my way of life being taken away from me, my choice of being location independent stripped away so suddenly, that I had forgotten to exercise my other choice of feeling good, independent of the situation in the world at large.
I understand that while I write this, I am doing so from a position of comfort and privilege that isn’t available as easily to scores of people, especially in our country, and I probably can’t really empathize with what they are going through in these tough times. But having been on the same boat as millions of others over the last two months, as an act of solidarity, I earnestly want to urge us all to exercise our own choice of feeling good irrespective of the circumstances. While we’re all maintaining social distancing and following recommendations of our civic and medical bodies for everyone’s well being, feeling good about ourselves is the least we can do. So if we can find it in our hearts to think about that pretty garden, hum that beautiful tune and just smile at nothing in particular, we should just go ahead and do it – honestly, we owe it to ourselves.
This too shall pass.