DISCLAIMER: This was written in March 2020 when the whole world was just starting to get familiar with COVID-19 guidelines, lockdown, and the impending doom.
Around March, I started waking up to news articles that suggested a possible Coronavirus outbreak in India. By then, a handful of cases sprang up here and there around the country. Of course, I could not fathom the gravity of the situation for multiple reasons. The first would be blatant ignorance. My generation has never witnessed anything like this, and I had no possible idea how things would turn out, and if so, how it would be regulated. Second, I couldn’t care less. Once you start working in Mumbai, the only fear that bugs you is the fear of missing your local train. The fear of not reaching your office on time. You get so sucked into the routine here that it would take something of great magnitude to knock you out of your indifference. This city has the reputation of getting back to work within days after a bomb blast or calamity. People falling off trains every day will receive five-minute undivided attention, before it becomes another stat for the newspaper. You know, it’s just not easy being a Mumbaikar.
By the second week of March, we were asked to work from home. We were advised to start stocking up basic essentials. Pretty soon, I was bombarded with WhatsApp forwards every morning that varied from immunity-boosting ninja techniques to complacent indigenous cures. What followed then was the lockdown, stringent regulations, stocking up of almost everything, an inclination towards hand sanitizers, and handwashing tutorials. I managed to get through all these without any fuss. Yes, there was anxiety and scare all around, no doubt. But, the reality of it hit me only when I got to know that the Mumbai local train services are going to be shut. The lifeline of Mumbai flat-lined? I never in my life imagined that a city as bustling as Mumbai could ever halt, or to play in the mellow tunes, take a break. That’s it! All the fuss that I had refused to acknowledge all along, sprang up.
As the number of cases spiraled in Mumbai, paranoia crept in. A simple cough or cold was looked at as a potential symptom. My mornings began with scrutinizing any such symptoms among my family members. And this was when there wasn’t even a single case in my locality.
I was emotionally and mentally exhausted at the thought of being locked in with my parents and siblings, not getting to meet my friends, or in simple terms, leave my house for even a few minutes. What I did not realize back then was sooner I would be rather exhausted with myself than the aforementioned cast. There were instances where I had to re-assess myself, what I stood for, and what I believed was ‘me.’ This self-introspection is no fun thing when you are a compulsive over-thinker, a struggling perfectionist, and a self-proclaimed idealist. No, I do not use these words because they sound fancy. The struggle is real.
You see, for the last two or three years, I have been practicing something called tolerance. Tolerance of others’ beliefs, be it religious or political, and more often than not, their ignorance. I had embarked upon this journey of internal cleansing for several personal reasons. And I foolishly believed I had conquered most of my demons and flaws. But, as it has been simply stated since times immemorial, adverse situations bring out the real you.
I have been told in the past that I am capable of exhibiting a particular magnitude of patience and understanding. But, some incidents that happened over time, made me skeptical of such opinions. During mid-April, I had ordered some groceries and other essentials from Big Bazar that provided home delivery services. I received only half of the items mentioned in the list, only to learn later that the delivery man forgot to drop the second bag because of some confusion, given that he was submerged in similar orders from others in the city. In that time-space, until he returned that bag, I was riddled with anger and doubt at the thought of being conned, that too during such testing times. It was reflected during the conversation I had with him over the phone, where I had acted out in a ‘certain’ manner. Not even for a second did I think that there were people out there who had the guts to step out of their house to do their jobs amid such a crisis. Where did all these doubts come from? Where was my consideration? My tolerance? My patience? My understanding?
Later, when I received the second package, I thanked him from the bottom of my heart, only after apologizing profusely, both in person and through texts. There was an acknowledgment of visible confusion, along with apologies from either side. To this day, I am ashamed of what I had thought and how I had acted that day. Here I was, sitting within the confines of a comfortable house, bed, and incessant access to food, water, electricity, and Wi-Fi. I have a job with decent pay for a fresher. I have the option of working from the safety of a home. I could tackle my boredom using Netflix or Amazon Prime.
An epiphany was slowly setting in. Pretty soon, I discovered that I was high on a drug throughout my life that made me blind and ignorant of many things. Of course, the drug was PRIVILEGE.
Today, as I try to put final touches to this impassionate discourse, marks the sixty-fifth day since I have been working from home. Although I do realize that it is too soon to say anything, I believe I am witnessing little changes in me. I wake up these days, feeling grateful. Grateful for this life, for whatever I have. Gratitude towards everyone involved in tackling this crisis up front, right from doctors, nurses, to the police and social workers who are ensuring donations and food provision wherever possible, and the essential workers employed in every domain. I have fewer complaints today. Also, I pray for those, who have to get out of their houses to fend for their family. Amidst all these, I can only imagine the plight of migrants waiting to be ferried back home. I can only imagine their poverty and hunger. I am disheartened that it’s the only thing I can do with my limited resources and outreach. Imagine and Empathize.
The situation is scary, indeed. Maharashtra is bearing the brunt of it all. My building was quarantined last week upon finding a positive case just above my floor. The person is employed with the BMC. We breathed a sigh of relief just yesterday, as he returned to a hero’s welcome after getting the medical clearance. That sigh of relief was not only for him, but also that now all of our families are/will be safe, hopefully.
I am slowly getting in touch with this ugly, selfish side within me. The struggling perfectionist is steadily acknowledging his flaws. It would indeed be a difficult transformation. Don’t get me wrong. I still am terrified. I still get anxious if anyone in the house coughs or sneezes. I still am selfish about my family and their safety. Only this time, I ACCEPT these. Without any justification whatsoever. The acceptance somehow calms me. It gives me the courage to work upon my flaws. Above all, the fact that I can write this and feel this is because I AM PRIVILEGED.