I was excited to go back home for the Easter holidays. Had booked my tickets to India and planned every little thing three months in advance. But, COVID-19 happened and the rest is history.
It was midnight when I got to know that India was closing its borders to all travellers from the Uk, Europe and a few other countries in the next two days. Panic-stricken, I called up all the available helpline numbers. Needless to say, my calls went unanswered. I was desperate and didn’t mind paying double the normal price to get the last flight from London to Mumbai on the 18th of March.
Self-isolation has been very hard on me. For somebody who doesn’t miss a single opportunity to attend V&A medieval tours, who loves the Portobello Sunday market rush and even enjoys taking the super busy 9 am Jubilee line to work, being confined to four walls felt like prison.
Ironically, on the first day of my confinement, I was excited to be doing nothing for the next two weeks. But it became more difficult with every passing day.
Day 1- 19th March
The western countries, including the Uk, Europe and USA, I feel, have a slightly relaxed approach to tackling this pandemic. Now, this is a boon as well as a bane. Well, bane because people tend not to take things seriously and boon because people are less scared and not freaking out every minute. Honestly, I cannot say which approach is better than the other.
Day 2- 20th March
The societal pressure did not make isolation any easier. People are not only terrified of me but also rude. Anybody who has returned from abroad was treated like an alien. It was unreasonable but what good is logic in the face of death?
Day 3- 21st March
I tried to distract myself by watching a few inspiring videos on Instagram. Everybody has been going live these days and posting their indoor workout sessions or cooking a new dish. Not sure why but my Insta fam seems super pumped and unreasonably happy. It felt as if everybody was trying to help each other but avoiding harsh facts.
Day 4- 22nd March
Apple gently reminded me that my screen usage time has shot up by 50% in comparison to the previous week. But watching funny videos on Ellen tube was the only ray of hope in my life. I have been working from home but the pace has slowed down considerably. So, I am hardly busy for 4 to 5 hours a day, that too with multiple snacking breaks.
Day 5- 23rd March
I hate online shopping but surprisingly found myself surfing through multiple websites aimlessly. Everybody kept talking about small-scale creative industries failing miserably and several daily wage workers suffering irreparable losses. But I realised that several new businesses and apps had sprung up in the wake of Coronavirus. For instance, virtual gyms, new health insurance companies, even online therapy sessions. It was reassuring to see how the human mind is capable of adapting itself to adverse situations.
Day 6- 24th March
Indian PM announced a 21-day lockdown, the largest pandemic lockdown in the world.
Photograph: Arun Shankar/ AFP via Getty Images
Day 7- 25th March
Was about to sleep when my phone buzzed. NY Times had reported the death of the first new-born baby. It was really scary. The third day in a row, I couldn’t sleep all night.
Day 8- 26th March
Although I was happy that I had shown no symptoms of COVID-19 so far, there was an underlying fear that I might fall sick any minute. I was also really worried about my parents and grandparents. After last night, I was determined not to read the news before sleeping even if something as tempting as a dinosaur coming to life popped up.
Day 9- 27th March
UK PM Boris Johnson and the Health secretary Matt Hancock test positive on the same day. That was when I started considering myself lucky to have been able to fly back to India and be with family.
Day 10- 28th March
Apple Procreate is a saviour. I could spend hours sketching random stuff. In the evening, I downloaded an ebook called ‘The Passenger’ by Lisa Lutz assuming it was about travel or something to do with the journey of life. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a psychological thriller. Definitely not what I needed at the moment. So, I shut my iPad and got back to re-watching FRIENDS. The world needs more shows like FRIENDS, don’t you’ll agree?
Day 11- 29th March
Today was all about over-sleeping and over-eating.
Day 12- 30st March
I tried to cheer myself by catching up with some of my friends virtually. We all unanimously decided to steer away from the hot topic but somehow it kept popping up every 30 seconds.
Day 13- 31st April
My two weeks of self-quarantine was coming to an end. Thankfully, I was showing no symptoms so far and gladly signed myself up for a virtual Pilates class. That took up at least an hour and a half of my day and I gladly let it.
Day 14- 1st April
A friend of mine calls to tell me that somebody in her neighbourhood had started showing symptoms only on the 15thday. There was no way of assessing whether or not it was true especially now that millions of fake-news and propaganda stories are floating around just like the coronavirus. This pandemic is an instance of the media failing us all. To be on the safer side, I decide to give myself an extra two days before going back home.
Illustration: Till Lauer
Day 15- 2nd April
By now, the impact of the nationwide lockdown had started affecting us all. My online orders, including essentials, were cancelled. Migrant workers were suffering; fanatics had their anti-lockdown theories. Although the Government had taken timely action, people refused to realise the intensity of this pandemic. Some of them weren’t privileged enough to follow the rules and the others did not have access to legitimate sources of information.
Day 16- 3rd April
I was fed up of social media, the ignorance, hatred, misery, sufferings, politics, the never-ending blame-games and of course the virus that started it all.
After successfully pushing through my 16-day self-quarantine period (what felt like a year), I now had brand new problems to deal with. Unavailability of masks, essentials, inflation, unreasonable paranoias and the most important of all- How to keep myself busy, positive and motivated?
Back in the no-virus days, we all would have loved the idea of a month-long Netflix and chill break, wouldn’t we? Aren’t we all constantly looking for excuses to stay at home, lazing around and do nothing? But why does an imposed holiday seem like such a big burden?
Should we stay away from reality and stop burdening ourselves with harsh facts? Or would it be better if we learnt to face the adversity? Mourn the loss of work, the loss of jobs, the loss of money and lives. After all, isn’t mourning an acknowledgement of everything that has gone wrong. Isn’t mourning an admission to the fact that we have violated mother nature in every way possible?
Whatever approach we choose, the fact remains that everybody has been affected emotionally, at varying levels.
According to Sonali Gupta, a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist, therapist and upcoming author, one of the ways to deal with this pandemic is to “Take one day at a time.” She says that “It’s normal to feel anxious. But we need to be mindful about not feeling overwhelmed or developing a sense of panic.”
“People are experiencing a loss when it comes to going out, not meeting their friends, colleagues. But what’s reassuring itis that we are all in this together. Communicating fears to your loved ones is crucial.”
Gupta keeps herself engaged by following her pre-COVID routine. Waking up at the same time, getting dressed for work and then speaking to all her patients virtually. “For those who aren’t working, it’s important to discover new ways to stay engaged,” she adds.
While we are cribbing over smaller things like not being able to travel or watch movies, COVID 19 has caused irreparable devastation to a few.
Illustration: Hokyung Kim
Mounting data suggests that domestic abuse is acting as an opportunistic infection, flourishing in the conditions created by the pandemic.
The United Nations, about a week ago, called for urgent action to combat the worldwide surge in domestic violence. “I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic,” Secretary-General António Guterres wrote on Twitter.
“People are struggling with personal space and a lot of my clients have not been able to attend their counselling sessions as there is no privacy,” Gupta says. “They have to wait for their kids to fall asleep or sneak out to find a quiet corner which can be very stressful.”
“My heart goes out to people experiencing domestic violence as they are unsafe in their own homes and have no place else to go,” she adds.
In Spain, the emergency number for domestic violence received 18 per cent more calls in the first two weeks of lockdown than in the same period a month earlier.
In India, which is currently going through the world’s largest pandemic lockdown, The National Commission for Women (NCW) has recorded more than twofold rise in gender-based violence. The total complaints from women rose from 116 in the first week of March (March 2-8), to 257 in the final week (March 23-April 1).
Front line workers and the policemen are risking their lives for us. Farmers, migrant workers and the homeless population fear death by hunger more than death by the coronavirus.
“All we can do to support them is to stay home and maintain social distancing whenever we go out,” says Mark Freeston, Clinical psychologist, Newcastle University. “When your problems start to seem like a burden, think of the NHS staff. That ought to put you in a very appreciative and grateful mood.”
We will get through this pandemic sooner or later. Until then, we must stay positive, support our family and friends. When we embrace each other for the first time and be reminded of what it means to feel a touch, when the closest pub won’t seem any further away, when your faces will finally be rid of those suffocating masks, when you will happily bless your sneezing friend, when the world rebounds, we will seek each other with a renewed sense of gratitude.