LockDown: from behind the doors || An audio-story

It’s 5th April, 2020 The clock has just struck 9.00 The society, Pristine Pavilion, has lit up eloquently as if Ram had concluded his war and returned early The ‘Akalbodhon’ of Durga might have never happened at all My eyes gaze at a seemingly unworldly Earth Who am I? I am one of you a privileged, quarantined citizen bestowed with the luxury of expressing his thoughts during a pandemic Today’s spring evening is indeed quite lovely A mild breeze blows past shimmering a thousand flames to create an eerie spectacle The flames do flicker but the thousand souls holding them remain undaunted in the direst of times I can see the flat A-101 clearly from my balcony The first floor of the building diagonally right of mine The candles have been lit there now The Das family in its entirety has come to their balcony Uncle, Auntie, Granny and Mitrajit It feels great to see them all together after such a long time Mitrajit happened to be my schoolmate Every time it rained, if there was anyone who asked ‘who in the heavens have opened the taps’ Mitrajit was the one Who knows what weird thoughts must be running in his mind during this pandemic lockdown? It’s 9.00 p.m Lying down on my bed, I’m thinking never had it crossed my mind that this could happen I come home at 11 o’clock after slogging in an IT sector I am working in my shorts at 9 o’clock, who would have imagined that? And right at 10.30 p.m., my mom is going to call me for dinner I tell you, this is called life These are some weird times, right? An amazing period drama can be made out of this But the best part is that I would be able to tell my children that their father survived a pandemic And their grandfather, he just swam 3 km to reach school But me? I survived a pandemic On the eleventh day of this lockdown I see that some things have changed and some could have been changed I mean, it’s not that we didn’t try But as you know, no one can stop a Bengali from having his daily ‘adda’ Everyone in my neighbourhood is obediently maintaining the lockdown But, as soon as the dusk sets in everyone flocks at the local teashop for their evening jaunt And if by mistake someone coughs everyone mockingly asks him, “You are not infected by Corona, right?” I mean, can you imagine the trust? Amidst all this fooling around, somewhere they believe their ‘bruh’ is immune to Corona In the meantime, a shopkeeper has started selling N97 masks It is said that words beget words By the time it reached my neighbourhood the N95 masks became N97 masks But that’s alright Those square pieces sewn off old clothes are giving a lot of people hope Courage My neighbours next door have been quarreling nonstop for the last three days Basically, during normal office days they rarely see each other Suddenly they both have so much time they really cannot figure out what to do While brushing my teeth, in the morning, I eavesdropped I heard them arguing about something which happened in their previous lives Well, I thought brushing my teeth was more important In the meantime, the other species are doing just fine I found that a bulbul has built a nest in my balcony For some reason, my grandmother was trying to fend it off The bulbul too held its ground and chirped back as if telling my grandmother, “Don’t you come any closer.” “Maintain one meter distance.” But the stray dogs of my locality are the ones suffering the most During normal times they could scrape off from the normal shops but that too has stopped now And as the animal lover instinct in our citizens is always brimming over Ahm ‘Facebook’ the dogs are facing the brunt So, my suggestion is these days let’s not throw away the remaining puffed rice in our bowls or the half eaten biscuits in the dustbin someone else might need it Oh, yes, important thing, heard the world has turned greener Greenhouse gases have reduced and the task of putting a sellotape over the ozone hole is almost complete thanks to this lockdown Only God knows what is fact and what is rumour Everything somehow feels like a perfectly staged theatre But yes, the sunset from my rooftop looks is absolutely spectacular Although I have stepped onto my rooftop after nine long months

I am being serious I was astonished to see tomatoes and cabbages sprouting up there I mean, how would I know my father has green fingers? Our conversations are limited nowadays But in this tenure, our conversations have become longer and the arguments a tad shorter My friends have been video calling me from abroad After a long time some cherished moments are being made And one more thing evident is Indians have the same problem everywhere Either they have sides or mains but never both Basically, what I understood about the Indians’ survival skills if another pandemic or two hit, the whole country will wash away I am not kidding when it was told to light candles on the rooftops and balconies people were marching on the street with sparklers Seeing these incidents unravel, the child of my quarrelsome neighbours has asked “Daddy, are we celebrating Diwali today?” But amidst all this, there is one question which keeps coming back to my mind “Will the bulbul return to my balcony as a free tenant yet again?” Corona or Covid-19 has certainly brought families together Well, most of them Aishik lives in my floor the 4th floor of our building For the sake of his job, he is now here a thousand miles away from his parents He doesn’t talk much Today morning, when I was taking my customary walk in our courtyard I found a letter on the ground I picked it up I opened it and I read it And I could see I could see a thousand emotions painted through his words in that letter perhaps written in a moment of weakness A thousand emotions of a son Dear Maa It’s almost 2 weeks since the country has been under complete lockdown But to be honest, things are not that bad for me here Staying in a big house All the essentials that are required to live a good life are currently unavailable to most in the world But I have all of those things To be honest, I have more than I need Still I am not happy, Maa Yes, I know it’s not a moment to celebrate The whole world is going through a crisis But you know me Maa I always wanted to live in a situation where I can be all by myself Remember the day when I first left home and moved to this new city? I was so excited about the freedom that I’m going to experience for the first time in my life Everything.. Everything seemed like a dream to live without any boundaries or limitations There will be no one to dictate me when, where and at what time I should go or by when should I be back What should I eat or how much should I eat Everything will be according to me But Guess what? The excitement of living by myself has turned into my loneliness I was so sure that by the end of this lockdown I will prove you guys that I don’t need you to take care of me anymore That I can take care of myself But with every passing day, all I am becoming is more and more vulnerable I miss you, Maa I miss the time when you used to set those boundaries for me That was probably the only time I truly knew the meaning of freedom You made freedom exist for me Yes Yes, I am fine At least, in societal terms But am I really? Will the lockdown end with me coming out of this vulnerability as a stronger human being? Or things will get worse and I’ll start losing my emotional spine? I meet with Emon quite often Emon, whom people loving call Souraneer He is a jovial fellow A wonderful singer and a terrific poet This dratted lockdown has barred me from listening to his melodious voice for many days He lives in C-008 on the western side, the ground floor of the building right beside the swimming pool Let me go meet him today

I hope I am not violating any rules Hey Aritra, how are you? How’s everyone at your place? Life has stopped suddenly Suddenly it seems like Earth has stopped rotating itself Or maybe, Thanos has wiped out half the universe Otherwise in one of the busiest cities of India where so many words are spent for its increasing traffic and population how come one can hear the birds chirping in the morning? The sound of crickets in the night makes me feel that I am dreaming Yes! this is the current scenario of Bangalore Where in the morning you can listen to the birds, in the night you can hear the sound of crickets and also in the sky instead of smog and pollution you can find stars twinkling Not only Bangalore but the whole country is under Emergency lockdown Only few dogs are seen roaming in the streets in search of humans may be Out of all the theories about Covid-19, which I have seen over social media or in the television what I felt the most correct one is “Nature has taken its revenge.” In other way we can say when in our childhood days our mischief used to cross the limits and our mothers used to punish us Just like that Mother Nature has punished us And we all are sitting in the room wearing masks like that naughty boy who used to get punished We all are waiting when mom will come back and will tell us, “Alright, I forgive you.” Oh ho, it just reminded me that I have to WhatsApp my mom that I ate my Maggi Otherwise she gets tensed for the whole day What are you thinking? For this little lie she will eat properly Watching that I think God will forgive me I only pray that no one should be in such a condition like me Actually, I am all alone in this flat Neither any roommates nor anything else While renting it, I was a little stubborn about it Personal space, freedom of staying alone and so many other similar thoughts crossed my mind at that time But look at me now, I wait in the balcony just to have a glimpse of a familiar face for a little conversation may be Yes, this is how my days are going by Everyday, we are fighting a war against an unknown enemy And me? I am fighting with my loneliness as well To come out from my depression, I had taken the help of electronic devices then I tried cooking and sometimes I had spent hours liking and sharing memes over social media But how long? How many times? This loneliness has started to consume me from inside I miss my parents a lot I am beginning to realize the emptiness I would feel in my life without them I am beginning to understand their importance Mom used to say watching me asleep she felt so much love for me that she was unable to wake me up in the childhood Then suddenly my dad used to come and shout “Emon! Wake up!” In my heart, I want to I wake up by his scolding tomorrow morning But whenever they call me, I control myself very quickly “Yes, Maa.” Actually, every time, it’s her on the other side “Have you eaten properly? “How are you, son?” “Everyone has returned to their homes only you got stuck.” “I feel very bad for you.” I stop my mom from going further ahead and I say, “Don’t worry for me so much, Maa” “My days are going well.” “Just today, I learnt a new recipe.” “Maa, you know, I discovered that ginger is so good a tastemaker.” After the call, when I want to cry out I miss her a lot at that time Oh, I forgot to tell you I am going to get married That too, love marriage That’s why sharing everything with my fiance has now become a habit I want to spend every moment with her

When the day dawns or on the last call of the day when I hear her voice my heart wants to behave like that innocent little boy who will cry and say, “Please come back.” My heart cries but my mind never lets me do that On the contrary, I behave maturely and give her advices Maybe I tell her only those things which I could have done to help my parents now When the call gets over, I take a deep breath and start feeling my loneliness again When I get scared of the loneliness I rush to wash my hands and face Returning to bed for the night only one thing keeps going on in my mind whether tomorrow we will see that Mother Nature’s anger has reduced And she is telling us, “I forgive you for the last time.” Listening to this tale of love, made me weary, a soul heavy with grief I did stand here once, looking yonder at another balcony But today, the darkness emitting from that balcony casts a shadow over my heart That.. That right over there is my Juliet’s balcony Himel, my Juliet who is fighting her battle from another part of the world I had hoped, upon her return, I would pop the all important question But now, only time can tell Sitting in another part of the world God only knows what thoughts must be crossing her mind now I love my country a bit too much There are several arguments, about India being a third world country Nothing good will ever happen here and all Might be true But still I love my country a bit too much When I had received the offer for an on-site posting I wasn’t too excited My friends and colleagues had encouraged me to go and I did think twice In this age of consumerism who doesn’t want an extra bit of stability and success What’s the harm in that? And I flew over to Mexico I am not justifying anything The irony is I am expressing my love for my nation without being there A complex situation has forced us to think simply India is a vast nation with 130 crores individuals calling it home There are a million limitations After 200 years of British rule, we were left with nothing but communal hatred But today something has forced everyone to stand together But everyone stands together now, forgetting this minute hatred In this time of danger, I can see everyone battling strong I am no one and in this huge world, my contribution doesn’t matter at all Still it’s my earnest request After this is all over let’s build India like she was meant to be A paradise of harmony I am a Bengali and Kolkata is a city close to my heart always When I was young my mother used to tuck me to sleep by warning me about the police The same police is now warming people’s hearts with their melodious songs Humanity of humans is blooming like a lotus in a pond I salute everyone who is at the frontline facing an invisible enemy with courage telling us, “Let’s be one. Let’s be a fighter.” I don’t know if I can return to my homeland There is a big personal question waiting for me and I will be saying a big yes But when will I be able to return to this green country of mine? One thought crosses my mind This success, luxury, everything is so minute, isn’t it? India is an emotion

her children are working for each other in their own small ways during this situation Soumya is hooked into PubG He lives alone, and PubG and Coding is what takes up his time At the beginning of last month, he had come home, for no reason at all And obviously, he couldn’t go back I was passing beneath his flat D302- third floor Despite that I could hear the voices coming out of there Really. A single bachelor stuck in a joint family for such a long time That must cook up an excellent story It doesn’t look like that the lockdown is going on here at my place As we all are back in the family so the fear is less And I feel what happened, it happened for good I mean, this is the first time, since I joined this job that I could stay at home without any tension for paid leaves Though I am working from home still staying at home means you get your food at regular intervals thanks to Maa However, the impact of lockdown on my family is mixed I mean at times it feels very good that we are together but sometimes it gets suffocating You may be understanding that the privacy or the freedom of staying outside both are not there right now Let me tell you some of my interesting observations Normally, my Baba is a workaholic He doesn’t understand anything but production, workshops and duty But as the workshops are closed due to this situation so now his rehearsal mode is on for his upcoming retirement In the morning or sometimes in evening he takes the responsibility of the tea Also Baba at home means I am sitting with PUBG for very limited time Also, fun fact, I have successfully infected Baba with Netflix and Chill Also thanks to WUHAN We are meeting up with our old friends from school and college on video conference calls Thanks to ‘Zoom’, ‘Webex’, ‘Skype.’ Reality check, we are so busy in our daily schedule for our jobs and all When did we have so much time, boss? On an average 3 hrs were spent just for travelling to and back from office And one more thing, the hidden talents of my friends would never have come out had this lockdown or boredom not happened Who knew the guy who has never sung could sing such a brilliant cover with guitar? And he has even uploaded it on ‘Facebook.’ The guy who never stepped into the kitchen has become a master chef No, I am not being sarcastic somebody is making coffee, someone is in tik tok I mean, everyone is doing something and that’s good People are keeping themselves engaged So, in a way, I am thankful for this lockdown But these are very difficult times, very uncertain And as I have my grandparents here with me so I have to take extra precautions for them So, let me refrain from my bad habits during this time Priorities do change for family, right? We really need to let go of our bad habits Oh, let me call up Arka I mean, my roommate, Arka Whom you might call a pure Bengali But you know what? He is stuck in a hotel in Maharashtra since March 20th He hasn’t been able to return since then Although I call him up everyday, he is terribly frustrated He will pour out all his frustration on me as soon as I call Are you not believing me? Find out yourself ARITRA: Hello, Arka. What’s up? ARKA: Arka: Nothing’s going on Just stuck in a hotel room I can’t even leave the room It’s a very bad situation, I am going mad ARITRA: Yes, yes I totally get you Tell me Arka, how many confirmed cases are there? There’s nothing on the news ARKA: The town I am residing in, has 20 confirmed cases

ARKA: and 300 people are in quarantine ARITRA: 300 people? ARKA: Although it’s a very small town, but there are 300 people in quarantine ARITRA: So are you okay and taking the precautions? ARKA: Yes I am taking precautions, but after all it’s a hotel the hotel staff are regularly going out because we have to eat So I really don’t know whether I am safe or not ARITRA: Yes that’s right But make sure you don’t go out ARKA: No, not at all I am not even leaving my room Even when I went out yesterday to take a stroll in the hotel lobby other people were looking as if I am only one carrying the infection ARITRA: Nothing to do at this moment Tell me, are you getting food? What are you eating? ARKA: Yes I am getting food But Vada Pav, Misal Pav and Poha for three times which obviously cannot be digested by a Bengali but nothing can be done in this situation ARITRA: Hmm, that means you don’t even have anyone to talk to? ARKA: Actually, something funny happened Let me tell you the whole thing A very beautiful girl is staying in the room next to me ARITRA: Haha, So you are it again? ARKA: Just hear me out ARKA: As there is lockdown, just for time pass, I tried approaching her But she just avoided me bluntly Yeah, so that’s how it went ARITRA: She did right Seriously, you will never change! ARKA: Haha, just for some fun and to pass the time ARITRA: Anyway, what about your family? ARKA: I am seriously worried about my family, mom is in healthcare sector! ARITRA: So, aunty has to go to work everyday? ARKA: Yes, ano even more in this situation She is trying not to come home as she fears carrying the infection In the midst of all these, she calls me up everyday, several times just to ask how am I, what did I eat I just lie, that I am keeping good and getting good food because she herself is stuck and there’s no point in giving her headache at this time ARITRA: Yes yes that’s right So what are you doing all day? ARKA: Just room to washroom, washroom to room TV, ‘Netflix,’ ‘Amazon Prime,’ etc You won’t believe, earlier in normal routines after office I used to crave for atleast 1 episode because of time crisis ARITRA: And now: ARKA: And now, I am bored of them ARKA: If I go to watch the news on TV, there are so many types of theories that I can’t decide which is real and which is rumour and it adds up to my worry ARITRA: Yes yes, then what are you doing, reading books? ARKA: Nothing at all, you know I don’t have the habit of reading and now the liquor shops are also closed since Janta Curfew Now even the black supply has also stopped Cigarettes are selling like gold in the market ARITRA: Good good, maybe now you will be able to get rid of this bad habits if nothing else Anyway, when is your return ticket? 15th, is it? ARKA: Yes yes it is on 15th night but the problem is, where I am in Maharashtra, the nearest airport is 200 kms away So even if the lockdown withdraws I am doubtful whether I will be able to go home ARITRA: No no. Don’t think like this, you will be able to go home Keep the courage, see we will overcome this, we have to keep our hopes high ARKA: Let’s see ARITRA: Okay then, be safe, bye ARKA: Tata ARITRA: Tata That’s contrast for you The lad’s biggest problem is finding a bottle of wine while his sister is abroad, worried sick about coming back home I came across her post today in ‘Facebook.’ After going through it, I was struck silent for quite a while Really, Covid-19 has affected so may lives, in so many different ways Let me read it out for you Do lend me your ears I sit gazing out of my window at the first hint of leaves showing on the brown, barren landscape After almost six months of cold, bitter winter the spring is finally arriving I wake up these mornings to birdcall the sparrows and thrushes are back on the trees, chirping I try to ignore the sound of ambulance sirens that stand out in stark contrast to the birds singing I was too scared to open my windows because of that But, two days ago I finally made the effort of opening the door to my balcony And in an attempt to make myself feel better I put out some nuts and cooked rice for the birds, along with some water and I stood there, whistling for almost an hour hoping they would come this way

and I would have something to look forward to every day Anything, anything to distract me from the panic and anxiety I feel every waking moment these days But more than that, it reminds me of my Maa You know, it was almost like a ritual with her back home Every day, before every meal she would put out food for the birds and squirrels to eat It didn’t matter if it were a weekend or a working day if she couldn’t do it herself, she would delegate it ask me or my brother to do it And the birds, they used to come! They used to flock around my house at that specific time And somehow, bizarrely they never used to leave back droppings after they left We’ve never had to clean up their mess Maybe, maybe I was just trying to replicate that in some small way Maybe I just miss my family too much You know, they were supposed to come visit me in May I had booked their tickets almost 8 months ago and I have been counting off days since then That was the reason I even moved to this new apartment so that we could have some more space I wanted my mother to take a break from her 35 years of service as a nurse She was going to retire in May And I wanted to give her the holiday she deserved with her kids around her But now But now, I don’t even know when I will see them again My brother, who is stuck in a hotel room somewhere in Maharashtra And my mother, who is at the frontline, battling for other people’s lives and maybe, maybe for her own I don’t know how she gets this strength to go to work every day not knowing what might happen I don’t know how she can still check up on us every single day in the same cheerful voice I don’t know how long this will continue I can barely keep my tears at bay these days It takes all my energy to just stop crying when I am on the video call with them I have to be strong for both of them and for myself That’s all I can do being so so far away from my home I don’t know if this is what a war looks like but is this how a war feels like? The fear, the sadness, the uncertainty and the hope.. the hope that it will all end soon and we’ll come out of it unscarred But will we? Is that too much to expect? Maybe it is, maybe it is But till then, I will put out food for the birds every day in the hope that they will come back home soon Even thinking about it makes me shiver There are indeed so many people battling in the frontlines without a thought about themselves for our sound sleep Oh wait, I didn’t see Sankha out there tonight Wait a bit Oh, there is Uncle Uncle… Where is Sankha? Why didn’t he come out tonight? What? Can’t hear you Alright, I am coming There are people in this world who can never think about their own good Who in their right mind rejects a job offer from Brazil just to be engaged with his NGO a bit more? Sankha is that idiot I have a hunch why he didn’t come out tonight well, I can guess but I am sure his father will not be knowing about it Well, I happen to be his friend he might just open up to me Today is the 13th day of my quarantine Seeing the deteriorating condition of southern India I returned from Bangalore

a few days before the lockdown was announced These days, I have shared a plateful with my family but couldn’t digest it Every night I did lie down with a roof over my head but sleep eluded me Every night, I hated myself for being civilized and enjoying all the privileges of sophisticated existing There was quite a bit of trouble after I had returned home A few of my neighbours had called up one morning demanding my lockdown “All of us have families” they had said I couldn’t open my mouth in front of the elders All I could do was fetch some of my home-made sanitizers and give them to one of my neighbours saying, “Keep these. Give these to anyone who need it.” Before leaving, the club secretary, Jiten uncle took me separately and asked “Can you give me 100 pieces of these? I could circulate them amongst the needy.” I had replied, “Sure, I can Let me know if you need more.” The next morning Jiten uncle took 150 bottles of sanitizers instead of the promised 100 Whilst leaving, he laid a hand over my shoulder and asked “Hey, you never mentioned about the money Tell me how much you need.” After staying silent for a while, I had said “Uncle, why are you about the money.” “These are necessities Keep the money with you for now.” “When all of this over, we will celebrate with some chicken curry and rice.” Considering my family’s honour, health and my societal responsibilities staying back at home was certainly the necessary choice But still, you know what? I used to believe, from my young age, that revolution means fighting amongst men Although those dreams are blurry now they haven’t faded out yet That’s why one afternoon, plucking up courage, I had sneaked out of my house The mission was to feed them along with my friends By “them” I mean those individuals who have lost their right to even beg for a piece of bread Amit and Suranjan had rounded up a few of such individuals at the end of platform no 5, beside the rail line Among them was a woman with her 2-years- old child in her lap The child was wailing incessanty The child was as malnourished as the mother A few metres away, there were 4 daily wagers huddled together The gruel on their plates completed, they looked at us with teary eyes may be expecting just a spoonful more Soumya went near them and asked, “Do you need another helping?” and was about to serve another spoonful when one of them spoke out “We have eaten, sire Please give it to them.” We saw following their footsteps timidly, a couple of maids were standing meekly in hopes of getting their stomachs filled Their impotent husbands drink themselves to death every evening and masculinity means beating their wives black and blue Despite that, they have to go out in search of work to earn a plateful for their little children Jaybrata called them over and asked me to serve them on sal-leafplates I noticed that midway during their meal one of them was looking around for something I asked, “Do you need anything? Are you thirsty?” “Wait, let me fetch some.” Hesitatingly, she spoke “Could you give me a packet son? I could take some home then.” Our hearts had cried a river but our eyes didn’t get wet At dusk, Arani and me were returning along the rail lines without a word between us Beside the godown, a dump yard had sprouted up

Standing below the broken lamp post at the opposite end we lit our cigarettes The stray cats and dogs were valiantly scratching and clawing through the piles of garbage and bawling amongst themselves I looked up to see a kettle of vultures At this moment those are perhaps the only creatures who have no dearth of food I hadn’t seen such a scarlet sky in ages We looked at each other and our memories flashed back to those evenings 7-8 years ago We were brimming with the vigour of teenage dreams The skies were scarlet even back then but the green earth hadn’t greyed out yet The human civilization hadn’t surrendered completely to the nuclear invasion There was soul even among the well-oiled machines Is this what you call living? When nature loses its balance will the harbingers of death come calling every time sometimes in the form of pandemic or sometimes as blood-thirsty autocrats? Can’t we hold hands together and fend them off again? Is the dream of a brighter tomorrow called life? Human beings are diverse and developed enough to enjoy this diversity Today our race faces a challenge like no other When the bush fires had threatened the existence of koala bears and kangaroos in Australia a few humans were there to douse the flames But tell me, who will douse ours? ‘If someone kindles the fire, then the rains douse the flames’ ‘If rains kindles the flames, who will be the one who douses.’ The lights have now dimmed and the din has died away into the spring night As I am leaving, a wonderful sight has met my eyes Remember, Mitrajit, Soumya, Emon and Aishik? I can see them following right behind Sankha armed with food packets and sanitizers Humanity still exists Despite everyone’s individual problems, people haven’t forgotten the bigger issue Across the wall, there is a slum, a completely different world with problems much tougher I do have an extra packet of rice in my house Let me go and give it to them See you then Namaskar