Travel India

Diary of an Indian woman: Life in the time of Corona

Nowadays, with unusual circumstances that has been ushered on me and the life in general, I find meek semblance with the life of Anne Frank. Of course, it is exaggeration if I say it is the same. It is not a man made blood bath targeted towards a particular community. It is much more than that. It is mighty nature smirking at us while her wrath is about to sway us from the face of the earth.

I know there are vaccines and China has come clean (almost) of the virus attack. I am positive about emerging victorious but my silly heart panics at the drop of every hat. I will document the days and nights as we have lived, as we will remember and tell our children in the coming days.

First week of February

A few Corona memes started emerging at Facebook.

Some of them are assigning responsibility to China’s bizarre food market. Some are defending China saying “Mah life Mah rulez!”

Few upper caste vegetarians from India are basking in the glory of their privilege, that vegetables have historically never spread any disease!

But the epic meme was made of smudge the cat. That it is assumed to be a Bengali and looks at the woman nonchalant, because Bengalis have recently been noted to live through eating Bhagar produced meat! Supposedly, they came out of that episode unscathed.

In between all the memes, I have a trip to Nepal standing as cancelled! I was supposed to leave on 15th February. t was a joint venture between three countries: China, Nepal and India.

I sign and move on. I have traveled a lot last year. I wanted a little bit of a downtown, to write more blogs and create and experiment with different platforms. I have my own podcast channel now. I am also experimenting with Tiktok.

Probably Pishu would come and we are scheduling a trip to Coorg and Nagarhole national park.

Third week of February

My grandmother has passed away and we are all flying back to our ancestral home, Bankura. My brother is flying down from Italy. As of now, all the travel plans are stalled.

I will probably stay back in Kolkata because this is spring and a number of my friends are getting married.

Fourth week of February

“Look what is happening in Italy. Number of death is increasing!” One day, the brother showed me statistics of Corona attack in Italy. I tell him, “Go back now before they close down borders. You are an Indian, nothing will happen to you!” Aside the jibes, he studies in Italy and his future is uncertain would this outbreak goes out of proportion!

The cousin brother rolls his eyes. “Are, he must stay back!”

The family comes to an unanimous decision that postponing his trip back to Italy is the single most good outcome of the events unfolding in the first quarter of 2020.

We returned back to Kolkata. We have a number of events waiting. We have bought a new drone (a Mavic mini), which is to be flown around. We have planned for a few outings.

S will return to Bengaluru for a while and I will be traveling to Purulia for Basanto Utsav or dol or holi as you call it. I will then travel to Mangalajodi in Orissa and Orchha in Madhya Pradesh.

Life seems good. I am slowly picking up traveling after all the hustles of 2019.

Meanwhile, Corona is ravaging Europe. A number of FAM trips are cancelled, including Palma, Spain. From what I know, the event in Myanmar in June is postponed too. Africa remains unscathed. So is India. I see a number of travel blogger promoting Indian destinations. I quickly publish a blog post on 20 places to visit in India in 2020.

March 1, 2020

It seems a few corporate offices in Bengaluru have allowed work from home to its employees. The Bengalis in Bengaluru group in Facebook is abuzz with all the conversations.

One of my cousin sister lives in Bengaluru and is planning her engagement in late April. I ask if she is considering way back home to Kolkata. She laughs, the companies are allowing work from home but you have to stay put in Bengaluru.

The friends who came back from America went back after the wedding was over. They faced no issue with immigration. “They are more worried if we got back some rice or pulses than corona”, joked a friend.

Second Week of March

It is slowly getting worse everywhere but Kolkata remains in her comfortable cocoon. Not a single report of a Covid case anywhere so far. People roaming, making merry, planning a trip, fornicating as always.

Reports from Italy seems grim with supermarkets running out of stock. Bhai’s scholarship money is yet to come. He is hoping for online classes to start soon. His flight back to Milan has been cancelled by Air India, unprovoked. He chides over phone for a refund but yet to receive it.

Blogger friends are traveling in and around India, despite harsh criticism from a certain segment. “This is not Italy”, told me someone. I keep quite, “This is not Italy but does the virus actually make any exemption basis on geography?” But I understand. Every travel event comes with a detail planning for months. Foregoing them is not financially viable for majority.

Some of them are saying, come summer, the scorching excruciating Indian summer, Corona will die with a grimacing face. A lot more meme have surfaced. I will probably collect the memes and make a post.

We visited College Street and Tung Nam on a balmy afternoon. Tung Nam is one of the pioneers of Chinese eateries of Kolkata. I heard, China Town in Kolkata has been deserted lately, with its residents left to fend for themselves with meager options. College Street was whimsically melancholic as always.

March 11, 2020

A travel advisory has been issued by Indian government stating blanket ban on travel visa unless essential travels. I worry about Shovo because they were to return home. I speak with her and she says same has been issued in KSA and they are arranging a travel back in 3 days.

March 15, 2020

In between attending Dyuti’s wedding at Shibpur, I found little time to speak with Sayantan. From our conversation, I can gauge he is bored at home. Bangalore is under lock down since there has been a spike in Corona cases of late. Increased number has been noted from Maharashtra as well.

S tells me not to return. So does some of my family. I feel restless. It has been 30 days I did not write anything on my blog. I missed my garden, my bed, my work desk and the kitchen. I have to get back before everything is closed.

Amidst all these chaos and slow but sure advent of summer, I cancelled all other domestic trips. If I am going back to Bengaluru, may be we will visit Goa during Ugadi holiday. In fact, we can stay in goa for longer if we can manage to find a Airbnb rental with excellent internet.

March 16, 2020

Finally, I returned to Bengaluru from Kolkata on an Indigo flight. It was mostly empty.

Flight prices has dropped drastically.

I booked mine for 6k a week back. Had I waited for a little while, I could have booked a flight for as low as 3k. Funny thing is, Indigo is also allowing cancelling flight with no extra cost. Though Yatra is still sucking blood with cancellation charge and what not. I do not recommend booking through Yatra or such third party websites.

At first look, Bengaluru airport looked painstakingly forlorn. Drivers are asking handful of fliers emerging out of the airport, if they wanna board their car. So did the Vayu Vajra bus drivers. Where are my fellow passengers? i look around.

Bengaluru looks like a ghost city. It is a Monday and streets are empty. Sony signal at Kormangala had green signal. My heart ached. The bus was empty. there was hardly any auto on the road. But restaurants were open. albeit with no taker sitting in.

March 20, 2020

Today, Nirbhaya’s rapists would be hanged to death. Not the juvenile. He has escaped the wrath of society with a new name and a sewing machine, such is the optimism of Indian penal code. What was his name again? Mohammed Afroz. The main perpetrator, Ram Singh has already committed suicide at Tihar jail. Some argue, he was raped by the inmates and unceremoniously ceased to exist.

Today is historic.

Had it been regular time, media would have thrown enough light on this matter. They did not (or is it my social media algorithm?) because this is the time of Corona. They found a new tool to scare people.

The society I live in in Bengaluru, has already banned usage of the swimming pool and gym. From today onward, maids are also restricted entry within. We will offer her paid leave, of course. My maid, Vijayma told she will try to make a come back on Thurseday for she cooks for a family here. She has cooked enough for a week for them, she told.

At 8 m at night, PM Modi appeared on national TV and urged everyone to come out on the balcony on Sunday at 5 pm. We are to use a plate and a bowl to make enough noise to appreciate essential service givers. Sunday is also a Janta Curfew.

We were expecting a countrywide lock down but was perplexed equally how this can be enforced. Janta Curfew seems like a one day drill to show the way forward.

Of course my social media is erupted with criticism and praise for the Janta Curfew on Sunday. I pesonally watched Pm making a speech for the first time and did feel good anout it.

But real surprise came when Mamata Banerjee hit the screen. I do not know if it is Bengali or her attitude, I was mind blown which her eagerness and ingenuity. I can not help but recall Varun Grover’s words, “She is exactly what Modi is, just that she says it in Bengali and hence it sounds sweet!”

March 22, 2020

We have been making small rounds to nearby supermarkets and grocery stores. They are stocked up. Shelves do go empty time to time but they replenish or at least try to. I saw a young man emptying an entire shelf of the fridge with diet cokes. I wanted to scream, dude that is poison for your body and this soil. But this is democracy, what the heck!

There is a new fish shop named meat mart at Harlur Main road. What a time to start a new business. They sell meat variants, Bengali fish on weekends and cold cuts.

We got a heavy Katla and some Gobindobhog rice and Nolen gur, palm jaggery if you may. I plan to make Nolen gurer Payesh. Should there be a complete shut down, this Payesh will help me sail through this period. If Gobindobhog rice is aplenty, I shall make some Murighonto too. Weekends are cooking times are fun!

At 5 pm, the skyscrapers around this society resonated with metallic sounds. Joined in Shankh (conch shell that is usually used for Hindu worship rituals). Joined in Ghonti. A few drums. Children were the most excited lot.

I heard some of them also chanted No NRC No CAA in memory of Shaheen Bagh protest, Delhi. Nothing is apolitical.

We clapped our hands. The euphoria died down soon after but it lived for longer in social media.

A few neighborhoods across India took the 5 pm clapping too seriously. There was a procession. The tricolor. Corona apparently died a death of cowardice?

Apart from the 5/10 minutes on balcony, roads were still. Birds did not sing. The jacaranda in front of my balcony did not shed its leaves. It almost felt eerie. I have only heard about what curfew feels like from Shovo who lives in Kashmir. I lived in a curfew-ed day for the first time. Voluntary and there is no army or militant progressing from anywhere to kill me, I know them as to be the only respite.

I watched Contagion at night. Grimmer movie from grim times.

March 23, 2020

The super market next to our house is closed. Meat mart was open. “Will you guys remain open?” The owner smiled nervously.

I have a pumpkin flower blooming on my one month old pumpkin plant. A couple of lizards are calling my balcony home.

Yesterday night, a cat entered our flat hurriedly. It is a pet, because it has a red collar around its neck.

We hold our breath still. The previous house had a couple of entrances and it could go out from another window. This is a flat with single entry point. Where will it go out from?

I made a meow sound and followed it with a high pitched, “Eiii…” It ran away.

Apparently, a number of people are abandoning their pets. So far, there is no prove that cats and dogs are being contaminated. Numbers are still low in India. Though we do not have enough test kits.

I keep calling my family in Kolkata and asking them to stock up. They did, rice and pulses and ghee. Some eggs. Some fish and meat.

There are long queue in front of the meat shops in Kolkata. Everyone wants to eat meat. Everyone wants to drink like there is no way other.

The maid in Kolkata has stated she would not come for next few weeks. Maa is pissed! Mashi not coming translates to Dadu Dida having to make do without a domestic help too, which means more work for Maa.

Apparently, an Oxford return Bengali boy who tested positive for Covid did not practice quarantine and roamed around in Kolkata. His bureaucrat mother and doctor father are facing extreme trolling in FB. I worry about my brother, who returned from Italy too. Though he came a month earlier. Test kits are sparse. My dad (who is a doctor) did not even receive any N95 mask either. Masks are unavailable everywhere. Flip-kart is still taking orders and saying will deliver by April 9th.

March 24, 2020

Italy registered the maximum number of death in a day. The more I research about Corona, the more panicked I feel. I can not read or write at a stretch, let alone do blogging work.

Page views have plummeted for travel content. Only Vietnam seems to do good. I look up Worldometer website. Vietnam has not registered any death yet. People seem to be traveling. So is Africa. Stay well Africa, I gasp. I shall see you soon.

I have made it a point not to frequent social media much. It is jeopardizing my day’s plans. I am sucked into a vortex of scary news and more of it and can not find a way out to emerge productive and create something new.

At 8 pm, I get a message in Whats app saying Modi has appeared on TV again. i had no clue. I go to the other room from where S works.

A 21 days lock down has been announced.

We knew this was coming. we did not know when and how.

Considering public health system and learning from staggering measures from the developed nations, it is only best if India puts system to a halt ASAP.

We did not find any mention of grocery and supply on the speech. We hit the road before it ended, because I need to have my fish in fridge!

A number of people had hit the road tonight. All of them wanted to stock up. Water. Meat. Eggs and milk, which were unavailable everywhere. Today I saw empty shelves and people panicking. Maa called to know what is happening. i learn from her that Bhai has went out to buy supplies too. It is impossible to get at this time. It is already 9 pm.

I heard a couple of young men walking on the road, “… but this Pappu is also a Chutia!” (for the uninitiated, they were referring to the political leaders of India’s *largest* opposition party.) They seemed to be daily wages earners.

Raktima from Mumbai said they have run out of milk and eggs and other supplies. Food is scarce. Supply is erratic.

I came back and watched Ghore Baire Aaj, the latest movie by Aparna Sen on Amazon Prime. I am thankful that we are not running out of water and wifi. I am taking shower every alternate day just in case.

March 24, 2020

Apparently China has seen a spike in divorce cases once the lock down was enforced. I see why. S and I have been bitter since the crack of the dawn, when we usually go to sleep.

I keep telling him, I will go away. But go away where and how? Rupak has went back to Ankita in Kolkata. Ankita is in her penultimate month of her pregnancy. We could have asked for their scooty, I think in my mind!

Uber service has stopped. A few food delivery vendors are still working.

Meaningless whats-app forwards have reduced inundating my inbox. I assume there has been some strict laws passed and circulated, albeit through whats app again.

We watched Lighthouse at night. A moving tale of a couple of men stranded on an island. It strangely resembled our times.

I also started with a Tiktok account. Spoke with Pallabi who has been in Tiktok for days and planning to be regular on the platform.

March 26, 2020

I was watching Caliphate on Netflix while the news of Kabul blast and killing of Sikhs rattled at doorstep. Communal violence and related news usually triggers me but strangely, Kabul blast did not. I have accepted nature will do the culling and nature will be ominous in her selection.

The air is cleaner in Bengaluru. There are stunning sunsets happening each day which even makes the air florid with prime rose hue. The curve has not been flattened yet. Memes are incessant. The most brilliant of the lot is of the Bengali man saying, “Cha khete esechi, cha kheye chole jabo.” (Came here to drink tea, will drink and go.)

People around the globe have been very kind in sharing. They are sharing virtual library, movie collections. A few members of our society has given space for the watchmen to sleep during lock down. Some of them are cooking for them. I think I will cook on April 1. the cat with a red collar has made another appearance to the flat upstairs. Whose cat is it?

March 27, 2020

Are we witnessing an inevitable end to the Anthropocentric ideas of the world?

From Malabar civets to Nilgai everyone is reclaiming the streets of Indian metropolis! Artists (they call them memers) are bringing back blue whales to Rabindra Sarovar.

I am speaking to my plants and they reply to me. This practice reminds me of the book Brikkhokotha of Humayun Ahmed.

March 28, 2020

My sleep cycle is pretty fucked up. I am staying up till 7:30 am at night, if you can still call it night.

I wake up at 3 and the last rays of Sun kisses our rooftop where we are not visiting as law abiding citizen.

A friend pinged asking for cigarettes. Sayantan does not want to share his last stock. He will probably not get liquor too, if this goes on like this.

We have enough food, because I panicked and i stored good amount of Shutki in time. We are running out of eggs though. Eggs and milk are precious finds these days. the supermarket next to us is not open yet.

My bills with freelance clients are pending and being extended till the end of April. Reju is not sending money either.

We watched Dwitiya Purush finally. Ankita shared the link over Facebook. I am happy that I was simultaneously working on a Pin thread. My Vietnam pins are still getting traffic. It was a wasteful 2 hours for S though. His Macbook charger is wearing out.

A news came that a couple of Indian uncles actually lied to family that they are of to another Indian city and went to Thailand. Police came with a quarantine belt. The furious aunties…

More distressing news is coming in from Delhi, that the migrant laborers are trudging way back home. The bus station in Delhi is a palpable living and breathing mash of humans as seen from space. I am strictly resisting being on social media platforms for long. For an empath, this is a trigger and an eye opener for what Bharat is.

Tiktok is better though. What a overwhelming celebration of mindless existence! This will take us to ruining someday. The Punjabi rapper Badshah has stolen Ratan Kahar’s lyrics of “Boroloker biti lo” and Goggo da has lost his wits. But Cha kaku is still trending with political seasoning every now and then.

March 29, 2020

Sat through for 10 hours and edited Mauritius Vlog in Bengali. My bum hurts but I think I am ready to do better in Youtube.

Under present circumstances, it is almost insensitive to ask for going out but all my heart longs for is to go to downtown Bengaluru and have a porky breakfast at Koshy’s and find an IG spot at Blossom’s. My silly heart! I do not even long for Kolkata. This is so strange!

Dadu Dida is finding it hard to make do with limited resources. Dadu, 96, can not go out regularly. Dida can only manage to cook so much. Bhai can not go out to deliver food because Police. Shambhu, the rickshawala dada is hardly going out because police is not kind to them either. Dida’s maid has fallen sick and not visiting. Only Baba can with a health card. He has got a surgical mask and mask is all he has got. He says, at outdoors, patient footfall is less than usual at Vidyasagar. By less, he means at least 500 people. This despite roads being under lock down. I do not know how pregnant women are undergoing child birth at impoverished households.

Sumita called up. She lives somewhere at Rajabazar. I hear HS has been postponed. Her son is stayed put at home. Her mother is finding it hard to arrange for medicine.

We talk for hours. At the end, we say, we will probably meet during Durgapuja if all things remain fine. Durgapuja is scheduled for October end. The curve is not flattened yet. I shudder to think what is next…

March 30, 2020

To my surprise, I found a few insects on one of the rice packets. There was one in the Masoor packet too. I frantically opened the, cleant and stored in plastic jar. Hind-side of stocking up.

The superstore next to the society is open from 10 to 1 in the morning, I learnt. vegetables are scarce, so is milk. Rest of the things are available.

One of my green chilies plant is flowering. 6 flowers all together, I counted.

In the Covid feed, the tunnel remains dark and weary. No new news, no good news. From BOJO to Trudeau’s wife and the prince Charles, all seem to be chicken in from of the mighty microscopic protein. Some of them are hoping for an end by the end of June. Travel groups are discouraging any form of Europe travel this year. NYC remains stranded.

In India, myriad news are running wild. Some are saying they washed migrant laborers in UP with bleach water. Some are reporting a Jamat at Nijamuddin Dargha in Delhi which might trigger Covid contamination.

Been talking to Shovo for long. Her FIL has planted all sorts of herbs in the kitchen garden. Our conversation drifts from apple season to Kashmir politics and why they cant afford to take the risk of staying back in India in the long run. But home is where your heart is and you want to stay back with family should a situation like this arise. .Death is dancing relentless in Italy. sWorld o Meter website does not even update that regularly.

April 1, 2020

The latest addition to the pandemic is fear mongering added with communal seasoning. A mass gathering happened in Nizamuddin, New Delhi sometime in 15th March. We celebrated Dyuti’s wedding at the same time in Kolkata. Some millions walked on Sealdah station. Another million walked at the Howrah station.

Woke up to Hindu extremists spreading hate propaganda in Whatsapp messages that Corona Jihadist is the latest threat on the block. Whatsapp groups are inked with blood hungry hate mongers. I get pissed and walk to the garden. This blind faith will add fuel to nature’s initiative of mass culling and may be we deserve this! My chilli plant meekly shares my distress and triggers.

From Delhi riots to now the Corona Jihadist propaganda, Universe had to come to a full circle. I do not even want t, o live anymore.

April 8, 2020

A week has passed in betweeen. I could hardly write a thing!

It has been an emotional whirlwind, with days filled with hope and productivity and days where I struggle to scribble one good sentence. I did not quit my job to be idle. I did not accept this prolonged economic hurt to Netflix. Guilt tripping, yes I am while Netflixing. Not so much now but it was different even a couple of days back.

Talking about being productive, i have almost planned my wedding. Is that a trend? Tiktoking and wedding planning? Who knows but as long as it keeps you happy!

yesterday I told S, Pishi is gonna sponsor for the banquet. Let us get married then? He laughs, “What if I lose my job in a couple of months if Covid continues?”

We are going to reach 100,000 death from Corona by the end of this week. Worldwide. India is capped at 100 something. I do not have exact numbers. I do not check.

People with anxiety have reported weight loss, appetite loss and crow’s feet among other things during lock-down. Our leaders are totally fucked up, around the globe. A few news of hope comes out from here and there. Like New Zealand. Like Japan. Like Washington Post calling out Trump as the worst president in “modern times”. Bootlickers in our media is different though.

The issue with Jamat has died but stirred up enablers. Chakaku has become an empathy magnet from mere memes. Badshah has paid 5 lakh to Ratan Kahar apart from coming together on a video conference. Many other things has happened, but I feel exhausted.

The PM asked Indians to light oil lamps or candle on 5th April for 9 minutes at 9 pm. We went to the rooftop to see who is doing what. Someone shouted Jai Vajrangbali from the society next. A few flats had remained lit. Of course there were firecrackers and other gimmicks. Some doubted if this is done by the Muslims celebrating Shabe Barat. By the way, tonight is the night of Shabe barat, with Nakhoda mosque of our Zakaria street urging people to stay home. Eid is scheduled in 45 days. Will the world heal before that? It does not look like.

Ankita is scheduled for a delivery on 25th April. that is the only hope here.

I have designed a few techniques to deal with anxiety. If you read this and are anxious, may be this will help.

  1. Identify the triggers. What shows you the end of the world? The right wing politics? The dog eaters of China? CO2 emission? Economic downturn?
  2. Identify the channels. Who is catering you with these menacing news? You close family? Your whats-app BFF? the IG influencer? Be ruthless and cut down connection. You need to do it for yourself, because no-one will save you unless you do.
  3. Social media can be a pain in the arse unless you know how to manipulate the algo. The more you consume news of Trump or the Brazilian supremo, the more it will cater you with related news. The more you watch Cat videos, the merrier. FB will think you are a cat lover. Same with Bollywood music, dance challenges etc. Point being if politics triggers you, do not consume from social media.
  4. In this age of fake and fabricated news, take everything with a pinch of salt. Propaganda has found a new identity with constant monetary push. Social media channels usually live by the money peddled by these propaganda machines and what they stand for is anything but bible. So once you read a news, stop and think and research. Google. Speak to people. Search what the community is opining. Only after all these, if you still insist, hit on the forward or share button. I know a good human would never want to be a part of these larger than life propaganda machine, but an ignorant (or unscrupulous) one would.