'From a table for four to four different tables'
Missing the company of girlfriends, among other things, during the lockdown
As I work to the staccato beat of separate clothes-wash clothes-hang-clothes-fold clothes-wash vegetables-process vegetables-cook vegetables-wash dishes-dry dishes-put away dishes that plays on loop, there’s enough time to reminisce about the things I miss in the lockdown.
This is all invisible work that someone else usually handles, leaving me free to think and write and work and play so it’s natural that I am missing the woman who executes these mechanical duties for us with missionary stoicism six days a week. Stoicism, I have discovered, is a skill that is slightly easier to learn if you have no choice. I vow I will never again get irritated with my housekeeper as I scrub the stubborn milk vessel for the nth time.
My friend Natasha Badhwar says that when she steps out to distribute relief food packets in Greater Noida, she invariably encounters domestic workers who have lost their jobs. “They cry and point at the apartments where they used to work. I am aghast that people have allowed them to become beggars."
Many of us have paid our domestic workers for the duration of the lockdown and feel angry at employers who have fired domestic workers or not paid them for March and April. But will this tiny taste of their work lives push us to do more? “When the lockdown is lifted and the house help returns, how many of you are increasing their salary?" singer and chef Anaida asked on Facebook. Now that’s something to think about.
The silence is eerie. I miss the clanging, chaotic soundtrack of India, especially that of my home-town Mumbai. A few years ago, Tapan Babbar’s audio project Sounds of Mumbai recreated the OST of my great city. The horns of naval ships, crashing waves, braking BEST buses, the reassuring repetitiveness of Mumbai local announcements—“Next station Mumbai Central"—in three languages that are the lifeline of this city, qawwalis at Haji Ali Dargah, aartis at Siddhivinayak Temple, street vendors (I miss Mumbai’s vada pav with its fire engine red garlic chutney and Delhi’s shakarkandi ki chaat), the unrelenting Mumbai monsoon, the clip-clop of a horse carriage and Shah Rukh Khan’s slightly overdone rendering of pyaar sab kuch toh nahi hota na, that played over and over for more than 1,000 weeks at the Maratha Mandir theatre.
For someone whose Friday childhood staple was a visit to a single-screen theatre located anywhere from Colaba to Worli Naka (there were seven within walking distance of my house), I miss going to the movies. Who knows when we will be able to sit shoulder-to-shoulder again in a confined public space without thinking about death and illness?
I miss the predictability of the world I grew up in.
One person who is loving the return of birdsong and the sound of rustling trees, even if their echo is bittersweet in the midst of tragedy, is environmental activist Sumaira Abdulali.
Abdulali can usually be spotted around Mumbai recording its unhealthy noise levels with her handheld sound meter. “It’s undoubtedly true that the world will change in profound ways after coronavirus," she says. “I am hopeful that having experienced the sounds of nature maybe for the first time within the city, urban residents unused to this sound will be motivated to ensure that noise levels will never go back to their avoidable previous levels."
As for me, I confess I am tired of the chatter of birds. I miss the girlfriend who can give them competition. Unlike many, I am not alone in this lockdown so I don’t crave the touch of another human—but I do miss the women in my life. “We’ve gone from a table of four to four different tables," actor Kareena Kapoor Khan posted plaintively to her 2.5 million Instagram followers about missing her girl gang. I can say with comfortable certainty that most women feel the same. I miss my monthly visits to Delhi, where evenings are spent with my girlfriend in the warm embrace of her living room. I miss my beer and cheese popcorn dates with my other girlfriend and the girlfriend who comes over to use my balcony for a smoke and the girlfriend who is fed up of telling me we need to go on a trip together and the girlfriend who had to cancel her annual India visit and all the other women who are a key part of my life.
Most of all I miss my parents, who suddenly seem so far away. They sound vulnerable over the phone and I worry about how they will tide over this crisis without me. For the first time in half a century, the couple that holds hands and walks on the promenade every day have stopped their daily evening walks on Marine Drive.
I want all the people I love to consider moving to the same city as me. And talking of Bengaluru, I miss Sunday picnics under the trees in Cubbon Park, browsing through the book stores on Church Street (though Krishna Gowda just tweeted that he has reopened my favourite, Bookworm) and buying more than I will ever read, walking in the shadow of the city’s rain trees, watching the husband and the child swim as I lazily sip chai by the poolside, morning walks by the lake, strolling down to buy fresh veggies, hopping into a vehicle and going someplace. I miss cooking only when I feel like and stepping out on a whim. I miss being the mistress of my own schedule. I miss seeing the city go about its daily business. A city without its people is no city at all, however pretty it may look in photographs.
Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable.