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Lockdown Diary: Time to mop and watch time stand still

In the last few days, time seems to have come to a standstill for many confined to their homes

In the last few days, time seems to have come to a standstill for many confined to their homes. Photo: iStock
In the last few days, time seems to have come to a standstill for many confined to their homes. Photo: iStock

I called up MT over the weekend to ask how she’s doing. Like the rest of the country, she’s quarantined at home with her family: husband, three sons, two daughters-in-law and two grandchildren.

Her frenetic days have run into a barricade. From 9 in the morning till 9 in the night, with a break of 2-3 hours in the evening, she would be running between four houses on the same street in our colony doing various household chores. It is a joke between us: When she walks in, I ask her, “Aaj kahan dard ho raha hai (Which part of the body is hurting today)?" She laughs and says her legs are hurting, some days it’s her head, and other days her back—"Kamar gayi," as she puts it.

She is always late in the morning, sometimes coming in just 15 minutes before I am to leave for work. She washes the dishes and brooms and mops the house like a hurricane, in between answering phone calls from Doctor Aunty or Kashmiri Aunty asking her when she will show up, and pati dev, as she refers to her husband, sometimes fondly and sometimes in jest.

Pati dev stays at home, looking after the eldest grandchild, who started going to play school recently, while the wife, the two daughters-in-law and three sons all go out to work.

I once asked her why her husband doesn’t work so that she can take it easy. According to her, he says he has three sons, he doesn't need to work. Sometimes it's difficult to discern whether she’s saying something in humour or seriously. But no matter how many body parts are aching or how bad her day, she shows up for work. She did quit once at one of the households where she had been working for over a decade because Uncle had got angry. Also, the salary had not been increased in proportion to the workload. But then she resumed work after a month, returning to the same old routine. Old habits and relationships are difficult to sever.

The morning slot when she is at my house for 20-25 minutes is empty these days. I look at mopping the floor as a good cardio exercise, a test of my body’s agility to get down on my knees and swing the mop in a semi-circular motion from one end to the other. Finally, I am paying attention to the core. It’s not easy getting your bones and muscles to remember their childhood but I cheat by mopping only on alternate days. But what’s missing are the nuggets MT shares from home and workplace on days when she’s not in a tearing hurry: One day she was making rotis at one aunty’s house when her phone rang. Aunty from the house across the street was calling, asking her to come immediately, it was an emergency. She says she ran across the street to find aunty standing on a chair in the middle of her room: She had spotted a lizard and would not come down until the tiny creature was banished from the house.

Another day she talked about the turmoil in the extended family because a girl was dating a boy from outside the community: “Wo Indian dikhta hai (He looks like an Indian)," said MT, who is from Nepal and has been living in Delhi for over two decades.

As Don Draper says in Mad Men: "When a man walks into a room, he brings his whole life with him."

MT celebrates every festival, birthday in the family, with her brother and brother-in-law’s family. Once I asked her what she was planning to cook. She said chicken curry, dal and a vegetable dish. "The men will drink and will play cards." What about the women? “Hum Pepsi peeyangay (We will have fizzy drinks)." Two years ago, they pooled in money to rent a hall on Teej (usually celebrated by women). “We danced, ate and had fun," she said.

She’s the most excited around Diwali when she and her sister-in-law, who also works on the same street, rent a stall at the community Diwali Mela. Their specialities: momos, noodles and honey chilli potatoes. Two years ago they won a bike in the tambola contest at the mela. The boys in the extended family could be seen zipping around the colony in it (before the lockdown), ferrying their moms to work.

I asked MT on the phone if she’s taking a much-needed rest now. With her trademark wit, she said her body aches have gone up because of being house-bound. Her second grandchild was born just before the lockdown. She said they sleep during the day and are awake at night, following the sleep patterns of the baby.

Meanwhile, in my house, time has come to a standstill. Our two wall clocks stopped within a day of each other after the lockdown. The third one had run out of battery a few months ago, but we never got around to replacing it. There’s no tick-tick sound breaking the stillness of the night, or day—just the whirring of fans.

The good news is that the AQI in our house is improving as the man has run out of cigarettes. But the withdrawal symptoms have been interesting. A new snack routine has made an appearance: a 20 packet of chips which is rationed for two-three days. It’s hard to say which is worse, nicotine or trans-fats and sodium. If the grocery shop round the corner runs out of chips, maybe we will be free of both old and new addictions till time starts ticking again.

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