Last week, my children and I were out for a walk and saw a neighbour drop her dog down the steps of her front door and shout in concern. Her husband came rushing out to help and fortunately, the dog seemed fine. The couple looked like they quarrelled briefly. My daughters stood watching the entire scene play out, absolutely enthralled.
“Keep walking, keep walking,” I said to them. “When something difficult happens to someone else, it’s not nice to stare.”
“Why?” they asked.
“It’s rude,” I said. “Please keep walking.”
The couple loaded the dog into the car and started driving towards us.
“Okay, now they see us, please wave,” I said.
My daughters, both of whom have the ability to look unintentionally judgemental, waved sullenly as the car drove past us.
A few days later, I overheard them setting up an elaborate scene in which one of them dropped a dog (a stuffed one in our case) and shouted and the other one came rushing over to help. They then hopped into their car (the sofa) and drove off, even stopping to wave to two pretend children on the road.
I was quite pleased to see them playing this odd game because they have been playing only one imaginary game of late, and in it they are neighbours out walking their dogs and they run into each other and shout pleasantries across the road, making sure they maintain 6ft distance. They shout to each other about the weather, the vaccines and the virus, and then walk in different directions.
Imagination has to come from somewhere and in covid times, options are limited. I see toy cash registers for sale but my children have not entered a store since March. My older one remembers airports and pretends to be a pilot. My younger one does not but gamely plays along and asks for a glass of purple wine.
In my never-ending list of laments for the current state of our world, I tell my husband that I worry about how little our children are currently experiencing. Forget airports and new cities and new foods, there isn’t even playschool. There are no small fights to sort out with friends their own age, no crowded Hill Road in Bandra to navigate. My older child once spent an entire evening pretending to be a pani-puri seller.
We have all spent most of 2020 suspended in a strange reality, watching borders close and our worlds shrink. We have not had as much time with friends and family, and in some cases, we have had too much time with certain parts of our family. I personally mourned the passing of a loved one on the other side of the world but I also got the opportunity to spend most of the year living with my parents, something that may not have happened without a global pandemic, and I discovered an adult relationship and friendship with them that I will always be grateful for. My husband and I became a stronger team and we got to see our young children change day by day, sometimes hour by hour. I have learnt to be more grateful.
The vaccine, racing to catch up with this sneaky virus, provides a glimmer of hope but I am nervous to get too excited about what 2021 might hold. Once bitten, twice shy, and 2020’s bite was nasty. Thank you for reading my words this year. This column has helped me feel less alone in the year of isolation. The changing of the year may not have any significant effect on anything but it feels nice to mark the occasion and to allow ourselves to hope, quietly, that better days await us all. I, for one, am ready for my children to find more things to fuel their imaginations.
This evening, my younger one slammed shut her little laptop (big word for a tiny device that has three shapes on it), frowned, and said, “Shh, Mama working.”
I never knew I looked quite so furious while typing.
Happy new year, dear readers.
Diksha Basu is the best-selling author of The Windfall and Destination Wedding