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Opinion | Do butterflies bite?

With the pandemic changing the fabric of our lives, we wait for normalcy to return, unsure what normal will mean in the future

We endlessly weigh the pros and cons of an urban life versus one with access to more space.
We endlessly weigh the pros and cons of an urban life versus one with access to more space. (Istockphoto)

A month ago, as we were about to head to the airport in Mumbai, I rushed back into the house with my sleeping one-and-a-half-year-old, placed her on the bed, ran to the bathroom and threw up. My travel anxiety was through the roof and my daughter sat up on the bed and looked at me.

My husband and three-year-old daughter were waiting downstairs with the bags loaded into our friend’s car.

Less than 24 hours earlier, we had made the agonizing decision to fly across the world and get to the town in upstate New York where I grew up and my parents still live to ride out the next phase of the pandemic and lockdown. We were alerted to a relief flight last minute, booked it, and spent a frantic 24 hours taking care of two young children and packing for an indefinitely long trip. In addition to the usual diapers and endless snacks and toys and children’s headphones and iPad games, we also had to think about our hand-sanitizer supply, Dettol wipes, face masks and shields, and whether or not we were making a grave mistake.

Driving through the deserted Mumbai streets, it felt like we were about to leave a war zone, fly through a war zone and land in a war zone.

The journey ended up being the smoothest one we have ever had (I say this now, in retrospect, after our two-week quarantine ended uneventfully). The three-year-old wore her mask, the one-and-a-half-year-old stayed in her stroller when we needed her to, the flights and airports were empty and everyone was being extremely careful and we didn’t run out of hand sanitizer. There were multiple temperature checks along the way. At Charles de Gaulle Airport, we changed our clothes and washed ourselves and ran up and down the empty terminal, more space than we had had in weeks.

On the next leg of the flight, there were only three other passengers in our cabin and we removed our masks and had a glass of wine.

In New York, a friend with covid-19 antibodies picked us up from the airport and the next morning we woke up in the middle of the country, surrounded by endless greenery and a sliver of the lake visible through the trees. My husband and I turned to each other in relief, grateful for the privilege that made it possible for us to be here and said, “This is going to be so good for the kids."

The children, it turns out, are not accustomed to nature after living primarily in Mumbai. On the first morning, we opened the door and let them out into the beautiful early summer morning, the grass lush and green, the sun shining, bees and butterflies buzzing. The older one rushed back inside and asked, “Do butterflies bite?"

The younger one came quickly on her heels, shouting “SOUND, SOUND!"

They miss Mumbai, we all do. We miss the crowds and the traffic and the people and hustle and bustle of the city but the pandemic took away all that we loved about it and so we wait.

We wait for normalcy to return, unsure what normal will mean in the future.

In the meanwhile, as the days pass, the children are starting to choose grass over concrete, learning to wear non-slip shoes and walk over rocks in the shallow part of a stream, no longer run away from chipmunks, identify the distinct rat-a-tat-tat of woodpeckers, and even tried feeding a very stressed ant small pieces of watermelon.

At night, after they fall asleep, we whisper about how fortunate we are that the children get to experience this part of the world. Like so many families with young children, we endlessly weigh the pros and cons of an urban life versus one with access to more space. We lie in bed and talk about different cities and different countries and imagine the world without masks and 6ft of distance and how strange it is to be nostalgic for a world from just a few months ago.

Then a lone motorbike roars down the highway that’s a mile away, bursting through the pin-drop silence, and even we get a fright. My husband gets up to turn on the standing fan for white noise and I reach over and swat a spider that has found its way through the window screen.

Diksha Basu is the author of The Windfall (Bloomsbury). Her new book, Destination Wedding (Bloomsbury), will be out this month.

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