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Monday, July 13, 2020

Two writers speak of returning to life once the pandemic is behind us

Eyes firmly on the future, two writers speak of returning to life once the pandemic is behind us.

Updated: May 24, 2020 10:14:19 am
A lonely city. (Source: Reuters)

Avni Doshi

When I think about life returning to normal, I feel the mingling of anticipation and dread one might experience when seeing an old love — there are memories, hesitations and the knowledge that nothing will ever be quite the same. We are learning about ourselves in isolation, particularly who we are when no one is watching, and what we crave or miss when daily life is at its most pared down.

Friends and family have been asking me if I’m writing — what a great time to sit down and wrestle with a second novel! But the truth is writing is difficult, even excruciating, these days. Instead, during this time at home, I feel a strong desire to make art — to sketch, paint, create a collage, gather and arrange found materials, something I can begin and complete in a short span of time – and I am increasingly aware that I’m not very good with my hands. Sure, I can make something conceptual, but suddenly skilled work and art that requires technique feels essential, even radical. Like many people, I’m spending a lot of time reading and learning what I can online. Workshops, webinars and free material are suddenly abundant and there is so much to choose from. But the pleasure of doing these things in person is acutely missing. When this is all over, I want to make time to take art classes, to be around other students, in front of a teacher.

Spending endless hours at home has made me keenly aware of how disorganised my life is. So, I arrange drawers and cabinets, hang and rehang clothes I will probably never wear again. As part of this sorting, I’ve turned to my photographs, tens of thousands of images from the last decade, and am making little albums of special holidays and trips. Namibia. Peru. Japan. Bhutan. As I go through the pictures, I’m amazed at how much I’ve travelled in my life — and how I’ve taken this privilege for granted. Being still for so long, I suddenly have the urge to move. Perhaps when this is all behind us, I’ll plan a trip — somewhere I’ve longed to go but have put off. Ethiopia? Antarctica? And, maybe, I’ll do what I never had the courage to do before: travel alone.

Avni Doshi is the author of Girl in White Cotton

Devapriya Roy

When this lockdown ends, the first person who rings our bell will be Pal Singhji. Mr Singh runs a cab service near the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and has been in our life for more than a decade, part of every crisis — several hospital runs — and every big occasion — first book launch, PhD viva, insane bouts of house-hunting. Much like every hapless member of our family, which naturally includes our friends, he has also crossed over into one of my books, Indira.

Before the Janata Curfew in March, he had gone home to Himachal Pradesh for a couple of days, and then, as the crisis deepened, his family didn’t let him return. It was just as well. A man who works the most impossible hours in the city, sleeping only two or three hours on nights there are multiple trips to the airport, it would have been the first time in 40 years or more that he would have been away from Delhi for so long, eaten his wife’s cooking for more than a month, spent time with his nephew’s young children, without the pressure of his Delhi regulars calling him all the time. (In his case, I can afford the sentimentality only because I know that despite the loss of income, he has no outstanding debts to be honoured — he has paid off the EMI on his cabs — and his children are both grown-up).

When the lockdown ends, I will sit in Pal Singhji’s white Dzire and not tell him where to go. I will ask him, instead, about his village and his family, and how he spent the lockdown days. He will tell me about the crop they harvested, how they managed to get it to the wholesale grain market, and the latest that Japjyot Singh — the grandnephew who asks for mangoes from Delhi in the middle of winter — has to say about his baby brother Bipanjyot. He will tell me about all the cab drivers he knows, across Delhi and how they are all coping. Invariably, one thread will lead to another, we will drive through JNU, the place we are both obsessed with, and even if I haven’t said anything to him, we will end up at Khan Market. He knows all my vices.
And then, smiling at people (because in this fantasy, the virus has disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared and no one is wearing masks or looking suspiciously at determined smilers), I shall visit the three book stores at Khan one after the other, first, Bahrisons, then through the middle lane to Full Circle, and, finally, back to Faqeer Chand. I shall dawdle inside each familiar space, chatting with the custodians of the books, taking an inordinately long time to choose. I shall be expansive: buy this book for V and that book for A, a cookbook for my friend Gee who’s rediscovered cooking in the last few months, there are the birthdays we missed, and then there’s my niece Miko, who had discovered the joys of books with flaps and secrets just before the lockdown.

Finally, arms full of books, I shall walk round to Prithviraj Market, where former footballer Aslamji always gives us the best mutton. He asks after my father — the two of them share a bond even though my father lives in Calcutta for most of the year — and I ask after his wife. Though we speak of the lockdown and its losses, our eyes are on the sunlight outside that has painted everything in gold, and upon the people, who, having emerged from their isolation, walk with a spring in their step. Though we speak of the difficulties and count the dead, our thoughts are with the future.
Devapriya Roy is the author, most recently of, Friends From College.

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