A deadlier virus than COVID-19 has unleashed its own pandemic — the I Have Discovered the Meaning of Life Pandemic. Unlike COVID-19, symptoms appear universally, and, on current evidence, may persist forever. As an infectee, therefore, I feel compelled to share all the knowledge I have gained in lockdown for the past hundred weeks.
All the epiphanies that occurred to me as I leapt out of bed wild-eyed at 7.55 am for an 8 am Zoom call and the perspective I have got by being imprisoned without parole with those I love most in the world — here’s all that hard-won wit and wisdom — yours for free: speaking from experience, there has never been a better time to be simple-minded. A video that repurposes men’s underwear as a face mask with a voiceover in sophisticated Punjabi explaining “face mask ki recipe” has had me laughing harder than I ever laughed pre-lockdown. For those of us who have inner morons, hug them tight, they will get you through this terrible time. Or, they may not, but they will help you laugh a lot more than those Nobel Prize-winners among us (you know who you are, don’t be shy) who are analysing epidemiology patterns and predicting the impact of COVID-19 on the economy.
There is no good face-mask “look”. A mask should actually be the great equaliser. Since no one’s attractiveness is predicated on their forehead, theoretically, in masks, even those who look like rotting cabbages should be on a level playing field with Scarlett Johansson. Right? Well, in the rock-paper-scissors game of ugly vs beauty vs mask, beauty beats ugly, mask swamps beauty, but, in a triumph of justice, ugly beats mask. What this means is that everyone in a mask looks like a criminal, but it’s tired. I am above average in my ability to terrorise bystanders in a mask; I look like a petty thug who vandalises children’s parks and spray-paints arrow-struck hearts and writes “I luvvvvv uuuuu Jaaaniya” on the merry-go-round.
The virus has impacted the comprehension skills of us middle-class Indians. The government has been telling us 30 hours a day, every day, to wash hands frequently, not touch our faces and avoid contact with others. They have done this by ambushing every phone call and having a man with a hacking paroxysmal cough provide a sneak peek into what awaits us if we don’t listen. However, we have understood this to mean we should stockpile all the sanitisers and masks we possibly can so that the people who need them most have no access to them. The more we hear the man hack down the phone line, the more we comprehend it as an exhortation to teach the medical community a lesson they will never forget, not just by stealing their supplies but by also kicking them out of their rented homes and stigmatising them. Well played, middle-class India — we really are the salt of the earth!
Pandemics don’t change people; they just make them a sundried version of themselves. You know how sundried tomatoes taste much more of tomatoes than actual tomatoes do? Well, becoming who we basically are is what we can expect in this crisis.
When people say their bandwidth won’t allow video during a Zoom call, they’re lying. They just don’t want you to see the beer glass, the unwashed, feral children or the clothes lying everywhere. The reason my Wi-Fi bandwidth is so abysmal is that my hair looks like a small furry animal wandered onto my scalp and electrocuted itself.
It’s pretty miraculous how quickly nature heals itself when humans get out of the way. The Yamuna, which was the colour of sludge, is now as blue as the sea at Seychelles, and have you seen that sweet photo of the Himalayan goats ambling about the abandoned streets of Wales? Since, as a human being, it is my right to take nature’s miracles for granted, and also because competitive wankery in WhatsApp forwards is now an Olympic-level sport, nature better not stop there. With the extended lockdown, we’d better be seeing WhatsApp forwards of Gir lions in the Sunderbans and Mount Everest being visible from Lonavla, or else this “planet regenerating itself” stuff won’t cut it any longer.
Intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in your mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. By that logic, we are all brilliant. How hard housework has been for all of us in lockdown is exactly equal to our belief that the people who generally do it for us do absolutely no work. Remember what I said about this pandemic revealing the essence of ourselves? By that logic, we are all claimants to the throne of sundried asses with genius IQ.
Pets and plants are better lockdown companions than most people. No one has wanted to throw large household appliances at either their pets or plants. Also, unlike the people most of us are now imprisoned with, plants and pets don’t need chicken momos and Margherita pizza for them to thrive.
Whatever gets you through these days is what you need to do. If it’s sanitising the doorknobs 10 times and still using your elbow to open the doors, that’s fine. Moderate amounts of caution and immoderate amounts of alcohol? Go for it! Unlimited snacks and endless screentime? Great! The only rule of lockdown life is to think of all the people on the Titanic and what they may regret doing and not doing — and let that be your guide. So reach for the cake, the hugs, the kids and some kindness…and see you on the other side!
Vatsala Mamgain is a glutton, cook, runner, tree lover, shopper, reader, and talker
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