Most people share a love-hate relationship with their family. For most Indian families, the concept of personal space is alien. So even if they are nodding feverishly while watching prime time news cautioning against the dangers of a virus, the very idea of practising ‘social distancing’ inside the house, within the members of the family, is heretical to them.
For this very reason, many people who are in quarantine with their family members are beginning to feel a tad peeved with the whole arrangement. Rather they were with friends, or by themselves, as opposed to the continual presence of a parent, a sibling, an aunt, or a grandparent.
But Padmini Vaidyanathan is not one of them. The 27-year-old academic sector professional is currently in Chennai, alone, and far away from her family in Jamshedpur. When the lockdown was announced, she was already in Chennai, and had not been home in six months. “I understand the lockdown was important to contain the pandemic, but I just wish I had more time to plan my travel and reach home,” she says, adding: “On a particularly difficult day, when news screens flash an increase in the number of cases, there is a lot of stress and fear. It is during these times that you wish you were with family, so you could ease the stress”.
Evidently, she misses her family. But for every Vaidyanathan, there is a Swagata Das (name changed) who wishes she was alone in quarantine. Das (22), a Noida-based writer, is in quarantine in her 3BHK with her parents and a younger sibling. She says, “I honestly am envious of people who are alone right now. I wish I was alone – without parents, friends or even my boyfriend for that matter. I know for a fact that at some point I will be irked by someone’s presence. But if I were alone, I would have had more independence. For instance, right now, my father wakes me up at 6 am every morning. I cannot even have a moment to myself when I can sit in the balcony and smoke, without some barging in. I want to paint, listen to music without someone telling me to turn the volume down. I just want to light my favourite scented candles and meditate, without absolutely anyone walking into my room every five minutes”.
Those living away from their families may be dismissive of Das’ annoyance, simply because at the end of the day, she is getting to benefit from all the comforts of home; but to each their own.
The middle ground
A Delhi-based 30-year-old corporate communications professional, who does not wish to be named, says that the only thing that vexes her at the moment is the uncertainty. “My family is in Bhubaneswar, and I have been living away from them for a long time now, but the uncertainty of when I will get to see them next makes me miss them, and it bothers me,” she says. “It would have been nice to have them around since I am working from home. But at the same time, it is a whole new experience for me. I am doing everything by myself, managing work and household chores as well,” she adds.
Much like her, Kolkata based Rahul Das Naskar (37) – who is currently in quarantine with his parents – is also feeling exasperated. Not (only) because he is at home with his parents, but because he just recovered from chicken pox. “It is frustrating that I am home-bound, both because I recovered from pox, and because of COVID-19. After all, you can only stream so many movies, and watch so many shows. It is not as though I do not wish to stay with my parents or that I am looking at the same faces every day, but yes, I also get a bit worked up when they get cranky. Sometimes, when I snap, I realise that we are all helpless right now,” he says.
The thing about family is that you cannot do with them, and you cannot do without them. There has to be a balance, just a pinch of it, otherwise the whole concoction can go off beam. Right now, unfortunately, the balance is askew.
When 27-year-old Arefa was journeying from Assam to Delhi earlier last month, little did she know that she would get stuck in the city for an anticipatory period of 21 days at least. “I was in Delhi to meet with my friend when the lockdown was announced. My twin had told me repeatedly to cancel my ticket, but I went ahead with my plan anyway. After the lockdown was announced, a part of me wished I had stayed back in Assam. My family has been immensely worried and looking back, staying with them at the tea garden was a far better option. But my friend and her mom are making sure I feel at home; in a way, I am lucky to be with them,” she says.
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But Arefa’s experience is a far-cry from that of a 25-year-old civil services aspirant from Noida who, on the condition of anonymity says that he just wishes he had the option of choosing his quarantine companions. “I wish I could replace my father with my girlfriend – my mother and my girlfriend would have made better quarantine companions. To begin with, he has no concept of respecting someone’s boundaries. If I am watching the television, he will sit next to me and watch videos on WhatsApp, believing them, despite me telling them they are hoaxes. My requests to him to turn down the volume are ignored, leaving me with no option but to switch the TV off and retreat to my room. Two days ago, we had an argument and I had to leave the house and wander on the terrace for a little while to calm myself down. In this period of lockdown, I cannot even go anywhere for a breather. I anyway think a father-son relationship is pretty fragile, and all it needs is a little push for it to snowball into a tussle,” he says.
But, like it or not, the situation is likely to remain unchanged in the days to come. There will be more barging in, more arguments, more missing home and feeling lonely, and what one can do is learn from this experience so they don’t rip each other apart, or bury themselves in worry.
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