Written by Reenu Talwar
An evening in March found me frantically buying groceries, swatting my 11-year old daughter’s hand repeatedly as she touched her face after touching things at the shop, packing our clothes hastily and shifting to my father’s place as his maids and attendant had been asked to stop coming. The lockdown had begun.
Later that night, I struggled to sleep. I walked from room to room watching my father and children in deep slumber. The anxiety about what lay in store jostled for space with optimism that this thing would blow over soon and we would get back to our normal lives. As sleep still eluded me, I decided to bake bread. All the kneading and waiting for the dough to prove calmed me down, and I finally went to bed.
Morning brought back the apprehensions and I found myself doing something I had never done before — posting pictures of my cooking on Facebook. I put up a picture of the bread I baked the previous night and wrote about how my ordered life had turned chaotic in the past 24 hours — my son was suddenly back from college, my daughter’s birthday plans had to be abandoned, and all of us had to shift to my father’s home.
The days were a struggle, with all of us (mostly I) trying to complete all the chores without any help. We made mistakes, even blunders, but we tried to laugh them off. The chores kept my mind off the pandemic and stopped me from checking updates every minute and disintegrating with worry.
Since going out was not an option, I began cooking whatever my children craved — pizza, golgappa, dosa, sev puri, cakes and even elaborate mithais and desserts. I also fell into the routine of posting pictures of whatever I cooked and writing about the ordinariness of my days. The city went from lockdown to curfew. The sinking feeling had come to stay. It was as if Sisyphus’s boulder was sitting on my chest, working ‘from home’. I began to write about it more and more on Facebook.
As time passed, I felt the days slowing down even as I, paradoxically, raced to finish chores. We found ourselves observing our surroundings more closely. I wrote about the trees flowering around us, the birdcalls, the crickets and how my daughter had made friends with a lizard on the wall and even given it a name. My posts became longer, peppered with moments that made the blur of the days worthwhile.
I tried to find time for writing, translation, reading or watching something on Netflix, but nothing could hold my attention amidst the uncertainty. These short bursts of writing on Facebook were all I could manage — delineating the mundane, celebrating the small things, examining my days under a microscope with a soft filter.
My mother passed away two years ago, and this was the first time that I was living in my parents’ house 24X7, since then. I felt her presence all around me. Anything I touched or used had memories attached to it. Whatever I cooked was mostly inspired by her recipes. It was as if she was telling me what to do. I began to write about her in my posts, sharing my memories with the world. And the comments that poured in surprised me. People wrote back saying that they had begun to wait for my posts, that they logged in to Facebook to see what I had put up.
And as weeks turned to months all hope of the situation returning to normal soon began to diminish. The outside world became more and more dystopian. Images of people in PPEs seemed like scenes from films about alien invasions. Visuals of migrant workers walking hundreds of miles to reach home and news about rising cases of suicide and domestic violence began to haunt me. Almost as a counter, my online posts grew longer, more detailed. I began quoting from poems I loved. The cooking, the poetry, the Facebook posts, all became a survival mechanism. I felt lighter, buoyant after sharing a post. It felt good to connect with people who wrote back to me, who encouraged me to go on.
Many of my friends who lived alone spoke about their loneliness. Some said my writing about mundane subjects such as clogged drains and birds stealing twigs from my broom brought them solace. Others echoed my difficulty in managing young children during the lockdown. The posts I put up to get things off my chest set off a network of empathy. I was getting unimaginable responses from the unlikeliest of people.
When almost a hundred days had passed, I felt I should stop writing out of fear of being repetitive. I mean how long can a person write engagingly about the same things, day in, day out. I hadn’t even stepped out of the house for a walk in all these days. Life was being lived in a very small, closed circle. But my proposal was met with protest. Somehow, as they did for me, my words helped others find an escape from the dread plaguing us all.
So, I have been carrying on with my writing, keeping my focus on the day, the moment. The future is what the future always was. Unknown.
Reenu Talwar is a writer and translator
National Editor Shalini Langer curates the ‘She Said’ column