We had recently, like the rest of the country, emerged from the lockdown. The unlock was picking up pace. The chatter of carwash men and some household helps resuming work had returned. The frequency of Amazon deliveries had increased, the neighbourhood paneer/mithai shop had reopened, as had the new beauty parlour which had been inaugurated just before the lockdown. The occasional rickshaw and Uber/Ola cab could also be spotted.
Since the lockdown, the RWA WhatsApp has been like a window to the colony, the one where all news breaks, problems are aired, complaints made and quick solutions found. The dreaded "positive" word got mentioned again, and then again. Soon, this DDA colony in Delhi with around 600 flats had eight positive cases. On 23 June, the admin posted that we were now a containment zone.
With that started a flurry of questions: "It means the residents can't move out of the society at all? Even if they are not positive?" "Will the stationery shop be open?" "Will private doctors be allowed to go out? If we sit at home, who will look after our patients?" "Will the milk supplier be allowed? What about Big Basket, Flipkart, Amazon?"
The answer to most of these questions was no. If the lockdown was like an open-air prison, containment zones are jails with locked gates. The colony/society gates are barricaded and most movement in and out is stopped. Your garbage will be collected, newspaper delivered, roads swept, and the chemist, grocery and Mother Dairy/Safal shops in the small market are allowed to remain open. If you have ordered strawberry jam or an electric kettle on Amazon, or your LPG cylinder is being delivered, it will be dropped at the colony gate some distance away. And if you had started attending office or opened your business after three months of lockdown, you will have to put your life on pause again. Only those on essential services with a movement pass are allowed to exit and enter.
Containment also means that the vegetable and egg and bread vendors will not be rolling their carts down the road in front of your building block for you to stock up. Now, whether you are feeling up to it or not, you have to step out of your house, mask in place, walk/drive to the colony market, stand in a chalk circle, keep your distance and wait for your turn. Not only are you now budgeting more time for these chores, you are also increasing the risk of exposure to the virus. As for the private doctors, they got their movement passes with the help of the RWA.
There were many pressing issues on the WhatsApp group from members and some quick solutions. A person's LPG cylinder was to be delivered. He mentioned that he lives on the third floor (the buildings have no lifts) and did not have a car to transport the cylinder from the gate. The RWA stepped in to say that a security guard would help him carry it on his bicycle. Another person posted early one morning that his water pump was not pulling any water (the water supply timings are fixed and you cannot afford to miss that window). Soon there were members advising him on how to remove an air bubble from the pipe. To cut a long story short, the matter was sorted, and there was a collective sigh of relief.
There are times when you think the world is crashing down on you but then you find there are people ready to lend you a helping hand. These are people you might not recognize when you walk past them on the road— you know them only through their numbers/names on the WhatsApp group.
After three months of lockdown one would think 28 days of containment should not matter. But if you are living in an over 30-year-old DDA flat, and that too on the ground floor, you start to panic and have nightmares of the plumbing and electrical kind. What if the kitchen drain gets blocked and floods the kitchen, or the sewage line gets choked. So, not only are you thinking that constipation is a good idea, there is also the fear of running out of water as all that flushing is going down the drain. The household appliances could fall apart. Like the fridge compressor deciding to give up or a fuse in the bedroom fan. Maybe the Wi-Fi will disappear, and all your Zoom meetings, online classes and WFH will disappear into one big black hole.
It's a containment zone, and no electrician, plumber will be allowed unless there is one living within the colony. The drain and sewage line will get fixed once you escalate the matter on the RWA group, but the fan or fridge will have to wait. You can sweat it out in the meantime.
Yes, your worst fear right now is that you could you get the coronavirus but there are also a hundred and one small and big stresses which keep bouncing in your head—like that rat which you think is in the house. You cannot see it but you imagine it lurking everywhere—going over your feet and up your pyjamas while you are standing in the kitchen, or making itself at home in the almirah that you now refuse to open. You just don’t want it to leap on you when you least expect it.
On the RWA WhatsApp group, the next announcement was about a house-to-house government survey and registration for free antigen testing at the camp set up in the colony community hall. Some people were unhappy that the survey team did not ask enough questions—" They did not even have a thermal gun," said one person. There were others who had not stepped out of their houses at all since the lockdown and did not want to risk going to the community centre. Amid such concerns, a roster was set up on the group for people volunteering to serve morning and evening tea to the staff at the testing centre. The health workers conveyed their thank you, which was greeted with a round of clapping emoticons.
There was a tea roster during the lockdown too, for the security guards. A community kitchen was also set up for them, run with the help of contribution from members. It took a pandemic to understand the strength and value of a RWA WhatsApp group and the community coming together.
The test results were announced on the group. Barring one, all were negative. The positive cases have recovered. It's not clear when we will be decontained. According to the guidelines, if even one more positive case is detected, the containment cycle continues for another 28 days. The RWA says it’s in touch with officials, trying to work out how it can ease things, especially for senior citizens. Already, a vegetable cart vendor, tested for the virus, has been allowed in (as per the latest update, the RWA has taken permission for home delivery of essential items). Meanwhile, the only ATM in the colony has stopped functioning. The Safal booth is operating on one checkout machine, the other one is on the blink. The repairman was not allowed entry last I heard. Maybe these issues have already been sorted. But there are also small joys to be had.
The Mother Dairy has started stocking rasmalai again, it had disappeared from the shelves during the lockdown. In the evenings, two young boys, with masks on, cycle up and down the empty road, with their mother keeping an eye on them. Two stray dogs stand patiently, wagging their tails, as the young girl in the house opposite to ours tries to tear open a Parle-G biscuit packet to feed them. And after many years, I spotted a mongoose.
In the meantime, we stay cued to the RWA WhatsApp group for updates. Recently, there was a good morning post. This member was wondering why there had been no messages for 14 hours. "No water, power issues anywhere. That sounds so good," he wrote.
Through all this, the newspaper delivery boy has not missed a day. His hair has grown—he’s now sporting a hair band. Watching him roll up the newspaper, put a rubber band around it and toss it on the second and third floors, where it lands with a thud, breaks the quiet monotony of the mornings. I asked him if he has been tested, and he replied, "Tabhi toh khada hoon yahan (obviously, that's why I am standing here)."
While we remain confined to our homes, the pandemic has taught us one thing: If life throws you lemons, you don't make lemon juice for instant gratification. Like your grandmother, you pickle it for the long haul.