On the first day of the #JanataCurfew, our dog Scarlet had the best time of her life. Our home shares a boundary wall with a large forest park, which has open grassy areas, clumps of bamboo and an orchard of amla trees. It is paradise for a nine-month-old dog to run around in and chase other dogs. On regular days, however, the forest park is also dotted by people—resting, walking, running and passing through. A rescued pup who has recently recovered from all her injuries, Scarlet is still afraid of strangers, particularly men. Even when she is on a leash, she is jittery about going too far away from home and drives us crazy trying to avoid other humans. Lockdown has been a taste of paradise for her. She sprints around in the park with abandon and finds her way back home when she is done.
Our cat, Rahat, craves the same freedom and tries to escape with Scarlet but he is still recovering from spinal injury and we are overprotective of him. They are both the same age but Rahat is still our baby, while Scarlet gets the freedoms of a teenager.
The most calming things about working from home have been the gifts of being near our pets and being able to listen to our children talk to each other without interrupting them. They discuss books and online shows amongst themselves and just like that I hear something I once knew but had misplaced somewhere in my memories.
“I need to read a book with a happy ending," I overheard our eldest teenager say. “Young adult fiction needs to have happy endings. Feel free to put all the gory endings in the dystopian novels, please." “Why do you say that?" I asked her. “There are all these characters who are weird and miserable and yet we relate to them in our books, Mamma," she said. “When they manage to sort out their issues and pain and find happiness, it gives the reader hope about herself. I feel that even though I secretly feel not-normal, I will find happiness if I work on it too."
As unschoolers, our three children are used to the design of doing things while staying at home and the only disruption they feel is that I am around all the time now. They cash in on my presence by inspiring me every now and then to cook pasta. Every time we have finished licking our plates after a pasta meal, I express gratitude to all Italians for creating such an easy solution for all-round happiness.
Another advantage of being home for prolonged periods is rediscovering books on shelves. At one point I felt too anxious to concentrate on anything I was supposed to do and got into bed with a new book from our children’s bookshelf. I opened The Boy, The Mole, The Fox And The Horse by Charlie Mackesy on a random page and read: “When have you been at your strongest?" asked the boy. “When I have dared to show my weakness." I shut the book, closed my eyes and allowed myself to acknowledge my anxiety. To stop trying too hard.
“Often the hardest person to forgive is yourself," I read the next time I opened the book and immediately forgave myself for not answering my emails in time.
My husband has been away at his parents’ home and we call each other to exchange notes. Caring for his father in his village, he is trying to follow the regimen of staying calm and being well-behaved in his immediate environment and letting off as much steam as he needs to on phone calls to his sister and me. “Our neighbours have gotten up early and have finished cooking for the day before 4am," he informed me last Sunday, on the day of the Janata curfew.
Apparently, the rumour in east Uttar Pradesh villages was that the government was going to cleanse the atmosphere of viruses and that would temporarily contaminate everything in the open. People were not keeping their pickles out on the roof for fear that it was not safe to expose it to the air under lockdown. We laughed about it and hung up. Trains have been cancelled and we don’t know when he will be able to return home.
Our nephew who lives within walking distance of our home called next and told me that police was patrolling in front of his home and yelling at people to stay indoors. He sent me a video of a tanker outside his home and officials spraying something on the trees and in the air. For a while, I felt like a fool because clearly the people who had protected their pickles in advance knew more about what to anticipate during the Janata curfew than I did. Besides the updates on the coronavirus threat, the internet has also been flooded with advisories on how to protect one’s mental health. As a person who has hadan office at home for over 10 years, I was especially amused at the advice to dress up formally for work even when at home. “The whole point of being home is not having to dress up," my children chorused when I shared it with them.
In the spirit of generosity, I dropped a few advisories of my own in a Facebook update: Un-practise perfectionism every day. Use bad fonts for good writing, leave a full-stop in the wrong place. Eat at your desk, think about cleaning your laptop screen for 3 seconds and then forget about it. Sometimes comb your hair, sometimes make your bed. Leave the heater in a corner of the room till winter returns.
Be good, be kind, try to be cheerful, go for a walk after dark. Reconcile to being judged. Be un-perfect. Learn again how to stay at home.
After this I felt very guilty about leaving the heater in a corner of the room and took it upstairs to the storeroom. I have to enter and exit the store with my eyes closed so that I don’t get distracted by other shiny stuff waiting to grab my attention.
It has been disorienting to find a rhythm of work, leisure and rest without leaving the home and yet this enforced break in response to the threat of coronavirus has also been a time of reflection. In Charlie Mackesy’s book I found another passage I wanted to keep with me forever: “Sometimes I feel lost," said the boy. “Me too," said the mole, “but we love you, and love brings you home."
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker and the author of My Daughters’ Mum and Immortal For A Moment.