When everyone is at homeSome quiet, ordinary days and the mundanity of routine in the time of Covid-19.
It’s been a week since the entire country locked down amid concerns of the spread of the coronavirus. And I haven’t stepped out of my house for seven days straight. For my father and mother, it’s been seven days of infinite eternity. I can see them struggling with social distancing—the key prevention to slowing down the spread of the virus.
Every afternoon or evening, my father is tempted to roam around our vicinity. His uneasiness is transparent as he moves up and down the stairs and around the terrace. My father needs to be around people, so whenever he has fits to go outside, my mother shouts from the kitchen, “Don’t go! Why do you want to go outside? Do you want to be punished like those people on Facebook?”
A few days ago, I had shown her a video of police hitting a layperson for coming out of their house during the lockdown. On Wednesday, she was watching and laughing at a new video that showed police making people do sit-ups for strolling around Bhaktapur.
My mother is slightly like me; she enjoys being home. But she’s also very unlike me; she is exuberant and loves talking to people.
But weirdly at this hour, during this time, I love the quiet. I love the clear sounds of birds chirping, of leaves rustling. I also enjoy watching my dog strolling and lazing about the house. There’s no blaring sounds of construction or noisy vehicles. My home feels peaceful. However, sometimes this silence feels heavy and melancholic.
This quiet has unbalanced the equilibrium of society’s notion of ‘normal’. The normal the three of us know, of leaving for work by 10:30 am and being home for dinner. Or the normal of chasing deadlines over family-get-togethers. For my mother, the normal of writing bills and coordinating supplies and selling equipment. For my father the normal of getting to university by 7:15 am to teach his students, and then rushing home for lunch to be in office by 11:30. The normal of calling people for dinner, or puja on Saturdays, attending extra meetings and visiting mamaghar, thulo baa’s place or Hajurbaa and Hajurmaa.
But now you wait for the normal. As this quiet muddles with our normal interactions with the world that we live in.
“There are more cases in the US now,” my father told my mother at the dining table the other day. They have both been having a hard time coping with reality, as I sit all day with my laptop typing away at stories, or searching for ideas to write about. Their official work, unlike mine, cannot be done remotely, it requires movement. And hence, for them, everything is on halt.
And with the amount of free time they have now, the harsh reality of Corona feels even more penetrating. It’s an overwhelming time where you fear about your loved one succumbing to the disease, of you infecting others and realising that death in this time will be tragically estranged. More and more thoughts to lose your strength over.
Whenever my mother calls my sisters who live in North Carolina, where the number of Covid-19 cases has surged to more than a thousand, she begs them to avoid going out. Especially to my second sister, who loves travelling. “Maiya, kai najao hai! Kai najao!” she said on Wednesday evening, and repeated on Thursday morning, then in the evening, and again on Friday morning and evening.
To cope up with these unsettling times, my mother has also started washing clothes unnecessarily. She washed the kitchen curtains the day before yesterday, and bedsheets and clothes that don’t need washing right away—all the while recycling the water for other household purposes. Every day she goes around the empty rooms looking for more work. In the afternoons, she calls up her sisters and talks about how the virus may spread, although she did the same thing the day before. And she regurgitates the facts she has heard from my father and my sisters to others.
My father is also always on the phone talking with people. When he’s not doing that, he is busying himself with news updates. But Zuckerberg’s Facebook has become his primary source for any information.
I have also caught him many times listening to false news about Corona. A few weeks back, he came to the kitchen to declare that Corona was the outcome of the ills humans have done in the universe. He was fuming with anger over the wrongs we have all done over the years.
While cutting vegetables, I sometimes hear my mother chanting mantras, and I ask her why and she says, “To get rid of the virus”. That kind of faith is sometimes stirring, powerful in its own way and something I have never experienced.
Yesterday afternoon both my parents went live on Facebook to recite an Aritara Path (protective verses), a prayer to Tara, a female Bodhisattva. Along with them, many of my father’s friends went live around the same time chanting Buddhist prayers for protection and peace. The idea felt irrational at first, beyond my comprehension, but their faith felt sanguine. They had found a way to be social while maintaining distance and while simultaneously doing something they could talk about for the rest of the day. After their 45-minute prayer online, they received many calls from far-relatives and friends thanking them for their intercession.
On Thursday, my head was pounding with a migraine. The pain was incessant and so persistent that I thought I might have had the virus. With too many daily readings on Corona, I was starting to overthink about it. I checked my temperature more than three times that day. It was 96.7 degrees.
But daily, the three of us keep asking each other if we are breathing normally or if we have a sore throat. My mother leaves all the vegetables and fruits, even the milk packets under the sun for some time. “It kills the virus,” she says.
Almost every day we drink ginger-honey-lime-turmeric tea, as if it’s going to kill the virus. My mother says turmeric helps with immunity; I don’t know where she got that information from, but I drink it without any questions. One thing we have learned in this situation is to be grateful for what we have.
But in the mundane routine that we have been following, even my neighbours have started to notice that whenever I wash dishes, I play Adele or Lizzo. Whenever my mother wants some music to beat the stillness of the day, the speaker blares Veer Zaara or some Salman Khan songs.
But staying indoors also has, in a way, forced us to observe each other’s lives and perspectives. It has closed in some distance that we have been feeling for a while. “I know this shouldn’t be a happy time, but I am glad that I am getting to spend time with you,” my mother said as we both drank chiya on Tuesday.
Last week my father and I had a conversation we hadn’t had in so long about music. He declared new Nepali music was “not immortal”, and I told him that is because he hasn’t listened to up-and-coming music properly. After that, I played songs of Bartika Eam Rai for him to understand her songs’ meaning. Her songs have become a soothing milieu to the afternoon quiet; my mother now enjoys listening to her songs too. My father and I also grooved together to Bee Gees’ ‘Stayin Alive’.
But then, on Thursday, casually and out of nowhere my mother asked: “Will you be okay if we die?” The words made a dent in my heart. And I haven’t since forgotten her voice. “Is this what they have been thinking all this while?” Now I wonder every night, as the quiet I love becomes more piercing. “It’s not like we are all immune to death.” My thoughts keep unravelling.