Raghavan was jumping from one online portal to other in order to arrange groceries and vegetables. Meanwhile, his wife Meenakshi was putting their daughter Srinika to bed. Soon after the little one was fast asleep her mother tip toed out of the room. While closing the door her eyes fell on two pairs of snowshoes and bags that were packed with winter essentials like jackets, woollen gloves, caps.
“These are of no use now.” Meenakshi thought to herself taking a deep breath.
“Any luck?” Meenakshi asked her husband and headed straight to the kitchen.
“No, not yet.” Out of frustration he flunked his hand in the air and replied.
She walked silently into the kitchen and combed through the pantry cabinets in order to take a stock of groceries.
“Half a container of rice, around three kilograms of pulses, wheat flour seems okay, but oil won’t last more than five days… ”, promptly she got into an assessment mode.
“None of them are accepting orders. Don’t know what to do.” Raghavan came in to inform.
“Leave it for now. You could try again tomorrow morning.” Meenakshi suggested.
“What’s the situation here?” Raghavan inquired looking at one of the empty pantry cabinets.
“Well, I think this stock would last for five to six days at the most.” She replied pensively.
Stocking up items that are essential for basic survival did not occupy their mental space till this moment as they were preparing for a trip to Europe that would have commenced shortly. However, life is known for throwing surprises. As a pre-emptive measure to check the spread of covid-19 virus the Government of India had imposed lockdown in the country. Hence, being trapped in an unexpected turn of events compelled them to put the trip on hold for now. Interestingly, in no time they adapted to the changing scenario. So instead of crying over spilt milk or getting in touch with the travel agency for postponing the date of travel or refund of their booked tickets, they got down just to the basics… survival. After all, challenging situations makes one realize what constitutes the core and what was the peripheral crust in life.
“Don’t worry, there will be a way out. There are so many shops nearby. Once the mad rush to hoard things settles down, we can go and buy things. We have some staple to last us a few days.” Meenakshi reassured. Although she had provided solace to her husband, but deep inside she had apprehensions regarding the hidden facets of the coming days that would unfurl eventually.
“And what if we face grimmer situation like food scarcity during this period, what are we going to do? All these years we have toiled hard accumulating wealth for our future needs but when the need came knocking at the door, no amount of bank balance came to our rescue. Even after having buying power in good proportion, the currency notes look mere paper and bank cards are useless pieces of plastic.” Raghavan asked helplessly.
That day their efforts went in vain but three days later Raghavan ventured out to buy essential goods. He felt no less than a soldier donned with a mask shielding his face, clutching a hand sanitizer as his only weapon and with fear in his heart cautiously avoiding as much touch points as possible, thus taking baby steps forward. With humanity waging a war against this dreaded pathogen, the dynamics of warfare has changed in a blink of an eye. Now, it is widely understood that a war is no longer fought at frontiers alone and an enemy could be a microscopic organism too. Though Raghavan came back home with groceries and other essentials successfully, yet he was far from feeling victorious or claim the mission as accomplished.
“Keep everything in the balcony, discard your mask and take bath. I have kept everything ready in the bathroom.” Meenakshi announced as she proceeded to toil with fruits and vegetables, cleaning and sanitizing them for an hour. After they were done with their newfound rituals, they sat relived for a few minutes before dispersing to their respective make-shift workspace. As their trip got cancelled, they thought it was sensible to resume their work straight away. Luckily, their nature of work supported work from anywhere concept.
“How was everything outside?” Meenakshi enquired.
“Okay… it looked okay as most of the people were trying to maintain a safe distance from each other. Of course some of them acted callously too. But there is a lot of confusion outside.” Raghavan replied.
“Yeah, it is better to stay at home.” Meenakshi added.
“Hmmm, indeed. Just thinking of it for some time… our home has become Noah’s ark of present times. Isn’t it?” Raghavan sighed and continued, “As if we are all floating in a deep, dark ocean of uncertainties but once inside our tiny abode, we are still safe from this torrential virus. In the same way, every creation of God who had boarded Noah’s Ark were safe despite whatever was going on outside of it.”
While contemplating about God’s design in maintaining an equilibrium in the universe, she looked around the abandoned construction site from her window. The place was hustling and bustling with activities just a few days ago, but it is sparsely populated now due to lockdown.
“Don’t know if this virus has originated naturally or in a lab, but nothing is possible without God’s consent. There must be a bigger picture, a greater purpose than what meets our eyes. If you observe properly you would realize, this incident has made everyone to stand in a single line. Anybody or everybody can get effected by this virus irrespective of their class, status or financial ability… no exemption, no favoritism whatsoever.” Raghavan added.
That afternoon, after slogging for a few hours at work she thought of reheating the food to be consumed for lunch as it was prepared in the morning. While keeping vegetable curry and rasam on gas stove she felt a sense of relief as they were able to arrange enough food for coming days. For a moment, her heart sank as she drifted away to their maiden trip to Europe. To be at the safer side they had postponed it to the third quarter of the year as the situation does not look conducive any time soon.
“We should give a call or send a mail to the travel agency to get a confirmation. They should give a clear picture, but they are just not at all responding. Oh! sometimes I feel life is a series of uncomfortable situations with a bit of relief in between.” she thought.
Strange are the ways of a flickering mind, as after her home got stacked with essentials for basic needs, it wandered to more peripheral needs such as following up the travel agent or the trip. She was brought back by shrill screams of a dog. She quickly rushed to the balcony thinking, “Why is this dog crying?”
To her surprise, a little boy and his sister were giving bath to a stray puppy at the same construction site adjacent to their building. And the puppy is in turn reluctant to get drenched in water thus screaming his lungs out. The innocence and the excitement with which they both were going about their job brought a smile on Meenakshi’s face as she knew the thrill of bringing home a pup from the streets. As kids, many a times she and her brother use to bring stray pups home, bath them or wipe them with antiseptic liquid, give them milk and even name them before getting stern orders from their mother to leave the pup outside.
“Life was so simple yet satisfying back then.” she thought to herself.
“Rasam was boiling so I have switched off the stove. I have filled water bottles and put plates on dining table. Shall we sit for lunch?” Raghavan said from behind.
“Yeah, coming. Could you please call Srinika for lunch?” She replied.
Later that evening, when she got up from work, she checked on Srinika and headed straight to the kitchen to get some milk for the kid and prepared some tea for themselves. She also kept some murukku on a plate to be savoured with hot beverage.
“Raghav, will you have tea with us, or shall I keep the cup at your table?” She asked.
“Yes, I am coming in five minutes.” he replied
All three of them sat with tea, milk and snacks. With great excitement little Srinika was showing drawings and paper crafts which she had made during the day. They were spending good time together… eating, talking and laughing. From this sight who could gauge that they too have their own share of concerns. Lakhs of money stuck with travel agent, uncertainties at work front, mammoth-sized home loan. In the current situation everything seems like an albatross hanging around the neck.
“After ages we got some time together, life has become so hectic.” she said to her husband.
“Yeah, as if we are all running… a never-ending race. We did not even have the luxury to sit peacefully.” he replied.
After some time, turning towards Raghavan, she asked “Let me start preparing dinner now. What shall I prepare for dinner, tomato rice or Idlis?”
“Anything would do.” he replied.
While going back to kitchen she felt like checking on the kids at the construction area. She had developed a soft corner for those children. They appeared excited as they played hopscotch. The little puppy looked amused too as it jumped in synchrony with them. At some point, the three musketeers huddled together, and boy raised his hand up in the air pretending to take a selfie.
“Now, this is pure joy. Oblivious to the situation around they seem to be living and cherishing the moments together. Childhood is so carefree and unadulterated. I have bought a high-end camera for this trip, considering it highly essential. Is it because I wanted to relive those moments years later or is it because I wanted to flaunt our trip on social media? Somehow, in a quest to click that perfect pose in an exotic location we would have missed out on experiencing the moment. And later, we would have become so busy in our lives that looking back at those moments would have been a far cry.” she thought.
Meenakshi looked around the construction site minutely, amidst well-constructed villas their tiny shack stood upright on a framework of bamboo logs where tarpaulin and bamboo sheets were used both as roof and walls. A few cloths neatly hanging on a rope, totally dried up under the sun by now. A net basket full of onions and tomatoes hang from the roof. Aluminium utensils washed and kept in a plastic basket, a simple Kolam (floor drawing) adorned the entrance. Interestingly, a few shrubs were planted in discarded paint tumblers too. A man, supposedly their father, was sitting on a foldable charpoy and eating something. While their mother sat under an open sky near their hut and was occasionally talking with amusement with her husband. At the same time she was preparing dinner on a stove made of mud and bricks.
“There seems to be an order, a rhythm in an otherwise disorganized and temporary arrangement. They seem to be so composed amidst the turmoil all around.” she thought to herself.
Raghav was crossing by and saw Meenakshi standing by the balcony thus he joined her. On seeing him she asked abruptly, “If material opulence alone can give us happiness then why does this family looks happy with meagre resources? And why is it that even after attaining so much, a void still lingers in our heart?”
“By and large we are suffering due to polluted aim in life, namely lording it over material resources. We have become far too mechanical in chasing our dreams…desires. All our lives we stay trapped in an illusion thinking designation, position and material comfort makes us happy or defines our success but ultimately, we become slaves of our own desires. Ironic it may sound, we work hard to accomplish them, which in turn invites stress and then we go around searching for peace.” he lamented.
“True, when lockdown commenced, we were only worried about basic needs for survival. We did not think about superficial desires such as the trip. In a way, this pandemic reminds us that our needs remain limited, but we have made our desires boundless…” Meenakshi said drifting deep into her thoughts.
Humans have increased their needs far too high, but life is never made comfortable by artificial needs but plain living and high thinking. We have become so busy caring for our body and mind that we have forgotten the needs of our soul.
– Aradhana Basu Das