I gave myself six months at the start of 2020 to figure out a career plan. I quit my full-time job to pursue writing and editing as a freelancer. Naturally, I was skeptical and uncertain. It’s always nerve-wracking leaving the certainty of a monthly paycheck to dabble in something as shaky as freelancing. But I was convinced of the path I wanted to take, so I took the plunge. Things were going smooth as far as freelancing was concerned and then everything came to a halt. It was as if I was in the middle of a performance where minutes before the end scene, there was a technical difficulty and the lights went off. I’m standing there bewildered, nervously glancing here and there to find answers, surrounded by equally anxious actors on stage, who, just like me, have absolutely no idea what went wrong. Suddenly the lights come back, I can see the relief pass through the faces of my teachers, standing in the wings, frantically waving their hands to go on as if nothing happened, as if the temporary halt was part of the plan.
But when you’re in the middle of a pandemic, the end seems elusive, your part in the play never ending. You’re the audience and the actor.
I see my father reading the news or watching as the number of coronavirus cases go up exponentially. I wonder what goes through his head. As a man belonging to the era of extreme hustle & blind commitment to the business, he has never taken a day off. ‘I feel better when I’m at work,’ he’d retort when questioned about putting strain on his health every time he’s sick. The show must go on has always been his way of dealing with life’s curveballs. He switches to another news channel, clutching the remote, as if trying to have some semblance of control. We sit silently in the room, the news anchors yelling obscenities in the background. I have a book in my hand, and my dad is pretending to hear the verbal diarrhea projected on screen. None of us is registering what’s happening but we’re too afraid to address the elephant in the room, too afraid to admit the uncertainty.
The first week of the lockdown sent us into the pits of anxiety-induced confusion. Every household is built on a system that enables the smooth functioning of everyday lives. But when the system itself is forced to change abruptly without a manual, adapting becomes wearying especially if you’re living in a joint family—where every chore is assigned, and every task is mechanical. We ran around like headless chickens on the first day of the lockdown, trying to put in place an order. What the order was, we didn’t know. My mother took charge as she always does, reassuring us, believing everything would work out. I could see the hesitancy in her eyes, the lines on her forehead telling a different story.
That’s the thing about the precariousness of life—your carefully crafted plans seem flimsy, as if a strong wind will collapse the very foundations on which you’ve built your life. We unlearned our habits, inculcated new routines albeit forcefully, and started rebuilding what we thought would never break. A new order was soon put in place.
The second week of the lockdown didn’t seem as taxing. We still didn’t know how things were taking shape but whatever we were doing was working. For now, it was enough. At the back of our heads, we knew the lockdown was necessary and there was a silver lining of things getting back to normal after 21 days. Holding onto this sliver of hope, helped us get through the uneasiness that had spread like wildfire. But soon enough, the inevitability of extension, drew nearer. We rallied through, praying fervently, for the worst to pass. At the end of the day, we had food on our tables, our loved ones safe with us, and a shelter on our heads. It was more than we could ask for.
Days turned into weeks, and we started making adjustments, as many as we could, to find a new normal. Our mornings seem to have fallen into a new rhythm, getting used to having the entire family together at meal times, bumping into each other more often, wondering at the closeness we didn’t think was achievable. Evenings, these days, have a quietness of their own. We indulge in evening snacks, sipping teas and discussing nothing in particular as the world continues to move forward. Board games now dictate our lives as we gather around to pass time, laughing at the madness of it all, letting our competitiveness channel itself in mild banters. Life events are now measured in pandemic terms—pre-pandemic, where our mundane lives were uninterrupted, and post-pandemic, where our pent-up desires will play out in the form of excessive physical interactions and new-found appreciation for the outside world. The middle is where we linger, in the confines of our homes.
We all go back to playing the designated roles every single day. Whether it’s taking online classes, editing a manuscript, completing the assigned menial jobs and making sure there’s movement in our lives, there’s hope in our hearts. A new order is finally in place, this time, waiting to be disrupted.
These days my dad passes by my room and stops for a minute, smiling and nodding his head. He then leaves. There is no need to exchange words anymore, we both understand and prefer the silence that is familiar and comforting.