Amid the year of pandemic and pain, the hope is still alive

India amid pandemic (Image source: Nikkei Asia)
India amid pandemic (Image source: Nikkei Asia)

Regardless of many bitter experiences, the year 2020 is nevertheless going to give all of us the parting gift of some golden memories that we shall always like to cherish with a sense of deep nostalgia. 

On the first morning of this month, when my eyes fell on ‘December’, as if staring at me in red bold letters from the table-calendar, I could not help recalling the composition of Gulzar Saheb ‘Aane wala pal jane wala hai ’ in a trice. With the final leaf of the calendar being overturned, I realized that the end of this extraordinary year has also come. Now only a few days of the year 2020 are left. This year, the teeny-weeny novel coronavirus engulfed the entire world in its round thorny body. 

The kind of challenges and changes that this year has brought about in our lives, were beyond comprehension for ordinary or even extra-ordinary folks a year ago. You and I did not move out of our homes for many months and many of us stayed in separate rooms for weeks under quarantine. In the outgoing year, several of our beloved stars like Rishi Kapoor and Irrfan Khan left us forever when they departed for their heavenly abode. And there were others too. I will probably have lifetime regret for not being able to lend a shoulder to the mortal remains of an elderly lawyer friend. With the lifting of the lockdown, the hustle – bustle is back to some extent but the lack of noisy school buses on the streets in the morning is a disturbing reminder to us that full normalcy has not yet been restored. 

Within hours of the announcement of the lockdown, all the busy roads had become desolate. The fresh morning air of the parks, the ever-buzzing markets, the captivating lights of the posh areas, the never-ending noise of tea shops and the all-time rush of students around universities and colleges – all in a moment seemed to have become history!  The visit of the faithful people to the places of worship like the temple, the mosque, the gurudwara and the church also seemed to have become a dream of the past. 

And how can one forget the nightmarish reaction to the announcement of the lockdown?  There was panicky rush to the market to purchase essential commodities for a month in just four hours!  There was no question of stirring out. And where could one go? No malls, no gyms, no clubs, no restaurants. No offices either! ‘Work from home’ became the norm for those who were lucky enough because their jobs were still continuing. For most others, especially the temporary wage earners, there was nothing ahead except a bottomless pit of suffering for weeks and months ahead. Those scenes of corona horrors showing thousands of migrants rushing on foot for hundreds of kilometers to their village homes from cities on foot were disquieting.

Everything had come to a standstill because of the corona restrictions. People were compelled to stay back. Those even living in bigger, comfortable houses also felt caged because they couldn’t go out for a morning walk and were compelled to consider the roofs of their houses as parks, trot up and down many times to equal the distance covered during their several kilometres long walk! It seemed as if they were undergoing punishment given by a strict teacher for our failure to correctly answer a tough question in history class.

But there was the silver lining too. One found sudden incarnation of bossing husbands as master-chefs who had never gone to the kitchen before. People who would dash to the liquor shops everyday had to satisfy themselves with homemade jal-jira for months. Those scenes of calling the Helpline Emergency number secretly on hearing someone’s mere sneeze from a neighboring house and incidents like clapping- beating thalis and lighting torches will tickle us in future too.

Most people had, during the period of lockdown, made it a habit to go out of the house only once a week to get the essentials. Everyone used to say – “If there is life, there is world”, I also made this my mantra. During the lock down, for the first time when I went to the market to get the goods, I was surprised to see the awareness about the cleanliness of a vegetable seller. After handing over to me the bag of vegetables, he quickly kept the money given by me under the sack and, as if he was pulling out a gun, he took out the hidden sanitizer’s vial from his pocket to sanitize his hands.

Initially, the fear of Corona was so overpowering that anything coming from outside was washed and cleaned to the extent of a fad. It was the season of oranges when the lockdown was clamped. I used to bring oranges also for a week along with other things. There was a homemade protocol that any items from outside should first be kept in the veranda and sanitized thoroughly. Under this rule, every orange with peels was also sanitized in my house. It used to be a task for the children for hours. I will always be grateful to members of my family for tolerating this strictness of mine for several months — and which is still continuing, though less rigorously and will continue till the corona virus is fully vanquished.

Possibly a jinn can be kept under control, but keeping children indoors at all times is a big challenge for parents. As soon as the phased unlock started, I first bought three bicycles – one for myself and two for my children to compete with this challenge. Every morning the three of us would go out on long biking rides on comparatively low- traffic roads. We felt the difference between the joy of cycling together as compared to taking the children for an outing in the car. For me personally, cycling with both my daughters will be one of the most beautiful memories of this year.

Corona is not over yet, so it is natural for people to be careful. But due to this, some people are careful to such an extent that till today they have not come out of their homes. On the contrary, for people, who love to socialize, the compulsion to stay at home all the time owing to the restrictions was a challenging ordeal. On this, a very interesting story was told to me by a renowned story-writer friend Asrar Gandhi. He wanted to meet his childhood friend after the lockdown, but his friend made some excuse or the other for not meeting him every time. Finally, taking liberty because of the informality between them, he drove his car, halted it outside his friend’s house and asked him to come to the balcony. On seeing his friend after so many days whom he used to meet daily, my storywriter friend was happy, but the conversation between the two took place on mobile from a safe distance. Eventually, Asrar saheb came back jokingly, telling him – “Friend! Corona is not the only threat to life. “ 

With this, I bid a tearful adieu to outgoing 2020 but with hopes for a bright and shining year ahead for all of us, for didn’t Sahir Ludhiyanvi say:

“Raat jitni bhi sangeen hogi

Subah utni hi rangeen hogi

Gham na kar gar hai badal ghanera

Kis ke rokey ruka hai savera”

Riyaz Khan

Written by Riyaz Khan

The author is Director at an engineering and IT services company in Hyderabad and a columnist.

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