As an anxious Indian mom under lockdown in the US, did I focus on the dangers others are risking more than on myself?
My face is lit with the warm glow of crackling fire, worry lines plastered on it like an ancient indigenous tattoo. Rain pitter-patters against the black metal roof sounding the ceremonial drumbeat. Next to me are three empty chairs awaiting their reluctant occupants. The voice of warning finally thundered through their deaf ears. I gulp a concoction of hot water and herbs to soothe the raspy tickle in my throat; I am determined to be heard. A blinding flash of lightning tears through the sky. Elements portend the severity of what lies ahead. Discordant footsteps tentatively make their way into the room. I swivel my chair to face them; it is time for the tribal council.
“You are among those who have survived! Forty-five thousand people weren’t as lucky. They died because they didn’t have what you have…the option to stay at home!” I raise my voice perceptibly, “Don’t squander away your privileges by being careless.”
I look intently at my audience and lock their attention with my gaze. The nine-year-old lets out a sigh and starts rubbing his toes together. He knows what’s coming.
“From now on, we are not to meet anyone! We are to wear gloves when putting out the garbage, disinfect every Amazon package, wipe down all the groceries, and wash our hands with soap and warm water till we finish singing the Happy Birthday song, TWICE!”
Immunity isn’t up for grabs till the vaccine is out; in the meantime, common sense will have to do.
“But Mommy, Jason and Aubrey are playing outside all the time!” the little one protests. “How come their parents don’t keep them locked up?”
He hurls these accusations after having spent the entire evening playing badminton. I open my mouth for a rapid volley, but the high schooler interjects.
“Don’t you think you are overreacting a bit?” He glances surreptitiously at my husband, seeking his tacit endorsement. “The mortality rate from this thing is only one percent!”
They exchange high fives with their eyes. The tribe is testing its power.
“And what makes you think that you will not be in that one percent? Some special superpowers?” I lash out, trying to puncture their smug alliance.
He gives me the all too familiar you-can’t-win-with-Mommy look and slumps into his chair. I am filled with self-congratulation.
“Akash asked me to play cricket with him tomorrow. Can I please go? I promise I will only do fielding and stand really far in the back. Can I go? Pretty pleeease?”
With palms pressed together and lashes fluttering like a hummingbird, the little one tries his luck again. Such manipulative theatrics, wonder where he gets his genes from?
“No, because you will still be touching the same ball!” I dash his plea with a googly.
He crosses his hands tightly over his chest and pouts. Through the convex of his tears, I have now morphed into Lord Garamadon.
My husband’s lips remain tightly sealed. It is unnerving to not see him play devil’s advocate.
“All of this applies to you too!” I tell him sharply.
He nods in silence. He is at his dangerous best when he lays down his weapons.
Danger knocks at eight the next morning. A posse of painters have arrived to fix everything they botched before we moved into our new house, two weeks ago. They have no booties, no gloves and no masks. Who called them during this time of social distancing? Towel in hand, my husband runs to the door. I have been blindsided.
Seething and muttering, I move from room to room spraying every surface, door handle, light switch, and railing with homemade bleach solution. Inch by inch, foot by foot, with method and resolve, I slowly start wiping my way down to the basement. This is the final stretch of my disinfecting marathon.
As I Iabor down the last flight of steps, I am stopped in my tracks by a shocking sight. I witness my husband in the unforgivable act of talking to a man standing less than six feet away! I am horrified. How can an educated man like him make such gross lapses in judgement? I pronounce quarantine as his punishment.
I hear my younger son laughing in his room. He is watching his principal getting a buzz cut. Students have won the homework challenge and Mr. Straus is forced to keep his word. The older one is busy with a group project on Skype. Online learning is proving to be a blessing in their control and containment.
My phone rings. It’s Mom.
“Is it true that a woman in America spit on $1,000 worth of groceries?” she shouts in disbelief from the other end of the world. She is 9.5 hours ahead of me.
“I don’t know. I haven’t read the news yet.”
“These are crazy times, I am telling you,” she warns. “Do you know homeless people in Boston are robbing people’s grocery bags? Make sure you only do delivery.”
Advice with warning. Concern with panic. Pandemic with sensationalism. That’s classic Mom.
“Must’ve been an isolated incident, Mom. Plus, this is Ohio.”
“Yes, yes… but there is no such thing as being too safe.”
I triple wash the tomatoes (I’m my mother’s daughter) I have set aside for tonight’s salad and confirm the delivery of my immunity-boosting produce. Spinach, navel oranges, pineapple, kale, garlic…oh no… I forgot ginger! With minutes ticking on the clock, I manage to add this gnarly hunk of a root to my growing arsenal. I walk over to the pantry and assay my stock. Tylenol, Belladonna, ginger – being prepared is half the battle.
“Mommy, my toilet paper dissolves as soon as it touches my bum!” whines the little one from the bathroom.
“I know, mine too! But we just have to live with it for sometime, sweetie.”
After a confidential tip from a friend, it took a daring trip to the local convenience store to buy those last rolls of toilet paper. An annoying errand in times gone by had suddenly turned into a vital mission of survival that had to be planned and executed with utmost precision. One step gone awry and I could return with no toilet paper and a virus. I had entered the store wearing blue nitrile gloves, sunglasses, and a bandana face mask. With nothing but a credit card and keys in my pocket, I had raced down the aisle beating a young, college jock rushing for the same “sanitary gold” from the other side. Thin as pith, the paper still remains our most prized possession.
The high schooler emerges out of the study. He is looking more and more like a mad scientist.
“Can we have Dewey’s for lunch?”
Dough tossed and cheese sprinkled with gloved hands. Comestibles cooked and cooties killed in an 800-degree, wood-fired oven. Packed shut, steaming hot goodness delivered right to my door by a ninja-clad man. What could possibly go wrong with takeout? Achoo! As I look around for a tissue, I am reminded an errant sneeze from a low-riding mask could bring the uninvited guest. Landing and staying on the cardboard box for 24 hours!
“It’s closed,” I lie.
I promise him a homemade pizza and a haircut in forty minutes. The process of replicating Dewey’s is daunting. First, it requires artistry and second, it calls for multi-ingredients. At a time when groceries could take anything between two days and two weeks to arrive, I’ve been milking single ingredients for every ounce of their gastronomical worth- alu paratha, alu pakora, alu banarasi, alu tamatar, jeera alu. But splurge I must, albeit with a heavy heart, lest the temptation of Dewey’s stirs a domestic unrest for freedom. The baked beauty costs several precious veggies and tub of goat cheese, but like all expensive items, it brings pleasure and fulfillment, that is, until the longing for North Star creeps in.
Haircut is a far less painful experience. The barber kit, rummaged out of moving boxes, is a humble reminder of a time when limited means cultivated greater self-reliance. The days when we cooked and cleaned, assembled Ikea furniture and gave ridiculous home haircuts not because of some global lockdown, but because we had less money and more freedom. We set up our barber shop in the laundry room overlooking the spring blossoms on the neighbor’s trees. The high schooler dons a Disney poncho and surrenders willingly to his mother’s whim, his only condition- Prelude in G Minor. Scissors snip, clippers buzz and Rachmaninoff’s spirited composition elevates the hair-cutting experience to a whole new level. Minus a few easily concealable bald spots and nicks on my fingers, the grooming is without incident.
“Virus! Virus! Bhaiya is Virus!” the little one jumps up and down unable to control his laughter.
I turn my attention back to my experimental human. His hair isn’t spiked, then why is the little one calling him a virus? The high schooler starts laughing along. There is an understanding in their laughter.
“Mommy, remember Veeru Sahasrabuddhe from Three Idiots? That’s Bhaiya!” the little one explains reading my blank expression.
I am still lost.
“Remember Virus’ seven-minute shaving break with opera playing in the background?” the high schooler elaborates.
I finally see the parallel and marvel at their ability to find hidden nuggets of humor in the darkest of times. I hug them tight. My urge to protect them becomes even stronger.
I begin to vacuum the hairs, strewn around like freshly mowed grass, when my uncle texts me from Florida. He’s sent me a picture of the mask he is going to stitch for the healthcare workers. Oh, how I wish I knew to sew! He then shares a poem he has written on the pandemic. It’s both moving and inspirational. I imagine he is even delivering groceries to the elderly. Suddenly, I feel small… insignificant… talentless. Ashamed of my individualistic concerns.
The house feels suspiciously silent as the evening rolls by. The boys are playing videogames under the garb of online homework. I holler them downstairs and prod them to go outside for some fresh air.
“Where’s daddy?” I ask.
They shrug their shoulders and take off for a run. I don’t remind them about social distancing. My conditioning has borne fruit. They are now programmed for an eight-foot separation.
I call my husband. His voice crackles on Bluetooth. Has he ventured beyond a walk?
“Where are you?”
His delinquent ways worry me.
“Oh, just at the UPS store. To return the wrong battery they shipped.”
I am at a complete loss of words. What is it he doesn’t understand? I am tired from the day’s cooking and cleaning. I am tired of repeating myself. I am tired of hearing myself repeat. I am tired of policing.
I check the mudroom. He’s taken Clorox and gloves with him. My nerves ease just a bit.
The boys and I cuddle up to watch Ramayana- a new lockdown routine. They joke around if Coronavirus is Kalki, Vishnu’s tenth avatar and whether hydroxychloroquine is the new age Sanjeevani. The stillness of life has enabled so many conversations that we otherwise wouldn’t have had the time for, but the virus permeates them all.
I prepare for bed against the sloshing and churning of the washer. My husband’s outdoor clothes are scalding in hot water. He had tiptoed into the house, carefully gauging the prevailing mood to plan the best defense. With ears trained to pick up the scuttle of an ant, I heard him spray the keys and knobs, while I sat patiently in the bedroom drafting my tirade. I am going to tell him that his secret escapades seek to threaten us all. I am going to remind him that lives mean more than batteries. I am going to…the draft stops. My husband stands at the door frame holding a surprise equivalent of a dozen red roses- a big pack of 3-ply toilet paper! I am thrilled; the only words that come out of my mouth are “thank you”.
Faint sounds of music and revelry drift from a house down the street. There’s a neighborhood party. I’m filled with self-doubt. Am I making any difference with my draconian measures? All schools in Ohio are closed for the rest of the academic year. India is extending its lockdown for another two weeks. If Modi is making a difference and DeWine is making a difference, then I, too, must be making a difference. I have found my talent. Moms like me will flatten the curve.
I wake up terrified the next morning. I have a sore throat and I’m running a fever. A quick call to the doctor’s office and I’m on my way. I am thankful for the frozen naans I hoarded. If anything happens to me, my family will at least have those.
Image source: shutterstock
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Yogyata is the creator, nurturer and Chief Operating Officer of a family of four in
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