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The Day Before Today: Lockdown Stories, a part humourous, part despairing collection of ten short stories, by Gayatri Gill, speaks to the reality of our current times.
“In the BC (Before Corona) era, we were like individual slices of an orange. Tied together by superficial, weak, woolly networks that were easy to break. But the AC (After Corona) era has changed all that. Now, we’re bound by this invisible virus that has all of us tightly held together, like the chhilka of an unpeeled orange.”
Art often emerges as a coping mechanism; as a way to grapple with uncomfortable realities. While the current pandemic has left many feeling creatively burnt out or blocked, other artists have found solace in creating.
Gayatri Gill’s book, The Day Before Today: Lockdown Stories, as she tells us in the Acknowledgements, began as “‘our own’ entertainment” during the first few weeks of the lockdown. The eclecticism of the book accurately captures the confusing bizzareness of those days, as we all scrambled to find some semblance of routine and reassurance.
The stories in the book don’t fit into any one genre. From post-apocalyptic dystopian thriller, to allegorical fairy tales, this book does it all, and how! Accompanied by some fabulous illustrations by Niyati Singh, the atmospheric writing draws you into the stories. It is also a quick read – I read it in a couple of hours.
The first story, Day One, talks about how for many women, life is one unending lockdown. It reminded me a lot of this piece by Zehra Naqvi.
Positive, is a satirical take on the clamor for “positivity,” that was thrown in the face of anyone who expressed a sense of despair. I couldn’t help but chuckle, when the words of her character said exactly what we all kept (and still keep) hearing, never mind that everything is a royal mess, “So, we must listen to our dear Prime Minister, and believe in our collective past – good ALWAYS wins over evil. And we are good. We will be POSITIVE.”
Status Update is post-apocalyptic fiction that sends chills down the spine, and makes one pray that it never comes to this.
A similar sense of unease creeps up on us in Green, which is a thriller par excellence. If Positive was a dig at the unquestioning right wing, in this she shows the mirror to left leaning liberals too. “I find this very strange about the intellectuals, the so-called left leaning, including myself. Our entire view on life is convenient. It’s privilege.” Fitting perhaps, that the protagonist here is a doctor – one of those brave people who continue to fight the pandemic from the front lines.
Continuing her mission to scare us, the next story, Red is one of the most unsettling. I won’t tell you the genre, because that would be a spoiler, but this story is one of my favourites from the book.
Siya, Circa 2020, is comes across as the start of a slice of romance, set in a 2020, that is slightly more bizzare than the one we are already enduring (imagine that!). However, the very next story, Siya, Circa 2023, adds a twist to the tale that makes us want to go back and read it all over again.
The last line of Siya, Circa 2023, also sets the stage for the next story, Infection, which talks about the pandemic was used to malign Muslims, and the very real and tragic consequences of the same. It has some of the most poignant lines in the book as well. “I’d infected him at birth with the disease that killed me. The one that me, his father and countless others had been born with. A deadly, invisible, incurable disease – much like the virus that was claiming its due today. And it lay in our names.”
Virus-Virus is the shortest ‘story’ in the book, but also the one that packs in the most punch. Really, it’s a gut punch.
The final story, The Peach: A Modern Fairytale, is an allegory that makes us think about what we want to do with our world post the lockdown.
As is evident from the descriptions above, the book never lets up on the sense of discomfort. However, it is also strangely comforting, because they give us a sense of ‘you are not alone.’ The lockdown has affected us all in different ways. But there are commonalities too. For me, personally, I could see much of my own anxiety reflected in these pages.
It also helps that the author has a delightfully snarky voice in some of the stories. The dark humour had a calming effect on me.
Like I said at the beginning, art is a coping mechanism too. When we read, we process our own emotions. And Corona knows, we all need that!
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Image source: Flickr, book cover Amazon
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