Lockdown Diaries: Corona Blues by Bulbul Sharma

You might have longed for endless leisurely days but when there is no other option, fear takes over
Everyone has fantasies of spending endless leisurely days in a cottage in the hills. But when there is no other option, the silence is ominous.(Shutterstock)
Everyone has fantasies of spending endless leisurely days in a cottage in the hills. But when there is no other option, the silence is ominous.(Shutterstock)
Published on Mar 30, 2020 03:39 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByBulbul Sharma

Twelve hours before the lockdown was imposed all over India, I was fortunate enough to get away to my home in the hills of Himachal Pradesh. The roads were empty and the usual eight-hour journey took us only six hours. Now here I am sitting on top of a remote mountain village with only a few goats for company. My nearest neighbour is two kilometres away on another hill and sometimes we wave to each other but do not venture out. On the first day, strolling happily amongst the fruit trees in full bloom, I thought I was so fortunate to be in my orchard instead of locked down, sad Delhi. I sat under my favourite magnolia tree and felt like Little Miss Muffet, eating freshly made butter, newly harvested peas and wild rice. The clear blue sky shone above the mountains that still had a sprinkling of snow. I began rereading my old books and opened the first page of “A Suitable Boy” once more with a feeling of joyful anticipation. Though the electricity is erratic in this remote area, I managed to watch an old Miss Marple movie. When darkness fell and all was eerily silent as it always is in the mountains, I listened to music. A faint, nagging fear of what will happen lurked in my head but I soon fell asleep when the nightjar began to call out in its soothing, repetitive notes.

Author Bulbul Sharma (Courtesy Speaking Tiger)
Author Bulbul Sharma (Courtesy Speaking Tiger)

Gradually, as days passed, the feeling of being the last person on earth began to creep in. Now, on the fifth day of the lock down, I long for a bit of pavement; I need the sights and sounds of a city. All the things that annoyed me earlier in Delhi, I miss terribly now. I want to hear the dreadful noise of speeding traffic, shrill voices of strangers talking loudly and I even wish I could see the odd auto rickshaw brawl on the road.

The jungle crow calls raucously above my head and a child shouts loudly in the village far way. Someone is playing a flute on the hills beyond and the wind carries the melodious sound to me in broken fragments.

I feel less lonely for a few moments.

One always longed for these endless leisurely days when one could write all day or read an entire book in one sitting, lounging under a tree but when you know there is no other option, a strange fear takes over; a kind of reverse agoraphobia. Suddenly I want to be surrounded by a crowd of people. I want the comfort of strangers. What if I cannot go back to Delhi for months? When will be able to see my children, my grandchildren, my brother and my sister and my friends again? When will I be able to eat something else besides dal and roti? What if the little village shop runs out of atta, rice and dal?

304pp, Rs399 ; Speaking Tiger
304pp, Rs399 ; Speaking Tiger

Little petty thoughts, mostly about food and clothing, swirl in my head. I wish I had packed in less of a hurry and not filled my car with a pile of electronic gadgets like my Kindle, iPad, laptop, hairdryer, various chargers and brought instead a giant bottle of chili pickle, 20 packets of ‘chikki’, 10 pairs of socks, and my favorite shawl. To torture and reprimand myself I make a long list of things I should have brought. I dream of shops glittering with food stuff though not sure if it is Khan Market or Khanna Market.

21 days is a long stretch of time when you yearn desperately for the company of loved ones, familiar streets and dark chocolate.

As I wallow in self pity, I see myself drowning in this well of self–isolation that I feel will never end. 21 days seems like a life imprisonment. I cannot really bring myself to do anything constructive. Deadlines loom ahead but my ennui forces me into a dark corner. Simple cooking is all I can manage to do to break the monotony of long , lonely days.

The television does work here off and on and whenever I catch the news I recoil with horror. How can I complain when thousands of people are going through such a horrific time in India and rest of the world? The sight of migrant labour, hungry and bewildered, walking for hundreds of kilometres to reach their homes fills me with anger and deep sorrow. How did no one foresee that this would happen? Then I see people helping them and various NGOs arranging food for them on the roads and my faith is restored. I get in touch as soon as I get a mobile signal and pledge to help.

112pp, Rs350 ; Speaking Tiger
112pp, Rs350 ; Speaking Tiger

I know it is a small gesture but we must all do something. We have to reach out to one another even when we are in isolation, separated from family and friends by long distances. People often criticize social media but where would we have been without those messages from friends, useful and useless advice and even silly jokes on Facebook?

When the sun rises over the hills each morning and the mist clears, I gaze at the empty roads. Then I see the farmers tending their fields of wheat. Some villagers are planting new seedlings that will be ready in two months. A faint flicker of hope rises in me.

This too shall pass.

The flowers on the apricot tree have now turned into tiny green fruit and the peach blossoms are rich with nectar. Nature’s endless cycle of bounty will carry on regardless of any Corona virus and as the earth renews and regenerates itself, somehow we will get through these dismal, dark days. We will emerge stronger, families will become closer after this ordeal and we will learn to appreciate every little good thing, however small or insignificant, that comes our way. I have started knitting a scarf with left over bits of wool and hope to finish it in 21 days. No takers as yet for this misshapen scarf but I wait and I hope.

Stay home.

Stay safe.

Bulbul Sharma is a painter and writer. She has recently published two titles: Murder in Shimla and Birds in My Garden and Beyond, both published by Speaking Tiger Books.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2021