The resurgence of nature in the city: New Delhi during the lockdown.(Arvind Yadav/HT PHOTO)
The resurgence of nature in the city: New Delhi during the lockdown.(Arvind Yadav/HT PHOTO)

Lockdown Diaries: Counting my blessings by Sameer Arshad Khatlani

The author’s experience of the lockdown in Delhi is very different from the ones he lived through in Kashmir
By Sameer Arshad Khatlani | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON APR 13, 2020 02:34 PM IST

I am no stranger to lockdowns. They were a norm while I was growing up in Kashmir. I was seven when I experienced the first set of sweeping restrictions put on our movement. The curbs were imposed in January 1990 to stem further protests after scores protesting against overnight house-to-house searches were hemmed in and shot dead on a bridge over the Jhelum. It was the first of the many massacres that year, which fuelled the ongoing insurrection. We were confined to our houses in its aftermath for three weeks. Shoot-at-sight orders were in place and our neighbourhoods were suddenly swarmed by men in khaki from all over India. A cousin of mine had a narrow escape when he was fired upon for violating the lockdown. No one dared to venture out thereafter to even get essentials. We fell back on our winter stocks and were forced to survive for the longest time in recent memory on lentils.

We thought the hardships were temporary and shall pass. Little did one know that 30 years on we will still be seeking their end. Many lockdowns and curfews followed those testing days of January-February 1990. We had several brushes with death. The lockdowns soon started appearing like the most benign of the state’s responses to the challenges it faced to its writ. They became a fact of life for those who survived.

Kashmiris are habitual socialisers and cannot do without visiting each other and organising feasts. It was difficult for most to reconcile with the lockdowns. I was not complaining much as an incorrigible introvert and made the most of the extended periods of solitude. I read, wrote and listened endlessly to radio news mostly on BBC World Service. Radios were our most reliable gadgets while the electricity supply was often erratic. The voltage would mostly be so low that people would joke that one needs to light a candle to locate electric bulbs whenever we got some power supply. We made most of the precious daylight. While other children played hide-and-seek, I began taking pages from bond paper notebooks and producing a handwritten newspaper — News Times — based on the information I gleaned from listening to the radio news. Celebrated BBC journalists like Mark Tully and Shafi Naqi Jamie (Urdu Service) fascinated me. I began imagining that one day I would follow in their footsteps and report from around the globe. I found refuge in my goal of becoming a journalist and an author. I had something more meaningful to look forward to.

I have lived a relatively privileged life in Delhi since 2004 far removed from the struggles of people in Kashmir. Every time I found myself in the middle of any lockdown over the last decade or so, I have had the privilege of taking the first flight available back. Every new set of curbs would bring back worries about whether my parents will get their life-saving drugs. But close-knit and generous Kashmiri society would always rise to the occasion and take care of itself. The culture of giving saw Kashmir through the mother of all lockdowns last year when hundreds of thousands were confined to their homes for months to prevent protests against the revocation of the region’s semi-autonomous status. Internet and phones were shut while hundreds were detained.

253pp, Rs 499; Penguin
253pp, Rs 499; Penguin

Kashmir is now battling the coronavirus pandemic and for once, there is a welcome lockdown to halt the disease that has led to curbs for social distancing globally. Unlike the rest of the world, which is relying on technology more than ever before to work, study, remain informed, entertained, safe and connected, high-speed internet remains banned in Kashmir. The lockdown I am experiencing in Delhi is not even remotely similar to lockdowns that Kashmir has faced. I have mostly counted my blessings considering this since it began here on March 25. I have high-speed Wi-Fi. When it got disconnected for some time the other day, I switched to even better 4G phone internet. Before working completely from home, I could breeze past multiple barricades to reach my office. I am putting in more working hours and thanks to technology, I have worked as well as I do otherwise.

I live in a gated community, where purple Jacaranda trees are in full bloom. Spacious houses and fewer people mean lockdown or no lockdown, social distancing is an everyday affair. My study, located at a reasonable distance from our bedrooms and living room-cum-playground for our son, Orhan, 3, provides me much serenity to concentrate better on my work. It offers me a view of my terrace garden and flowering plants about to yield beans, tomatoes, and chillies. The mint leaves have grown enough and can be plucked anytime to be had as chutney with biryani. The only plan that the lockdown has spoiled is the sourcing of seeds to grow cucumbers.

I have done regular grocery shopping that I had not done in years and rediscovered the fun of carrying huge bags of flour all the way to our third-floor duplex. We have never felt so grateful to our house help, who have been doing this work for years. My in-laws continue to shield us, my wife and I, from the pressing concerns of life that otherwise consume the best years of young couples in big cities. They continue to take care of everything, including babysitting, to let us focus on our work.

Author Sameer Arshad Khatlani (Courtesy Penguin)
Author Sameer Arshad Khatlani (Courtesy Penguin)

The only other challenge for us has been to have Orhan sit for his online classes. He has spent most of his free time throwing things around and sketching on walls and running around the house and occasionally insisting on going out. We have been able to introduce him to newer kinds of birds that we have started spotting. The thing he misses, though, are planes flying over our house that remind him of visits to his grandparents, whom he could not spend time with last summer in Kashmir again thanks to the lockdown.

Sameer Arshad Khatlani is the author of The Other Side of the Divide: A Journey Into the Heart of Pakistan. He works with Hindustan Times

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close
Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021). (Elsa Dorfman via Wikimedia Commons)
Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021). (Elsa Dorfman via Wikimedia Commons)

Essay: The importance of Lawrence Ferlinghetti

By Chintan Girish Modi
PUBLISHED ON MAR 02, 2021 05:38 PM IST
The courtroom drama around Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s publication of Alan Ginsberg’s Howl (1956), that focussed on the defence of free expression, provides a case study for contemporary writers, filmmakers, and stand-up comedians in other parts of the world facing censorship
Close
The story of that Indian-origin barrister, George Edalji, has now been dug up in detail and brought to life in a new book by London-based historian-author Shrabani Basu(Amazon)
The story of that Indian-origin barrister, George Edalji, has now been dug up in detail and brought to life in a new book by London-based historian-author Shrabani Basu(Amazon)

New book uncovers Indian mystery probed by Sherlock Holmes author

PTI, London
PUBLISHED ON FEB 28, 2021 10:27 AM IST
Arthur Conan Doyle was drawn to investigate just one real-life crime during his lifetime and it involved a British Indian man wrongly accused of a series of mysterious crimes in an English village in the early 20th century.
Close
On this week’s reading list: a portrayal of the publishing world in India, lessons from the unusual career of a civil servant, and a critique of illiberalism and violence in Indian politics. (HT Team)
On this week’s reading list: a portrayal of the publishing world in India, lessons from the unusual career of a civil servant, and a critique of illiberalism and violence in Indian politics. (HT Team)

HT Picks; New Reads

By HT Team
PUBLISHED ON FEB 26, 2021 10:46 PM IST
This week’s list of interesting reads includes a satire on the Indian publishing scene, insights from the career trajectory of an atypical bureaucrat, and a critique of the illiberal forces that dominate our lives
Close
Author Sharanya Manivannan (Catriona Mitchell)
Author Sharanya Manivannan (Catriona Mitchell)

Interview: Sharanya Manivannan, author, Mermaids in the Moonlight

By Chintan Girish Modi
PUBLISHED ON FEB 26, 2021 10:30 PM IST
The Chennai-based author makes her debut as an illustrator with Mermaids in the Moonlight, a picture book for children drenched in folklore, magic and the history of the civil war in Sri Lanka
Close
A farmer ploughs his fields under the relentless sun. (Shutterstock)
A farmer ploughs his fields under the relentless sun. (Shutterstock)

Review: Along with the Sun edited by Ki. Rajanarayanan

PUBLISHED ON FEB 26, 2021 10:13 PM IST
Caste, cattle and moneylenders decide the fate of the underclass in this anthology of 20 stories from the Karisal region of Tamil Nadu
Close
At the Charminar in Hyderabad, India. (Shutterstock)
At the Charminar in Hyderabad, India. (Shutterstock)

Excerpt: Born a Muslim by Ghazala Wahab

By Ghazala Wahab
PUBLISHED ON FEB 26, 2021 10:04 PM IST
Ghazala Wahab’s new book looks at how the world’s second largest religion is practised in India. This exclusive first excerpt is from a chapter on the changing face of Muslim society in the country
Close
Flower power: A flower market in Bengaluru. (Shutterstock)
Flower power: A flower market in Bengaluru. (Shutterstock)

Review: Flower Shower by Alka Pande

By Subhashini Chandramani
UPDATED ON FEB 25, 2021 05:34 PM IST
Aesthetically designed and with an engaging narrative, each chapter of the book begins with a carefully chosen quote and every page is steeped in fascinating information. The rose, the lotus, the champa and the marigold are only some of the flowers that feature in this beautiful volume
Close
Usually, successful entrepreneurs share their life journeys through autobiographies, but Irfan Izhar has chosen poetry for this purpose. (Representational Image) (Unsplash)
Usually, successful entrepreneurs share their life journeys through autobiographies, but Irfan Izhar has chosen poetry for this purpose. (Representational Image) (Unsplash)

Dubai filmmaker Irfan Izhar unveils maiden book in Delhi

PTI
PUBLISHED ON FEB 24, 2021 09:27 PM IST
Irfan Izhar, packaging industry baron made a resounding debut as an author with the launch of 'Samundar Samne Hai', a compilation of his reverberating Urdu poems.
Close
The story follows a novice Secretary of State who has joined the administration of her rival, a president inaugurated after four years of American leadership that shrank from the world stage.(Wikimedia Commons )
The story follows a novice Secretary of State who has joined the administration of her rival, a president inaugurated after four years of American leadership that shrank from the world stage.(Wikimedia Commons )

Hillary to co-write thriller on 'State of Terror'

PTI, New York
PUBLISHED ON FEB 24, 2021 08:00 PM IST
Former US First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and her long-time friend Louise Penny will come out with a novel "State of Terror" which will be published on October 12 by Pan Macmillan India.
Close
Author Anuja Chauhan says she has attempted a whodunnit in her new book, Club You To Death, which is a mystery based in Delhi.
Author Anuja Chauhan says she has attempted a whodunnit in her new book, Club You To Death, which is a mystery based in Delhi.

Book is full of Bangalorean characters, hopefully no one comes to know: Anuja Chauhan

By Henna Rakheja, Bengaluru
PUBLISHED ON FEB 24, 2021 06:31 PM IST
Author Anuja Chauhan reminisces the time when she decided to settle in Bengaluru, and feels elated to have made the Garden City her home.
Close
The book, titled "India: A Scamster Born Every Minute", will be released under Penguin's Viking imprint in 2022, the publishing house said in a statement.(penguin.co.in)
The book, titled "India: A Scamster Born Every Minute", will be released under Penguin's Viking imprint in 2022, the publishing house said in a statement.(penguin.co.in)

Upcoming book by Snigdha Poonam to expose subculture of scams in India

PTI, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON FEB 24, 2021 05:16 PM IST
Penguin Random House India on Wednesday announced the acquisition of a new book by award-winning journalist and author Snigdha Poonam that gives an insight into the subculture of scams, cons and frauds in the country.
Close
The first wonder written in the genre, this book brings together various YouTubers and their journeys on paper. (Representational Image) (Pixabay)
The first wonder written in the genre, this book brings together various YouTubers and their journeys on paper. (Representational Image) (Pixabay)

Ajitabha Bose pens journey of YouTubers in his book 'The Youtube Stars of India'

ANI, New Delhi [india]
PUBLISHED ON FEB 23, 2021 07:50 PM IST
The book holds soul-inspiring journeys of the most influential YouTubers penned by India's most popular pocketbook writer Ajitabha Bose which features Youtubers like CarryMinati, Ashish Chanchlani, Amit Bhadana, Harsh Beniwal, Prajakta Koli, Mortal and many more.
Close
"India's rich tapestry is woven together by her stories. These tales can be from the great epics and mythology, or from the ancient history of this rich land.(Unsplash)
"India's rich tapestry is woven together by her stories. These tales can be from the great epics and mythology, or from the ancient history of this rich land.(Unsplash)

HarperCollins, Amar Chitra Katha announce joint venture

PTI, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON FEB 23, 2021 07:01 PM IST
Amar Chitra Katha has joined hands with HarperCollins India to bring the iconic folktales of India from its comic books in a new format for younger readers.
Close
Bare Necessities: How to Live a Zero Waste Life(Instagram)
Bare Necessities: How to Live a Zero Waste Life(Instagram)

Bare Necessities: Book shows how to lead sustainable lifestyle in India

PTI, Delhi
PUBLISHED ON FEB 22, 2021 06:46 PM IST
A "one-stop guide" on how to move towards a more sustainable lifestyle in India, "Bare Necessities: How to Live a Zero Waste Life", published by Penguin, is written by environmentalist Sahar Mansoor and sustainability consultant Tim De Ridder.
Close
"When I went looking for masterminds of science in India, I found so many that I was overwhelmed... We decided upon the inventions and discoveries that twisted our toes and made us agog with wonder.(Amazon)
"When I went looking for masterminds of science in India, I found so many that I was overwhelmed... We decided upon the inventions and discoveries that twisted our toes and made us agog with wonder.(Amazon)

Book introduces children to rare discoveries of Indian scientists

PTI, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON FEB 21, 2021 04:11 PM IST
An upcoming book will educate children about the daring discoveries and ingenious inventions of India's brightest scientists.
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP