Lockdown Diaries: Mistress of the Middle Gaze by Anita Nair
The author marvels at the naiveté of thinking that WFH is the mantra to freedom with payUpdated: Apr 19, 2020 20:13 IST
On February 3, 2020, I went into a state of voluntary semi-lockdown. I had a rather complicated eye surgery coming up in both eyes and needed to ensure that I would be cleared for surgery by the appointed date. It was no great hardship for I have always led a rather quiet life. Even more so for almost a year now. I had stopped going into malls or movie theatres and avoided restaurants and places where people congregated. My vision had deteriorated so badly that it was difficult to identify faces, navigate steps or escalators or even do the things people did without thinking about it. So after February 3, my foray into the world beyond my gates was limited to the hospital. Post-op, I made a visit to Kerala where again I secluded myself at my cottage as I learnt to see the world around and what was beneath my nose in a whole new way.
I had become the mistress of the middle gaze. I could see everything in HD between eight to fifteen feet but thereafter, everything was a haze. As for the microscopic vision of the “high-myop” as my doctor phrased it, that was gone forever. So I needed glasses to examine my teeth in the mirror or what was on my plate but didn’t need it to go for a walk. It all seemed very complicated so I just stayed at home mostly and looked at life through my reading glasses. Besides there was social media to tell me about what was going on in my next street to the national capital.
By the time the world and India clamped down, I was quite prepared for this new way of life. #WFH that everyone had begun spouting from mid-March had been my norm since May 1, 2001. In one of those grand gestures I liked to make to myself, I had quit advertising for good and told myself that Labour Day would be my first day of freedom. I would be on my own. I would heed no clock or person and would write at my own pace and when I pleased. I can only marvel at my incredible naiveté as that of all others like me who thought WFH is the mantra to freedom with pay. An idyllic place where you wake up late, have a leisurely breakfast, get down to work, walk in the garden in between, play with the dogs/kids, lunch, siesta, work some more and then finish the day watching a movie with a tall cold drink or a whiskey shot, given the time of the year. I do know of a few people who do this. But as my son discovered, after years of telling me what a privileged existence I lead, work never stops. You can lounge in a caftan or lungi all day but that’s about it. The rest of the time you are working driven either by your own inner demons or colleagues/bosses, who are driven by their bosses.
The Covid-19 lockdown tore to shreds what led me to quit mainstream life - the desire to be alone, to be able to indulge in my solitary pursuits, to hear the silence in my head. The pool where I mostly retreated to, and where I wrote my stories in my head as I swam, was not available. The house that would be silent after a certain hour now echoed with life all day — spouse and son talking; calls and app pings; stray bits of strange music — who knew there was a band called Peter Cat Recording Company —; dishes clattering; the microwave door being shut; rambunctious dogs going even more rambunctious with #wfhson; and then, in the middle of the day, when the house would fall silent, I would get a strange feeling that I could hear my neighbours who lived across breathe. It would drive a person to drink except I had forgotten to stock up. And all I had were my single malts and cognacs.
I avoided calls and seldom check my SM handles. But it didn’t help. In my effort to retrieve my silent world, I finally found an unlikely ally — my Middle Gaze. It taught me to not look too far ahead which would cripple me and to not bother scrutinizing what was under my nose. In the absence of staff, there was no point in getting into a tizzy about dust or dirty dishes that sat in the sink all day until the spouse or #wfhson were inclined to wash up. Though we have a garden, my Middle Gaze and I preferred to work on my balcony and windowsill gardens. That way, I didn’t have to shoot the breeze with neighbours out for a quick ramble with their dogs. Middle Gaze and I cleaned a section of the house [ spouse and #wfhson could do the other sections if thus inclined].
Middle Gaze and I took over the kitchen. We cooked dishes that I had learnt as a young girl and as a new wife. We cooked dishes I have never cooked before for we had to manage with what there is in the larder. Memory and imagination came to the fore. A spark ignited within me. I sorted laundry to be thrown into the washing machine as if they were story ideas: this goes here; that goes there. When the washing was brought in, I got down to ironing. In the absence of a pool, I discovered running a hot iron over wrinkles and creases helped me focus on the storyline in my head. By the time I was done with a stack, I had my next day’s writing ironed out. A sense of order prevailed as I saw the stacks grow. The silence in my head deepened. I was now ready to join the spouse and #wfhson at the dining table where we usually congregated for “quality time” and look upon them kindly rather than as noisy intruders.
Forsooth this middle gaze isn’t too bad a friend, I am inclined to believe. At least, until the end of the reign of carpe diem, this-too-shall-pass, we-shall-overcome etc,.
Anita Nair is a writer who lives in Bangalore with her Middle Gaze, 2 dogs, a #wfhson, a spouse, and a dozen cats.