Spectator by Seema Goswami: Life in the time of corona
As I sit down to write this column, I have a completely empty diary staring at me, with no upcoming trips or events listed. Just a week ago, my schedule looked very different, with both domestic and international travel scheduled through the month. But as the coronavirus scare got scarier by the day, I cancelled two trips to Mumbai as a measure of abundant caution. And today, as the Indian government banned all non-essential travel by Indians abroad (with the very real risk of quarantine when we get back), I cancelled a trip to Singapore scheduled for the end of March.
And even though I show no symptoms of the disease (so far!) I have decided to self-isolate at home as well. And that’s not just because I don’t want to catch an infection as I go about my normal day. It’s also due to the fact that the last flight I took to Mumbai featured an air-hostess who coughed dramatically throughout the two-hour journey even as she did the meal service (yes, I kid you not!). I quickly donned my mask for the duration of the flight – though the passengers around me did not seem unduly concerned – but there is always the chance that the damage may have already been done.
So, for the past week I have been staying in for the most part, declining events and avoiding crowds. And even though I risk coming off as rude, I have been refusing to shake hands with the smattering of people I do meet, offering a Namaste instead (it came as something of a relief when I saw Prince Charles and President Macron of France doing exactly the same thing).
It helps that as far as self-isolation goes, I have some experience in the matter. For the past several years, I have been working out of home, and often go days without seeing anyone other than my husband and the household help. So unlike others who may be freaked out by the prospect of isolation, I have already made my peace with it. And it is on that basis, that I offer the following tips to cope with being home alone.
First, set up a routine. When you are just schlepping around at home, the temptation to lounge around all day in your pyjamas, without even having a shower or shave, is hard to resist. But resist it you must. It is crucial to keep up appearances, even if there is no one around to watch. So, make sure that you are bathed and dressed (and by that I don’t mean another pair of pyjamas) as you prepare to face the day. Don’t skip lunch and grab a bag of chips instead. Have a proper meal at midday, even if it is just you sitting at the table. Stop working in the evening, to give yourself some proper downtime. And don’t eat dinner slumped in front of the television. Set the table and eat with proper crockery and cutlery laid out. It is these civilising touches that make your daily routine; and you must stick with them no matter what.
Yes, this is the best time to binge on those shows that you haven’t had the time to watch given your hectic schedule. But TV shows – especially those that have an addictive element – have the tendency to take over your life to the exclusion of all else. So, it is imperative that you set limits on yourself. Speaking for myself, I have an iron rule in my household. The TV does not come on before 8pm. That is the only way I can discipline myself to work during the day. Because once you descend into the pit of daytime TV-viewing, there is no coming back.
A far better use of your time would be to catch up on all the books you’ve been meaning to read (but have been piling on your bedside table because of lack of time).
Now that you are at home with time on your hands and minimal distractions, tackle all the books that require your undivided attention. Choose books with important themes if you are a non-fiction fan. Pick sweeping sagas if you prefer fiction. This is the best time to delve into three or four-part series like Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, for instance (I promise you will love it).
Just because you are in isolation does not mean that you have to feel isolated. Use social media to stay in touch with the world (though Instagram is a more feel-good place than Twitter; and Pinterest much more fun than Facebook). Facetime or video call your friends and family rather than just phone; seeing their faces will make for a stronger connection than merely hearing their voices.
This is the time to indulge your hobbies, or even develop new ones. Dabble with new recipes in the kitchen. Learn how to knit (it’s supposed to help reduce stress, so that’s a bonus). Or maybe spend time researching the destinations you would like to visit when this nightmare is over. I have already shortlisted two that I have never been to – Greece and Croatia – and I am having a tremendous time planning itineraries in my head, while I wait for the real thing to materialise. Let’s hope real life lives up to my imagination.
And now, if you will excuse me, I am off to wash my hands – yes, again!
Journalist and author Seema Goswami has been a columnist with HT Brunch since 2004
Spectator appears every fortnight
From HT Brunch, March 22, 2020
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