Her elegy to the ordinary: An IT professional’s ode to city life in coronavirus pandemic times
She is in purple palazzos and pink kurti. Her brown sling bag has her wallet, a mobile, a cash purse, keys to her south Delhi flat, and a hand sanitiser bottle. And she is wearing a mask, of course.
Jonaki Ray has a day job in an IT company, as a technical editor. She no longer has to commute to Noida to mark her office attendance — thank you, Coronavirus! — and wrote a pandemic-era city-life poem for these pages.
The Art of Not Losing Breath
(after Elizabeth Bishop)
At the corner of the market was Maxim’s
with its air blending butter into rising cakes.
Outside, on the crescent-shaped street, cars honking
at walkers evading rickshaws, passengers hopscotching
with potholes, the three brothers’ self-proclaiming
their ‘permanent’ vegetable store—
twenty-five years and counting—
the diners queuing for Belgian chocolate shakes,
while handing leftovers to the waiting children,
sinking like deflating balloons every night
for the langar at the temple, the open-air florist nearby—
the smell of his roses, ranjigandhas, and gendas titrating
with that of the biryani from the shop across, the smokers sneaking
in and out of the bylanes, as all lovers do all over the world.
Once, this was what you inhabited, once this was what was essential—
grandfather raising palms to salute the Sun every morning,
uncle treating you to ice-cream every Saturday,
aunt cooking your favourite doi maach,
the karaunda tree in the backyard as familiar
as your sibling—until the globe zoomed
into a country, the country into a state,
the state into a city, the city into a locale that microscoped
into these four walls, and you, alone.
But, this poem is not about loss
--of touch, of the familiar, of those that you thought of as family,
as important as the breath that expands your lungs.
This poem is about the terracotta house at the new corner from you,
where the old lady who once peered at you
and asked the guard who you were, is now Shah aunty who smiles
at you every day, the Guptas who walk three circuits hand in hand,
every evening around the park, listening to old Hindi songs on the phone,
ask if you have enough food, the children who greet you and share
their adventures while learning online and ask you questions about exams,
the guard who brings you fresh Neem leaves, the green tendriling your hand,
every morning, until you realise that even as what was your world crumbles,
and you grasp for something, anything to hold onto,
it is the ordinary that teaches you about love
— one breath at a time.