The extroverts have settled in, the introverts are reaching out. (Representational Image)(Unsplash)
The extroverts have settled in, the introverts are reaching out. (Representational Image)(Unsplash)

100 days of Covid-19 moments: Living through the long wait

See how one hundred days of pandemic life has changed us in unexpected ways.
Hindustan Times | By Rachel Lopez
UPDATED ON JUN 16, 2020 09:58 AM IST

The extroverts have settled in, the introverts are reaching out. The plates are piling up in the sink even as everyone’s fed up of home cooking. See how one hundred days of pandemic life has changed us in unexpected ways.

Science started to matter

1 Soap helps? We hummed everything from Smooth Criminal to Say Shava Shava while lathering up. Sanitising gels vanished from shops. Passages, stairwells, railings reeked of eau de phenyl.

2 Everyone became an armchair epidemiologist, talking of flattening the curve, doubling rate, N-95, Red Zones, contactless service and pandemic best-practices. Loss of smell? Toe discolouration? No symptom was too small to explore.

3 At some point, every healthy person wondered: Am I just asymptomatic?

4 New Math came into play: How far can sneezes travel? How close is the nearest hospital? How many Covid-19 beds do they have? How much will insurance cover? You know, just in case…

5 Questions on ethics arose: Should I order pizza and put the delivery person at risk? Should stores be open for two hours or stay open longer? Does the risk of visiting my grandmother outweigh the benefits of keeping her spirits up? How do I stay friends with people who’ve stopped paying their domestic help?

6 Other sicknesses suffered. We couldn’t visit the GP, but we ran to the chemist at midnight for antibiotics.

7 Little habits were learned and unlearned. Trying not to touch the door handle and lift button. Coughing into one’s elbow without looking silly. Eyeballing what seems like two metres of distance. Keeping our hands away from our mouths. Wiping down fresh produce. And realising, once we’d stepped out and locked the door, that we’d forgotten to put the face mask on.

Who could you trust, really?

8 Two weeks, they said in March. Indians will be resistant, they figured. Summer heat will destroy the virus, they hoped. Another two weeks passed, then another, then a month. We’re still waiting.

9 Meanwhile, WhatsApp forwards needed confirmation. Are they deploying the army in Mumbai? Do turmeric baths help? Is Coivd-19 a Chinese bio-weapon? Did someone two doors down test positive? Rumours spread faster than the virus.

10 There was tracking and backtracking. No one knew who was getting tested and why. The Aarogya Setu app was a data-privacy disaster. Governments issued as many clarifications as circulars.

11 But if Danish Sait was making jokes about it, it was probably true.

Social but distanced

12 Turns out, parents and grandparents needed a pandemic push to learn to use video calling, Facebook and new tech.

!14 Lockdown birthdays and anniversaries didn’t have cake. They had empty calories of a different kind – an inane video collage. Don’t lie. You were roped in to film one too. Just a 5-second clip, guys!

15 For every person isolating solo, five friends were checking up. Video calls in the morning, “What’s cooking?” chats in the afternoon, chai-time Skype, and good-night chats that measured one’s emotional temperature.

16 On Tinder and Hinge, a window of opportunity! Location limits were removed, widening the dating pool. Swipe right, Spanish hotties! We ultimately realised that what mattered was not the size of the pool, but the quality of the bait.

17 A thought that echoed around the world: Can you imagine doing this without the internet? We’d die!

Like. Comment. Share.

18 Middle-class India went into Create Mode. Friends collaborated on podcasts. Not-quite-influencers hosted InstaLives. There were TikTok danceoffs, Twitter antaksharis, and Reddit AMAs you’d never have thought to ask. Invited to attend yet another webinar? “Sorry, I’m streaming my own at the same time.”

19 A new skill was quickly learnt – how to pose during a group video call so you look good when the picture is posted online.

20 Quotidian life became art. #AtHome #TheWindowView #CatChronicles #TodayICooked trended. Loneliness fuelled bad watercolours and worse poetry. Old travel photos surfaced as #Latergrams. And you faced an unexpected challenge – how to caption my 37th selfie?

21 No one was interested in your Guess the Gibberish game results. Your Thali Bajao balcony video, you were sure, would go viral. It has 41 views.

22 One evening, you scrolled all the way to the end of your feed.

Islands in the stream

23 Ramayana was attempted and found to be in need of a reboot not a rerun.

24 Paatal Lok was binged on and found to be dark and disturbing. The area dog has been renamed Savitri.

25 Tiger King was devoured with horrified fascination and promptly forgotten.

26 You can now reel off all the recommendations on your Netflix homepage.

27 But you’re delighted by the flood of free content released – epic rock concerts, Shakespeare plays and West End musicals on YouTube; celebrity book readings; paywall-disabled documentaries; children’s films; virtual museum tours; no queue for tickets and you had the best seats in the house!

28 And yet, you kept turning to comfort viewing, a show, book or film you’d watched and loved before. Which was it? Friends, Harry Potter, The Big Bang Theory or The Office? Did you stumble on an episode or subplot you’d missed?

29 You streamed something from pre-2020, that long-ago time when people went out unmasked, hugged, mingled, and ate at cafés. And you watched, wistfully, stories in a simpler world.

Working virtually ‘round the clock’

30 Email salutations got grim: “Hope you and yours are safe during this unprecedented time.” At first, you scoffed. This seemed lame and cheesy. Then you wrote one yourself.

31 Office meetings became Zoom calls but should have been emails in the first place. And you realised that even at a distance, one colleague can still suck up to the seniors.

32 Your company, belatedly, acknowledged that things were different, and even more belatedly decided to adapt to them. Guys, let’s cover our logo in a face mask. Guys, let’s offer home delivery. Guys, let’s call our clients at home. Key takeaways: Don’t roll your eyes on a group video call. They’re watching.

33 Workloads, surprisingly, got heavier. Companies figured employees were home, there was no commuting. Why not turn the whole day into a workday?

34 You stared at your formal clothes in the cupboard. Sigh.

35 Wanted to skip a virtual meeting: “Guys, my WiFi is spotty today…”

36 But no way to avoid the infinite loop of “OK then…” to sign off video meetings.

Everyone’s home

37 Nights are bright now, because the lights are on in every house in your complex. Past bedtime, you can tell from the light of their phones, that half of them are still awake.

38 You, and everyone else rediscovered the local park, podium garden or terrace. An opportunity to soak up Vitamin D, enjoy a little escape, feel some breeze and watch the theatre of the everyday.

39 You’ve got nicknames for your neighbours. Aunty who yells. Uncle who gossips. The renters. Window boy. Fitbit grandpa – whom you haven’t seen this week and hope is okay. You wonder what they’ve nicknamed you.

40 There are new chats, new connections. “So, what do you do?”... “Ah, I know that place. My nephew’s office is in the same business centre!”

41. You’ve heard ‘Happy Birthday’ being sung at midnight, and vicariously enjoyed the celebration.

42. The daily rhythms of life on the block became a sensory revelation. Puja sounds at dawn. The dog’s exploratory walk at 4pm. The wafting smell of a cigarette sneakily lit after bedtime.

43. But despite the lockdown extensions, you still haven’t figured who’s been playing Rafi hits every day at 8pm.

44 And we’ve all found a new respect for residents’ associations, who are planning health camps, keeping the peace, posting quarantine details and organising elder care.

Limited mobility

45It took only one week of staying in for us to look forward to a grocery run.

46 The most useful social network? The housing society WhatsApp group. What day is the grocer coming, are there mangoes in the bazaar? Gud Morning, Dea!

47 The cloth bag became the new sign of respectability. “No, inspector, I’m not roaming. I’m headed out to buy milk.”

48 If, at home, we missed the household help, outside, we missed the familiars – the bhelwalla, bhajiwalla, dhobi. Slowly, it occurred to us that the world would be pretty unliveable without many of the busybodies we once ignored.

49 Hopscotch for grown-ups! Chalk circles started to separate shoppers.

50 And still, there was the low hum of concern. The man in front is wearing his mask on his chin. The woman behind is still too close. Who’s coughing?

51 Lockdown shopping turned out to be as much art as balancing act. Did you overstock veggies but run out of oil? We soon realised that meals keep you alive, but munchies are what keep you sane.

52 You tried to beat Amazon, ordering 24 items through three accounts to cheat their one-item-per-customer policy. You also bought hummus at 50% off. Your order came two weeks later – just the hummus. They’re refunding the rest.

What shall we cook today?

53 The real kitchen aid wasn’t the pressure cooker. It was the phone. Google found you recipes based on your fridge contents. Mum texted her chutney technique. Friend sent 20 hacks for instant noodles.

54 Those with subpar cooking skills wondered, often, if this could be considered dying by one’s own hand.

55 Between March and June, a new circle of hell was created for writers of long-winded chatty web recipes. Get to the point, TouchOfSpice. My garlic’s burning here!

56 Flour ran out, pasta disappeared, stores were cleaned of baking powder. Did you make banana bread or sourdough? Pictures, or it didn’t happen.

57 You have resolved never to take restaurant menus for granted again.

58 You stocked comfort food like no one was watching: chips, chocolate, ice-cream, wine.

59 Mysteriously, you lost weight, gained some, and lost it again.

60 Home life reached new frontiers – the back of the freezer, the bottom of the cupboard.

61 You’ve mastered one thing — a favourite preparation, a cup of coffee, batter fermentation.

62 When this is over, you’re buying better knives and a flat omelette pan.

Too close for comfort

63 With everyone home all the time, we learned to keep the peace, living with everyone’s quirks and routines.

64 Furniture was rearranged. A work corner emerged. Every phone found a charging point. There was space to do a workout. You played musical chairs for the most comfortable seat in the house. And you gave it up for a loved one too.

65 There was kitchen-sink drama. Did your home have a designated dish was-her or did you take turns? Fights broke out anyway. “Rinse your plates at least.” “Do you really need another katori?”

66 An isolation revelation: Housework is Sisyphean. Dust settled as you swept. No tabletop remained bare for long.

67 New chores were assigned. Someone was on bathroom duty. Someone folded up the laundry. And someone in every family remains quietly resentful.

68 No matter what, we made sure the kids were happy. Video classes were arranged. Indoor games were thought up. There was study time, play time, nap time and abandon-the-schedule time. By and by, the kids stopped asking to go out to play. They settled into their new reality with a resilience that shocked us grown-ups.

69 Still, when this is over, you’re seriously considering a solo holiday.

This is who I am now

70 The MVP? Your couch. Some days everything happened there: Eating, binge-watching, chatting, tackling work calls, catching a nap.

71 Slowly, at-home exercising showed results. Hello, cheekbones. Where did those bulges go? Wow!

72 You did your first DIY repair project and thought you were a superhero for the rest of the day.

73 The view from the window or terrace became a reminder of the world outside.

74 The crowds, the commute, the roadblocks, the fight for parking — all the things you hated about city life, you mildly missed.

75 But those attempts to stuff your free time with activities eventually gave way to a languorous uncoiling. Perhaps you spent an evening just looking out the window. You found that doing nothing was good for you too. Perhaps this is the break that you wanted all along?

76 You began to nap again. Not those ghastly 15-minute power naps, but actual breaks that helped you relax.

77 Once a week, you’d forget which day it is.

78 You stared to notice the birds that flew past — kingfishers, bulbuls, koels, night herons, cormorants.

79 You ended up doing something you never thought you would, like taking care of a plant and watching it grow like a proud parent.

80 Pets offered inspiration. Cats spent whole afternoons without needing your attention. Dogs looked at you, home all day, like they’d won the jackpot. Neither cared about the virus or the headlines.

81 You had time to indulge your creative side. Journalling helped channel your thoughts. You doodled, helped a family member with crafts, sung along to a song on Spotify, or worked on those short stories you’d been putting off.

82 If only you could give yourself a good haircut too. Who knew that a trim, a root touch-up, brow threading and a professional shave were so hard to live without? You can’t wait to make a salon appointment.

Everything is personal

83 We started out innocently, enjoying photos of empty streets all over the world. Earth is healing, we said. But quickly it dawned on us that hitting pause came at a cost. The economy spiralled, there were salary cuts, furloughs, layoffs. It meant a new kind of rationing, budgeting and making do.

84 The worries piled up. Was there enough food? Weren’t municipal staff at extra risk? Would domestic violence rise? How was everyone coping?

85 Crucially, what would the post-lockdown world be like?

86 The electricity bill for summer arrived. And you realised what it cost to run the fan, lights and AC day and night. Thankfully there were no petrol and restaurant bills.

87 You decided to punch the next person who used the term ‘unprecedented.

88You envied that one friend who seemed to have lockdown-life under control.

89 Productivity pressure felt real. The lockdowns kept extending, and you still hadn’t signed up for an online course, read the books you wanted to, or even taken guitar lessons.

90 Other crises loomed: the migrant exodus, earthquakes, heatwaves, cyclones, locusts, race protests, more environmental disasters. In between, you saw a report that a nearby solar system was transmitting strange electrical signals. Not now, aliens!

91 You spent hours identifying private initiatives to help those affected by the pandemic and finding the most responsible drives to support.

92 Sure, sharing is caring. But caring can also be wearying. Concern fatigue set in after a while. New infection rates didn’t alarm you like they earlier did. And you turned to meditation to manage anxiety and stress.

93 Or you braved the queue the day liquor stores opened.

We’ll remember 2020 as…

94 The year we skipped summer. There was heat, yes. But no vacations. No pool parties. No outdoor fun.

95 One long wait. Days all coalesced into one. And weekends, we realised, were indeed a social construct.

96 A storehouse of anecdotes. Generations to come will hear of the time dad rationed one bar of Dairy Milk over two weeks, when mango prices dropped, when Metro stations were empty, and when the air was so clear, you could see all the way to the next suburb.

97 The time that redefined essential services, what we could and couldn’t live without, and how much cities relied on underpaid migrant labour.

98 Naomi Campbell’s time to shine. In February, we watched a video of the supermodel, dressed in a hazmat suit, gloved, pulling out sanitising wipes and sprays from her designer handbag and cleaning every inch of her first-class airplane seat. “Aren’t you just a bit dramatic, Naomi?” we laughed. Two months in, we admitted she was right.

99 The disaster movie Hollywood never prepared us for. Blockbusters set in the future predicted zombies, hunger games, fury roads, water crises, robot overlords, flying cars and creepy clones. We simply failed to imagine a world where everyone was stuck at home, oscillating between paranoia and boredom.

100 A chance to count our privileges. Here we are, 100 days on, alive, reading, recapping; our bellies full, our phones charged, waiting to be a part of a safer better future.

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