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View from India: Lockdown life

Image credit: Pop & Zebra | Unsplash

India has been under lockdown since March 2020 and will remain that way until 17 May. Life has changed, in many subtle ways.

As the sun settles down beyond the horizon and a russet sky takes over, a certain degree of silence prevails. This is because a dusk-to-dawn curfew has been imposed from 7pm-7am, curtailing individuals’ normal nocturnal movements. A reality check reveals that the nationwide lockdown is touching all our lives, altering many of our familiar activities. It’s a ‘home alone’ situation.

On 24 March 2020, the Government of India, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ordered a strict nationwide lockdown for 21 days. This limited the movement of an entire nation consisting of a population of 1.3 billion people. Phase 1 of the lockdown ran from 25 March-14 April 2020; Phase 2 from 15 April-3 May, while Phase 3 began on 4 May and is scheduled to end on 17 May - all being well.

The fact that people are at home and have lost that personal connection with the outside world has broken many links. Still, by default, we all have a survival instinct. Somehow we’ve all managed to find a way through a very unlikely situation. Nevertheless, many things are not the same.

Social distancing has made a world of a difference. People seem wary of each other, cautiously ensuring they don’t cross each other’s paths while walking. Even if they know each other, it’s just a mere smile and a reassuring nod before parting ways.

Essentials such as milk have been available from day one. Yet the number of fruit and vegetable pushcart vendors dramatically decreased. We are used to having vendors milling around with their produce every day. It’s a familiar refrain. We all have our favourite vendors who announce their arrival, loud and clear. We customarily stop to say a word or two after buying our vegetables and fruit. Suddenly, most of them had disappeared, leaving the roads deserted. Now, slowly they are reappearing with their produce and this is comforting.

Until a few days ago, only vehicles with a Covid-19 pass - issued for essential and health services only - could move around. Now, certain relaxation measures have been implemented within the lockdown norms. So, during the day, people have begun to move around in their vehicles, be it two or four-wheelers, even without a Covid-19 pass. Even so, they still need to wear a mask and most of these travellers end up taking serpentine routes to their destination, with many roads still blocked. 

Lockdown has nudged us into leading somewhat laid-back lives. Eat, sleep and watch television. This seems to be the order of the day, every day - a routine which never existed until some weeks ago.  

We spend time watching television, chew on peanuts and exchange words with our family. Old serials that have been off-air for years are being aired once more. We watch them nostalgically, as they bring back fond memories. These serials are punctuated with a 20-second commercial break, urging viewers to clean their hands with sanitiser.

Hand sanitisers are doing the rounds everywhere, be it a big or small store. Standalone shops and non-essential outlets are cautiously opening up one by one. We happened to visit a big store selling multi-brand electronic items. Consumers were greeted at the entrance with a hand sanitiser. Even before entering the store, they were gently reminded to fill in their names and telephone numbers at the entrance. The store seemed to be abuzz with activity, as many families are checking out washing machines and other home appliances, if only for something new to do.

Like hand sanitisers, face masks and hand gloves have also become commonplace. In fact everyone prefers to go with the flow, otherwise those who venture out of their homes without masks will be fined. Everywhere, masked greetings have become the norm.

Suddenly, the city's terraces have sprung into action. Individuals use them to stretch their arms and flex their muscles. Balconies double up as places for neighbours to speak to one another. In these unsettling times, people who didn’t know one another before or didn’t have the time to check on their neighbours have now begun to smile, exchange social niceties and slowly become friends. Along with this walled talk, families bond together over indoor games. Occasionally, children cycle in the vicinity, under the watchful eye of their parents.

Seen from another standpoint, distance does make the heart grow fonder. Multiple households can keep in touch with their loved ones through Skype and social media. In fact, many social media accounts have become active with recipes that carry the promise of being homemade. Celebrities and film stars are also sharing recipes and tips on stress busters like gardening and sketching. 

Last month, most of us stocked our homes with pulses and medicines. It was sheer anxiety that compelled us to react in this manner. Another strange twist in this lockdown tale has seen some well-known names endorsing the fact that it’s ‘safe’ to hold a newspaper and to read it. Initially, some homes had stopped subscribing to newspapers over fear of the coronavirus. 

Certain things in life remain unchanged. The cows graze, birds chirp and pet owners take their four-legged ones for a walk.

Meanwhile, it’s a homecoming of sorts for Indians who have been stranded abroad. India kicked off the Vande Bharat Mission today. The Air India flights will bring home those Indians who are stuck overseas. One of the biggest-ever repatriation exercises, this Mission will bring back Indians who are stranded in 12 countries.

As reported in the media, passengers who return to the country will be kept in a 14-day quarantine period, before being allowed to return to their homes. This health protocol has been issued by the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Civil Aviation.

Human as we are, we tend to take things for granted. When we want something, we can usually procure it without much ado. It’s only when our requirements - both the basic stuff as well as fancier desires - are not met that it takes a toll on our mindsets and psyche.

There are still millions of people whose situation is worse than ours. They continue to struggle for a living in these difficult times. To that effect, lockdown has taught us all a lesson, the hard way.

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