Finding Home This Quarantine
The Grim Reality
COVID-19 is responsible for a lot of things including the death of my already barely-existent social life. Yes, I never really went out much even in the pre lockdown times and most probably that’s not going to change post it either, but I had always taken comfort in the fact that I could’ve gone out if I wanted. This independence that has been taken away is what bothers me. I’m quite skilled at being a recluse but it angers my ‘rebel without a cause’ self.
When the restriction to go out is not self-imposed but a public requirement, I feel unusually trapped.
If you haven’t deciphered it yet, I am not a fan of this lockdown.
When I came home for the mid-semester break, my vacation was supposed to last a week. I was supposed to spend a week sleeping and eating homemade food and then I was supposed to go back to the regular college life hustle that I have grown to adore. Unfortunately, pandemics don’t care much about my plans. Coronavirus entered India in all its glory and all its fury, and I have been at home for the past six months.
To say this lockdown devastates me is not an exaggeration but I understand why it is necessary. So, after two weeks of moping around, I decided to turn my life around. Quarantine wasn’t going away so I would have to learn to live with it.
A Sliver Of Hope Found In A Pit Of Vipers
Somewhere amid my misery – while I was obsessively cleaning my cupboard – my mother dug out a game of snakes and ladders that hadn’t been touched since the Stone Age. A bit of excavation revealed a single dice. My mum’s eyes glinted wickedly. I knew I was going to be her helpless victim yet again. The battleground was deadly with vipers.
In the first game, I was bitten by a snake at step 96 and with grinding teeth I had to watch my mum skip her way to step 100. War had been declared. By evening this snake and ladder fever had spread to the other two members of the family and we were all gathered around the centre table, wishing poison upon each other.
Turns out the board game phase was just the beginning. We moved from snakes and ladders to ludo and then Uno. We fought and we teamed up to defeat a common enemy. What I realized during our weekly battles was that suddenly, time – for a few hours at least – seemed to fly by.
Sure, we were only able to do this on the weekends, but I started looking forward to those weekends, those hours when we would express our desires to defeat the others in the cruellest way possible. My mum who once cried because I was sad did not blink twice before serving me two draw fours in a row while playing Uno. If anything, she was smirking at the thought of the victory awaiting her and my impending defeat.
Long Overdue Ice-Breaking Sessions
It is a painfully easy thing these days - drifting apart. People grow up without really knowing their family. This is especially common in Indian households where there seems to be a gap between parents and their children. Sure, the parents love their children and work day and night to ensure a fulfilling life for them but do they really know their children? What about the other way around either?
When do we stop seeing our parents as ‘parents’ and start seeing them as humans? If I’m being honest, generally, never.
I was eighteen years old before I realized that I had no idea of my mum’s taste in movies, her favourite colour, or what kind of music she preferred.
Five months into lockdown and I know my mum can’t stand action films or sad songs and at the moment her favourite colour is maroon.
It is not some commendable achievement that I know these basic facts now. Perhaps, if I’d been a little more considerate in the past, I would already know all of these. But I wasn’t and it is what it is. I can’t change my past callousness, but this quarantine has allowed me to make up for it.
The New Normal
Every week is a discovery. I’m learning and unlearning all the time. My father loves roasted peanuts, my brother can’t swallow one. I’m told I make wonderful coffee although I rarely drink it. These are little things, practically insignificant but they make every day a little more exciting, a little newer and a little more worth living.
Dinner is all about trying new dishes seen on fancy YouTube channels. But of course, we don’t have a steamer, basil pesto, or seventy percent of the cutlery shown in the video. But we do have a pressure cooker, coriander and a mother who has been improvising everything she does since before it was an official course in drama school. Breakfast is either inhaling cornflakes or making the most of last night’s dinner because a family that eats leftovers together stays together.
When Coronavirus was at its peak, we had no one to help with household chores. So being the masters of cooperation and coordination that we are, we decided to take up some of the work ourselves. Suddenly, ‘sweep my room’ and ‘dust the furniture’ was being added to my daily to-do list. I learned how to make rotis while my brother saw this as an opportunity to learn how to make a pizza.
Several attempts were made by him to convince my mum to let him make pizza for dinner once every two days. My father, for his part, ate my half-cooked rotis that would be as structured as amoeba and my brother’s gourmet pizza with the same enthusiasm. Although he did complain slightly more about the pizza since he had been assigned with the task of washing dishes.
Shedding Facades And Being Honest
I could write a lot more about how this lockdown has brought a multitude of chances for families - to spend time together and find new ways to connect. But I also feel obliged to dole out a harsh truth – being closer doesn’t always mean you will play boardgames and have weekly movie nights or gossip about your classmates. It means you will talk; you will talk about things that matter. You will express your views and discover that your mother doesn’t agree with you. You will fight.
You will fight and you will say things you don’t mean. In some cases, you will say things you have always wanted to say but could never gather the courage to. You will hurt and be hurt. But at the end of the day, it will be you and it will be them. Together, like a family.
It's important to realize that this quarantine is bound to take a toll on everyone. People who are habituated to working in a controlled professional environment are suddenly expected to work in a chaotic home environment while maintaining the same level of productivity. Our freedom has been taken away from us and while this is technically for our good, it can be a bit hard to wrap our heads around this reality.
As such, our family needs to be a structure on which we can rely when everything gets a little too overwhelming. Since we are in close confinement with them for an unprecedented amount of time, it is only natural to try and improve our relationship with them.
Most families don’t have the fortune of functioning like a well-oiled machine and I believe primary grade football teams have more experience in teamwork than the Indian nuclear family; let alone a joint one. But I have seen my parents put their heads together and chart out a chore schedule as if preparing the annual report of a company. We are bound to learn from them. It’s a step by step process. Slowly, gently, you too will learn to live together.
I do not know how long it will be before the situation goes back to normal and people start feeling safe enough to venture out like they used to. But this pandemic has the potential to monumentally alter relationships. I hope you realize that you are not alone and that sometimes the people you’ve known since birth can be the people who make breathing a little easier for you.
I hope you learn to discover little bits of happiness within your house. Most of all, I hope you come out of this pandemic having gained a family.