26-27 May, Kolkata, India

By Puja Bhattacharjee

I spotted a house lizard poised to grab a big cockroach on the stairs as I was going for my evening walk. I froze on seeing the cockroach and quietly prayed for the success of the lizard. Unfortunately, the lizard struck too early and the cockroach flew away. I abandoned the stairs and took the elevator. 

For as long as I can remember, my dad has been killing cockroaches by whacking them with his slippers. He never bothers to wipe the floor or wash the sole of his slippers. He ignores the disgusting mess such an execution leaves because this insect’s blood is colorless. Meanwhile, the can of Hit insect spray sits idly beside the refrigerator.

I dislike summer. Besides the unbearable heat, these insects become very active. They disappeared for a few days last week when the cyclone hit the city. Quite a few trees have been uprooted in our housing society. A pine tree near the main gate has been restrained with ropes tied to the second-floor balcony of the building next to it. Two big Kadam trees had fallen on and broke the over groundwater pipes. On Wednesday last week, the lights went out in the evening and did not come back for 24 hours. The electric generators betrayed us when we needed them most. 

The storm and its after-effects have been especially hard on our octogenarian neighbor Mrs. Sen. She was widowed a few years ago and lives alone. A maid comes daily to help with chores and stays from 10 am to 6 pm. She was by herself for a few days after the cyclone and was urgently trying to locate the electrician to restore the lights in her flat.

The Wi-Fi was restored today. The cable TV connection is still not working properly. When alone, Mrs. Sen turns to the TV to pass her time. Without cable, loneliness has been creeping up on her. She told me the evenings are especially hard. Before the lockdown, she used to go for evening walks, met other elderly women, and sometimes sat down for lengthy conversations. Sometimes her relatives visited her. Sometimes she visited them. My mother calls on her daily, and they chat over a cup of tea. At times, I see her standing behind the iron gates in front of her door and we exchange a few words.

I have had my own struggles with mental health these couple of weeks. I was feeling emotionally volatile, drained of all energy, and depressed. My therapist told me I was feeling this way due to neurochemical changes in my brain. I think these changes were exacerbated by the lockdown. I consulted a psychiatrist and have been taking medication. I am slowly getting back to feeling normal but I am afraid that I might slip back to feeling horrible again.