30 July, Kolkata, India

By Puja Bhattacharjee

During the two and a half month total lockdown, I had got used to waking up to a silent city. I woke up to the sound of birds and came to love the natural sounds – of whooshing winds, falling rain, and murmuring leaves. The first day the traffic started back on the roads was an assault on my senses.

Recently, my state government announced two days of total lockdown every week to curb the rising cases of the coronavirus. Yesterday was one of those days this week. Today I woke up to the annoying sound of the traffic – noisy car engines, blaring horns, and tire screeches – again. I now look forward to the locked-down days. I wish I could go out and observe the quiet city. I have never seen Kolkata in this avatar. All available past and present accounts I’ve read, describe it as a bustling metropolis teeming with people in every square inch of the space. 

The inside of our flat is a very different story. Be it an open day or a total locked down day, there is hardly ever any silence. When we – me, my parents and sister – are not arguing among ourselves, there is the noise from Netflix, music on the radio, or YouTube. Sometimes, especially on the locked-down days, I want to go out for some quiet. I make do with some time to myself on the terrace. I have never before paid attention to the varieties of birds around me. Now I do. In the evening, I see flocks of birds flying home in an almost V-shaped formation. They fly too high for me to tell what kind of birds they are. 

Towards the end of June and in July, things were starting to feel normal again. I was visiting my neighbour’s cocker spaniel named Ajoli (meaning an innocent girl in the Assamese language). I was also visiting their granddaughter Hiya who lives about 10 minutes away again. Holding four-year-old Hiya or giving Ajoli belly rubs felt therapeutic to me. When I visited Hiya after two-and-a-half months of total lockdown, she had forgotten who I was – Puja Mashi (mother’s sister). Ajoli barked at me continuously for some time when I tried to pet her, till she calmed down and finally recognized me. She turned on her back, baring her belly, asking me to rub it.

There have been a few positive cases in my housing society in the last few weeks. Everyone is on their toes again. I can no longer visit Hiya or Ajoli. I make do with petting Miu Miu, a stray cat. Sometimes, I sit on the edge of the empty field with overgrown grass. The children no longer play cricket or football. In the early morning, some adults jog or exercise around it. If Miu is around, I tap my thighs, urging him to climb up into my lap. He sits there and purrs while I scratch his head, chin, and back. In this strange world, I have come to love the little pleasures.