18 September, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India

By Preeta Kuhad Balia

It is becoming harder to grapple with my days. Like a skein of thread, my days reel free, unspooling but in a continuum of unrelenting sameness. I woke up just before seven in the morning to the realisation that this was a school day for my children. School lessons begin at 8 am on their tablets and laptops. My sons sit alongside each other on a long rectangular desk, the study room being an extension of the dining room, with foldable glass and wood partitioning the two spaces. As I arrange the table for breakfast, they mime their needs to me –

‘Your phone- internet is bad’(pleadingly)

or

‘Fetch my text book lying upstairs’ (assertively),

or

‘A glass of water’ (expectantly)

Now that I don’t pack lunch boxes any more, they are mostly served their breakfast on their work desk and I run back and forth to remind them of their unfinished fruit, skinned almonds.

The monsoon may not have bid a final goodbye to Jodhpur.  The air is tensed, laden with suspended moisture alien to our city and foreign in its rapture.   It appears as beads of sweat on the upper lip and brow without any physical exertion expended. The white sun scorches everything to health– from mattresses to jars of pickles, platters of condiments, pulses and grains, laundry. All of us are sunned to rejuvenate and recalibrate.  But the sun has lately been sitting morosely unbright, trumped by hulking grey monsoon clouds. One has to be certain of what ones leaves on the terrace to dry out. My sister in law left freshly harvested cumin soaked in lemon juice in her backyard when the sun seemed alert. Before she could retrieve the bowl, it had swallowed rain water, leading the concoction to spoil. This is the time of the year when domestic staff from nearby villages, bring gifts of fenugreek, cumin and a host of desert vegetables.

The virus has now knocked closer home – family friends and relatives have succumbed to it. No more do I receive complaints from relatives for not visiting, no friends gather up for coffee. Since the state government began the process of Unlock on August 29th – heralding Unlock 4.0 – we saw a rush of social interactions and then a sudden drop as the number of corona positives grew ferocious.

 I am to go to the office to dispose of some old files but I defer it as far into the future as I can. Everyone is cautious and, as gregarious as Jodhpur folks are, for now their instincts have been subdued. The daily count of the newly infected is now one and a half times that of August, though people are healing as well. It’s the ninth month of the year but it feels like something has stunted the flow of things and nothing appears to grow and bear fruit.

My younger son fell off his bicycle last evening, bruising himself quite seriously in several places. The doctor instructs us over the phone to get him a booster tetanus shot within 24 hours. My mother in law spends more than an hour trying to hunt down a nurse who is not attached to any hospital and willing to come home to administer the shot. Small misadventures now cost us a lot more time and money than in the past. I call up my parents in Delhi and my father can’t fathom how irresponsible we could be to allow the children to cycle on city roads. He fumes that we are displaying misplaced bravado in permitting our sons this access. I try reason with Papa: the boys have been cooped up at home, they haven’t seen any friends in weeks and their daily tennis lessons were stopped so long ago. How can young adolescents be deprived freedoms for such extended periods? While my father stings me with unflinching remonstrance on one side of the phone, my husband collates his ammunition of defences on the other –

‘Do you know more people die of suicides everyday than motor accidents?’

‘Can you ever calculate the cost of trapping children in prolonged fear?’

‘People die sitting on their own couches, how can you stop living?’

While the significant men of my life thrust and parry in verbal outrage, I nod to both, deferring to their contrary views, empathising with both at once. There’s little else to do when I know it’s not just my son who lost his balance on his bicycle, it’s all of us who seem to have lost our footing in the face of this pandemic.