The neighborhood has complained about my mother going on walks at night within our gated compound. They knew I had just arrived from the United States of America (which has been a total shit-show of a country since COVID-19), so how dare my mum walk around spreading the virus she now definitely has, how dare she leave her spit and snot and other bodily fluids on every item of public property, how dare she be coughing so powerfully and magnificently that all of the (zero) people at a 25 foot distance from her contract the virus that I imported from the Greater Boston Area two nights ago.
My mother has obliged and will not be leaving the house so as to save everyone’s lives. Of course, my family actually understands science and is aware that for our neighbors’ concerns to have a valid basis, my mother would’ve had to have been doing much worse than walking at a distance of many, many feet from every other late-night walker. But we do not want to upset the complainants, because my family lives here (complete with recently developed social lives) and plans to for a while. Besides, it was kind of exciting to be reminded that there are actual living people in this dead community :).
They are watching your every move.
My grandmother is struggling to believe that I am here, finally here, but I will not come close to her until the 31st of March. We shared multiple little TFIOS-esque exchanges of “Really?” “Really.” and “Seriously?” “Seriously.” on informing her that she was to maintain a six foot distance from me at all times until my self-quarantine period had ended. Everyday she asks me twice or thrice how many days are left until my family stops being overtly and annoyingly anxious every time we’re in the same room. She holds up her fingers questioningly to indicate the days, innocently hopeful, and I always shake my head and raise the same fingers plus one or two more. The topic of most conversations my grandparents have with other elderly relatives who call their mobile phone from all over the country is the sheer ridiculousness of the younger generations, how it will not even allow grandparents to make physical contact with their granddaughters whom they haven’t seen in months. Little do they know that they are going to receive the squish of a lifetime from me to make up for all this b.s. at midnight in 10 days!
My incredibly touch-deprived self is enormously grateful for the cats in the house. Tiger, of course, has forgotten me and has hissed at me on 3 occasions already (truly the most tragic decline of a beautiful friendship). Dusty doesn’t care about any of us anymore unless she wants food or two minutes of cuddles on her own terms. But Mira! Mira, the IISc cat I’m housing for my friends until the institute switches back to in-person classes, is friendly and lovable, as well as lost and confused, so she actually needs us, and I thoroughly enjoy this fact. I will not go into the details of the thought processes that decided her name, but with my take on the same rules, her name should be X. Lo (like J. Lo), short for Extremely Lovable. I’m fairly certain that none of my cats are fans of my aggressively affectionate squishes and high-pitched verbal showering of love, but I am okay with being a part of these three one-sided relationships.
Was that actual “shortness of breath” last night? Was it coronavirus? Was it anxiety? Who knows. All I knew was that I needed some fresh air, and so did Mira, since we hadn’t let her roam outside freely yet. So, I followed my dad out the door that opens into our front garden at 8 AM earlier today, holding Mira close, and took a bunch of deep breaths. I like how my garden almost always smells like it’s about to rain, or already has, and I like how the idea of rain doesn’t upset me in my city. New England rain wants to slap you and hurt you; Bangalore rain wants to be your friend and take care of you.
All of a sudden, my dad announced, “Exercise!” and bent down to pick up a dried leaf lying on the path leading up to our front door. “Ek paan!” (one leaf).
“Don paan. Teen paan. Chaar paan,” he staccatoed with every leaf he added to his collection.
I shook my head and walked back inside to inform my mother about my father’s latest antics. Before I could begin my story, my mom relayed the events from even earlier that morning to me. She told me how my dad wanted to hang out on the terrace with her because the weather was lovely, but she was reluctant to do so because she knew he would spend a lot of their time up there looking at his phone. She did it anyway, and after making some conversation wherein he (allegedly) only pointed out a bunch of flaws with the scene on the terrace, my dad whipped out his phone, and my mum promptly decided to head back inside since it had begun to rain. “But you like the rain!” my dad protested.
The issue, my mum explained, was that my father was probably almost definitely only staying outside even if the rain was bothering him because he thought my mum enjoys the rain and he will sacrifice his own happiness and comfort for other people, and this is an incredibly annoying habit of which she has accused him many times in their 23 years, 2 months, and 22 days of marriage, and she didn’t want to be made to feel guilty about making him do things he didn’t actually want to do (even though she wasn’t actually making him, and he was doing them of his own accord, which is really his own problem). I think my parents are starting to run out of things to fight about.
She rolled her eyes at my conclusion and then we both watched my father fondly as I explained to her what he was up to in the garden. With a somewhat evil grin, she told me that she now had an irresistible urge to run upstairs to the balcony that looks over the garden, and sweep all the dried leaves on its floor off the edge and into the garden for my father to pick up. She ran up the stairs excitedly, cackling loudly as I described what was about to happen to my grandmother. My father heard me, however, and ran back into the house screaming “No!”, watching the bit of sky by the balcony with a smile he couldn’t hide behind his feigned annoyance and despair. The kind of smile that says “god, this woman is so heckin silly and I love it but obviously I can’t let anyone know that”. I joined my dad at the door and we watched and giggled as large piles of leaves fell with a thump on the path before us, startling Mira, who probably felt more lost and confused than ever. I, on the other hand, felt so at home. There is so much love in this house that happens without needing the actual words.
Speaking of love without the actual words, I remember coming downstairs around 5 PM every evening to find my grandparents sharing tea at the dining table as per their daily routine a few years ago. My grandmother needed dentures by this point but hated them and never wore them unless a photograph was about to be taken; she would not even wear them to eat and therefore stuck to softer foods. My grandfather would pour out a bowl of Haldiram’s All in One mixture (Indian trail mix, if you will) for my grandmother, and then painstakingly discard every single peanut in the bowl into a separate pile that he would consume later on her behalf. I have never seen my grandparents verbally express their contentment with each other, but they don’t need the words either.
My brother’s Grade 10 board exams ended the day after I arrived. He spent my first day back skirting around me with his hand covering his mouth every time we were nearly in close proximity. It always blows my mind that he is his own person now, with an actual brain, capable of forming his own thoughts and opinions on things it never occurred to me he thought about at all. The memes he posts on his Instagram story are hilarious, and it always hits me that he has His Own Sense of Humour.
Every older sibling is guilty of abusing their younger sibling’s innocence and ordering them to fetch glasses of water, TV remotes, and countless other things out of sheer laziness, until the younger sibling grows old enough to realize and vehemently protest against it. Now, with my quarantine, no one wants me to touch anything in general, so my brother has been dutifully bringing me cold water, cold coffee, microwaved Pop Tarts (15 seconds!), and plates of lunch to my door everyday – I don’t even have to ask, and he doesn’t even complain. I love him. That is why I ditched my plan to grade Discrete Math homework for my actual job that pays me actual money to earn fake coins on Club Penguin with him when he expressed the desire to spend time with me in some way.
When my mother built our house from scratch, she had my brother’s room and mine be connected through a swinging bookshelf. From my end, the bookshelf-cum-door opens into a little reading corner and indoor balcony attached to my brother’s room. This feature has come in handy, now that we practice social distancing but want to spend time together. After having a couple breakdowns throughout the semester about how I was missing out on my brother growing up and was losing time with him, I could finally spend an hour “with him”, six feet apart, playing Club Penguin and feeling warm from the nostalgia. We played Mancala, whose rules neither of us understood, and I wrecked him. (I am sure he would want you all to know that he wrecked me at the Dance Contest, which was annoying because you get zero coins if you lose).
Side note about Club Penguin: after it shut down, there came a rewritten version of the site (cponline), super fancy with extra locations and features and rainbow puffles and golden puffles, that I had forgotten about until recently. The reason I forgot about it was that I found another rewritten version (cprewritten) much closer to the original and thought the former one had disappeared (I was wrong). You get to be a member on both for free. Highly recommend during quarantine times.
Fun fact: cponline has a “mature” server in which penguins (often belonging to 21 year olds) can curse and not get kicked out. You can say the most atrocious things and get zero warnings. HOWEVER, if you mention “cprewritten” on even this mature server of cponline, you get flagged for using inappropriate language and are threatened to get kicked out. I think it’s hilarious that someone somewhere sat down and coded that into the game.
Edit: I do not want my last note to be about Club Penguin, so I will instead leave you with the promise that some day I will publish a post about the various ways in which people have dealt with the many breakdowns I have had in my life. I’ve been seeing a tweet or text post going around that says “I chose the wrong year to get my shit together”, because, you know, no matter how successful your attempts to stay sane in a lock-down situation during a global pandemic are, you can never achieve the same level of glory of having gotten your shit together without said lock-down and pandemic being present.
I really love telling my mom why this text post applies to me big time; I love describing to her in excruciating detail just how good my life had gotten in every way possible right before I was transplanted to the other side of the planet for an uncertain (but certainly long) period of time. She’s really patient. She listens and pretends to be excited and proud like it’s brand new information every single time.