One lockdown, many faces

One lockdown, many faces

In these surreal times, it is fascinating to see how every facet of human nature is, well, out in the open. We chronicle a few such stories

Human nature in the times of virus

So I spent all of yesterday refreshing my Amazon page looking for a delivery slot. Kept refreshing the page every 20 minutes... I had a cart full of bread, eggs, veggies, biscuits snacks, soaps, etc. Then miraculously, a slot opened for today! I was elated! But between confirming the slot and paying for it, so many things got sold out that by the time I paid for it, all we had in the order was Little Hearts (x2), juice, jelly packet, one Marie biscuit packet, two coke cans and washing machine powder. So when the world comes to an end, we will drink coke, eat jelly and wear washed clothes…”

That is a message from a good friend, Radhika Vishwanathan. And it’s something we can all relate to, is it not? Vishwanathan is a city-based podcaster and co-founder of an independent podcast production company, Vaaka Media. But today, waiting for an online delivery slot is her new normal. Humour is her way of coping while she and her husband Avinash Krishnamurthy, work from home. The couple have twin daughters so they take turns to supervise the five year-olds while managing home and work. Cooking is more or less basic. Nothing too fancy. “We have fallen into the dal-sabzi black hole,” as Vishwanathan puts it.

Forced minimalism

Shamli Das can relate to that. Basic cooking is what she too is doing, but for an entirely different reason. Das and husband Sandeep were supposed to be in Ahmedabad now. He got a job there recently and the couple found a school there for their son and daughter.

Sandeep Das came back to Bengaluru some weeks ago to help his family shift. Their belongings — furniture, clothes, kitchen/household stuff — were packed into boxes by a relocation company.

The family was all set to fly out of Bengaluru. Then, the lockdown was announced. “Our stuff is lying in the godown of the packing company. At the moment, we have mattresses and blankets, the kids have online classes because their new school (in Ahmedabad) has reopened. Sandeep has work. I am cooking whatever is possible with the things I have with me,” says Das.

As her kitchen is bare, she is recycling old water bottles as containers for cutlery and to store condiments. “The kids are surprisingly fine and I envy their childhood carefree phase.”

Das is a Madhubani painter. Unfortunately, her artwork and supplies have been packed away. “I am left with one sketch book... so yes, it is frustrating at times. But we walk and talk for hours, watch serials and movies and vent it out. We count our blessings. And no cleaning, no dusting and no yelling at the kids to keep things in the right place!”

WFH’s many avatars

Being stuck at home with family is one thing, being in lockdown and stuck with WFH (Work- From-Home) is another.

WFH means different things to different people. “I am constantly cleaning, cooking, washing vessels, dusting and sweeping,” is how one harried mom puts it. As most people have given their domestic helps time off or paid leave, children and spouses are being roped in to share chores.

Juggling all this and WFH sometimes leads to unexpected occurrences. Media professional Leena Ghosh and her husband Rajesh are at home with their little daughter. He works for a private sector bank and is on call 9 am to 8 pm.

“His WFH guidelines stipulate formals, so he is in his office wear all day. And does jhadu-pocha wearing formals!” laughs Ghosh.

Add some sass

WFH is not the only in-thing now. There’s been an explosion of news — information, conspiracy theories, misinformation — on our phones. Every day, there is more and more stress inducing, scarily-real (and fake) Covid-19 information constantly available. Which is why a different kind of ‘news’ capsule is currently making waves. Ever since the lockdown began, the creative duo of Danish Sait and Saad Khan have been entertaining Bengalureans with their ‘Shivajinagar News Central’ series. (https://www.instagram.com/p/B-rXKeHl7fk/ https://www.facebook.com/rjdanishsait/videos/220143642397790/)

They have posted seven episodes so far (at the time of writing) of their spirited, sassy yet satirical series. Each episode is four to seven-minutes long, with Sait as Razia and Khan as his faithful beau, Razzak. The series charts their tumultuous love story, introduces various family members and highlights the prejudices and practices prevalent in our city, community and country. They discuss everything from the practical impossibilities of social distancing (think joint families) to the Tabligh controversy and Modiji’s periodic exhortations to his home- quarantined and captive countrymen. Razia offers helpful tips on making DIY masks from err...underwear and stumbles over US President Trump’s demand that India continues to export “hyder-hyder-colour-ex-kin-hydra...kya woh!”

These episodes are not for the faint-hearted; the duo are loud and how! And it’s gone viral, especially among Sait’s 303,000 Instagram followers. Sait and Khan collaborate often, on stand-up routines, improv comedy and even, a movie (featuring Sait as the caricaturish yet true-to-life Humble Politician Nograj). This week, the duo also put out COVID POSITIVE — a short film shot in isolation starring themselves as well as fellow actors Disha Madan and Vamsidhar Bhogaraju. Sait believes comedy is serious business. He also feels that art and activism go hand in hand. And that is evident through his latest creative collaboration with Khan that mixes very adult humour with hard-hitting truths.

Voices from everywhere

From adult humour to the human condition is not such a leap really. That’s why this group of four youngsters is trying to show us that we are all in it together. Through a news show titled The Flip Side (available on Instagram) Hita P, Prafula Grace Busi, Kumar Mahadevan and Suraj Sridhar — have so far produced four episodes of their show. The quartet — three are in Bengaluru, one is in Tamil Nadu — aim to showcase voices from across India and the world. They’ve featured a consultant surgeon in London, a Police Superintendent in Telangana and a Deputy Commissioner in Ballari district, among others. They’ve also featured people talking about what lockdown is for them — from Amrith in Kenya and Bhargavi in Texas to Esther in Faridabad. The four hope to capture every facet of life under lockdown — from the light-hearted and laughter-inducing to the life-threatening and everything in between.

The not-so-humane side

Recently, I had a frantic call from NS, a former student. “My landlady wants me to go and clear out my stuff from my PG (Paying Guest) accommodation. But is it safe to go out? I don’t know what to do, Ma’am!” NS, a 20-something from West Bengal, is in Bengaluru with her older brother who works here. She was also under home-isolation when she called me. Feverish and sickly for days, she went to the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Chest Diseases (a Government-run institute for COVID-19 tests).

The doctors did not do the COVID-19 test as she had no travel history. “They prescribed medicines and told me to self-isolate at home,” she says. Then her PG owner called. NS took a PG in West Bengaluru as she was supposed to be interning at a regional language newspaper in that area. But the lockdown put her internship on hold. “The owner says if I don’t pay for another month, my things will be thrown out!”

NS says her PG is a three-storied building. “There are six-seven rooms per floor. Each room houses a maximum of four girls. We each get a bed with mattress. Meals are supposed to be included in the Rs, 4,400-4,500 monthly rent, but that is if you reach the mess on time.” This building alone nets the owner Rs 3.6-Rs 3.8 lakh a month (at seven rooms/ floor, 84 residents paying Rs 4,400-Rs 4,500).

My husband and I called the PG owner. It did not faze him that a lockdown was (and is) in progress or that NS was under home-isolation. He asked if we could pay the rent using online means. Only after we did, he said NS could keep her belongings in the room for another month.