I think I can begin this post by stating that 2020 was not the year that everyone, and I mean everyone, planned, hoped or dreamed for. It was a year that started innocently and quietly enough for most, and then escalated quickly into something that no one was prepared for, and I mean no one. In the blink of an eye or rather overnight, the Lockdown changed everything. Suddenly 2020 was not just another year. For me or for anyone else.
The first few days of the Lockdown felt like an unexpected and welcome holiday. But that changed as the realities of the Lockdown set in as the days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. I don’t even think I can articulate fully the claustrophobia, the despair or the daily challenges of forced isolation.
But what I can do is to highlight one or two events of each month of the year that was 2020 and share them with you here. Everyone had a year like no other and this is mine.
January: I started the year by cooking Undhiyo, a dish that my mother used to make, entirely from memory for my close friends and colleagues at work. A mix of beans, purple yam, sweet potato, brinjal, raw banana, methi and more, flavoured with coconut, fresh coriander, spices… all coming together to create a very unique dish. On its own, each ingredient is nice but together these diverse ingredients create a very special dish with flavours that complement each other. Much like the good and bad that life throws at us.
February: I did something for the first time — I participated in a run for the first time ever with some fabulous work colleagues-friends and completed a 5km at the Tridhatu Navi Mumbai Marathon. I may have walked more than I ran, but that is a small technicality for the heady feeling crossing the finish line is something else altogether. 🤓
March: This is the time that my busy “season” at work begins and most of the month went in preparation for the work and tasks to be completed. And then the Lockdown came into effect and the world as I knew it changed forever.
April: This month was about learning to cope with the changed reality around me and music was my stress buster. This was the month that I pulled out all my music CDs and listened to them through all my waking hours.
May: Started an art-based series on Instagram called #ArtByTheLetter or #AksharArt, which continued till October. As the name suggests, this was a series on Indian Art using the varnmala of the Hindi alphabet or the Devanagari script as the base. For example, अ is for Agni, ब is for Bhuta sculptures, and so on.
June, July and August: I went to bed on Sunday, 21st June, tired but happy after a weekend spent cleaning my house. When I woke up up the morning of the 22nd, it was with the feeling that something was wrong with right side of my face. As the day progressed, my face swelled up and by evening it was confirmed that I had facial palsy. The symptoms took a full two days to manifest and this was the beginning of a dark period of pain like I had never experienced before, vision and hearing loss, and intense and painful physiotherapy.
I wish I could forget these three months, but I know that is not possible. Beyond the self-pity and bouts of feeling sorry for myself, the nerve pain, the trauma of loss of vision, I discovered the world of audio books, kind friends who managed send cheer, food and essentials across to me despite the lockdown.
September: I resumed full-time work with regular hours in the last week of this month. By that I mean actually, physically going to my workplace and not working from home. The first week at work was all about getting back to a work routine and catching up with what had happened in the last 6 months with my workmates. Some colleagues had retired, some had quit, some had lost loved ones.
After a few days at work, it felt that everything was back to normal. Well almost everything. One of the things that got me through the lockdown was the thought of returning to my workplace. Though I was happy to be back at work, I felt like a stranger and my much loved office room and the view from my window felt unfamiliar.
October & November: These two months were all about work and more work and catching up with deadlines. Once inside the office, it was easy to sometimes feel that the lockdown never happened !
And this was also the time that I sneaked off from work one morning and went to visit my favourite bookshops in Mumbai — Kitab Khana and Wayword & Wise.
December: I decided to make a short trip to Pune to visit my oldest brother and family as well as friends on 20th December. I was very excited for this would be my first trip out of Mumbai in a year. Sadly, luck didn’t share my excitement for the cab I was travelling in was in a nasty pile up on the Mumbai Pune Expressway and I suffered injuries. Currently, I’m wearing a neck collar and under observation. 😦
Most of 2020 was like living a life in a dystopian world with claustrophobia, despair, and loneliness of being shut in being the dominant emotions. I have still not recovered from the facial palsy; progress is slow, but sure. I hope that by mid-2021 I would have recovered fully.
When I will look back at this period in the time to come, there are 3 things that will always remain with me.
- The overwhelming feeling of being alone without any form of human contact and wondering if this is what solitary confinement was all about. Being in touch with friends and family over phone and messages during this period helped a lot, but did not entirely dispel the feeling of being alone. I think I felt it the most on my birthday, which was during the lockdown, when the day went by without a single hug or handshake. Never will I take a simple human contact for granted ever again.
- Surrounding myself with music during all my waking hours as the means to cope. Staying away from social media and the constant barrage of invites to webinars, FB and IG live sessions also helped.
- Never forgetting the privilege of being safe and protected during this period. Whenever I got into a feeling-sorry-for-myself mode, remembering and acknowledging my privilege got me out of it real quick.
If the last 6 months of the lockdown felt like a dystopian world, the pre-lockdown period feels like another lifetime, a masked alternative reality – one that I’m not sure about and still trying to come to terms with. The lockdown has ended, the vaccine will come but things as we know it will never be the same again.
Goodbye 2020 !!!!