Niharika, 35, works as an Editor in online media in Gurgaon.
It was a normal work day morning. Normal as it can be in these times. I was cosying up with my laptop and a cup of coffee in my room. Suddenly, I got a call from the main gate of my apartment complex. My house help Afsana had come to see me. Since no one was allowed to come inside because of the lockdown, I had to go out and meet her. So I wore my face mask and went out.
It has been so many days since I stepped out without a mask or stepped out at all. When exactly will we return to a ‘normal life?’ Will life ever be normal? With these thoughts in my mind, I saw people standing in a queue and yet at a distance at the grocery store of our complex. No one was talking to anyone. They all had masks on their faces, just like me! It was then I heard a voice.
‘Didi, main yahan hun,’ Afsana waved as I approached the gate. She then covered her face partially with a dupatta. I was genuinely pleased to see her. It’s been almost a month since we both met and chatted. She is a regular at my home - coming twice a day, everyday. And quite a chatterbox too! Incessantly talking about her five kids and a husband who works as a mali in a locality nearby .
As I approached her, I realised that she looked a bit different. She wore a red bindi and a long black mangalsutra adored her neck. She had never done all this, then why today? I first asked her how she was, how were her kids and then said, ‘I did not recognize you. Tum alag lag rahi ho. Yeh sab kyu pehna?’
‘Didi, you know how all this news about how certain people were trying to spread this mahamari (pandemic) intentionally. Now we are looked down upon in our neighbourhood. Especially when we go out to buy the essentials. So I thought of wearing these (pointing to her mangalsutra and bindi) when I go out,’ she said.
‘Does it help in any way?’ I asked, almost in disbelief.
‘Wearing this puts my mind at ease when I step out,’ she added.
Won’t just covering your face solve the problem? We all are doing this anyway, I said.
‘Didi, you don’t know what all we are going through. Because of the mistake of some people, we have to suffer,’ she said, showing her frustration. She also added that some NGOs had come forward to help them with essentials like aata, rice and daal but she overheard her neighbours saying, ‘Don’t give it to them. They don’t have good intentions. They want all of us to fall sick.’
I changed the topic and asked her how she was managing at home. They had stored dry eatables at home and were managing ok so far. Now they were out of cash and that was the reason she visited me.
However, the main problem, she said, was bathing and going to the toilet in the morning. Since everyone is at home, it is becoming difficult for her and her daughter. Even if they get up at 4 in the morning, the bathroom area is still crowded as there is just one bathroom for 30 houses.
We both chatted for a few more minutes but the heat outside was making it tough for us to stand and talk for longer (and loudly from a distance). I gave her the money and asked her if she needed help to get her phone re-charged. However her reply surprised me.
‘When I don’t have work, why do I need a phone.? I'd rather save that amount for buying sabji,’ she said.
And suddenly, I saw through all the advice we have been reading about staying connected at this time. This staying at home, FaceTime with family, meetings on Zoom, work from home, without worrying about anything – but our health – suddenly seemed like a privilege to me.
With these thoughts on my mind, I walked back home. As I entered, I removed my slippers, mask and washed my hands thoroughly. I stepped into my room to work on my laptop - a privilege that I am thankful for.
To protect the identity, the person in the picture is a model and names have been changed.