Dispatches from Life in Lockdown
Jaanu, when are you coming home? Thousands of laborers are fleeing the city by train. Wipe off all surfaces. I am not alone – a golden honeybee is keeping me company. Their eyes stare out from the rumaals tied around their faces. Wash your hands every 20 minutes. The bee appeared on Day 1 in the kitchen. I welcomed it with panic. Irresponsible idiots. They will carry the virus to the countryside. Wash your milk packets with detergent. Indian Railways is canceling all trains till 31st March. It spreads through food. It does not spread through food. The bee keeps popping up in different rooms. And so, begins the long walk home. We, the ultra-senior citizens of Munirka Enclave Residents Association, request the closure of three gates in the main park. I wish you had taken the last flight home when I asked. I will go home, at least there will be water to drink there, says a man walking hundreds of kilometres, kids clinging to him. The park’s benches are being contaminated by maids and drivers, and we are vulnerable. I am no longer scared of the bee. 39-year-old loses his job as a delivery guy, dies after walking from Agra to Delhi. Zomato has begun no-contact deliveries. I turned on Netflix to search for an uplifting watch, nibbled on chocolate I had the wisdom to stock. I found the bee dead on a windowsill today. Check for comorbidities. I swear, if I die in lockdown alone…I want pink and yellow roses on my funeral. How do you think the phoolwallahs are surviving? The coronavirus is most deadly if you are older and male. 12-year-old girl walks 100 kms, dies before reaching home. I wanted to give the bee a proper burial. Take humans out of the equation, and the earth heals itself. I was so overwhelmed and there was still mopping to do, so I swept it away without ceremony. I have stopped reading the news. Come home, jaanu. Just, come home.
Neighbors in Lockdown
First meeting – me, strolling
my terrace like a tourist; he, drinking
chai with water tanks, pigeons,
birdshit – we don’t exchange
greetings. The third day, I admonish him
for spitting: infection failta hai,
feel my stomach churn as I see him
shrinking, paunch wobbling under weight
of memsahib’s complaint. Sorry Madam, sorry,
he says, slinking into his illegal
Next time, I say namaste
with a smile, which he returns.
He opens up, and tells me
his name: Tahir Khan, a retired CRPF
hawaldar. He is a Muslim who hates
Modi. So do I, but he doesn’t listen,
launches into explanation of why ‘downlock’
won’t work. A strain in his voice says it’s lonely
up here and people don’t listen to me
often. Modi musalmanon ke saath
bhedbhaav karta hai, I offer assurance
I am an ally. Haan, he sighs,
he make people suffer. Sirf mussalman nahin,
sab log. I nod, relieved to find a kindred
spirit in this neighborhood,
where WhatsApp groups are rife
with complaints about maids
and rape jokes.
Running out of breath, he smiles.
If you ever need anything, Madam.
Thank you, I say, filled with gratitude
to find help next door, and for the first
face to face conversation I’ve had
in ten days – separated
by two terraces.
Illustration: Sushmita Sridhar.
Kandala Singh is a writer and qualitative researcher from New Delhi. Her poems have appeared in Rattle, Rust + Moth, SWWIM Every Day, Hindustan Times, The Alipore Post and Nether Quarterly,among other places. You can find her on Instagram @kandalasingh.