At the entry, a security guard approached me probing the purpose of my visit. Besides gloves and masks, he sported a special kind of head gear that covered his entire face and neck with a transparent shield. The kind I had seen mechanics sporting in welding workshops. It’s called a face shield, I learn later. White squares were drawn on the ground at appropriate distances, where people waited for their turns.
Just before the entry door were a series of tables, again situated at appropriate gaps, that had forms and pens. There you need to fill in responses to specific questions pertaining to your personal information, like, name, gender, phone number, and generic health related questions. At the entry door, there were people wearing the same kind of welding headgear with a thermometer in their gloved hands. You hand over the slip, your body temperature is recorded, and depending on the reading you can proceed towards your destination.
A little bewildered, I stared at everything in amusement. I had seen such images in the Internet and in television news snippets. So, it wasn’t like I was seeing all of it for the first time. But, like everything else, experiencing something first-hand gives you a whole new perspective.
I was at Fortis Hospital yesterday where I had an appointment with my doctor for a certain health issue. The hospital is just 2 Km. from my home and it’s been my go-to-place for anything and everything for a very long time. This was the first time I was visiting the hospital in AC (After Covid-19) and every single thing was different and weird. Needless to say, it felt like I was in a Sci-Fi movie setting.
As I walked past the doorway, I cast a glance at my right where the reception is located. A transparent plastic sheath acted as a curtain between the ones providing the service and those seeking the service. I went to the basement section where the Out-Patient-Department (OPD) is located. Similar scenes there as well. You wait for your turn at the reception and billing on marked white squares. A transparent plastic sheath forms a barrier between you and the OPD reception. A small opening allows you to make the payment.
Outside the doctor’s chamber, the line of chairs for the patients to sit was no longer there. The alignment of the chairs had changed. There were very few chairs waiting in isolation placed at a distance from one another.
When my turn came, I went in to find my doctor sitting inside a transparent plastic sheath that formed an enclosure around her desk and chair. A small opening allowed my arm through for her to check my blood pressure. She asked me to lay in the examination bed for further investigation. The same transparent plastic sheath enclosed the bed. I accessed it through one end, which remained open. Again, a small opening allowed the doctor’s hands to examine me physically while the plastic sheath formed a barrier between us.
It was a very strange experience. Felt weird, like a dream. But no dream this was!
It was somewhere towards the end of February. Covid-19 had already arrived in India and by then three cases were reported, all of which were from South India. Oblivious about the implications, we set out on a trip to the temple towns of Rameshwaram and Madurai. Dhanushkodi, which automatically is associated with Rameshwaram, was on our list too. This trip was for my parents.
The thought of having gallivanted all those places with my parents as Covid-19 lurked around the region gives me the chills today. Especially so, for my septuagenarian father with ailments like high BP, hypertension, heart disorders, chronic pulmonary disorders, and so on. My parents have always loved to travel. During his heydays, my father had taken us on quite a few family trips. That is highly commendable given his limited means with all the responsibilities he had at that time. All that was hardly enough to satiate his wanderlust. Now, they have the means but not the health – ironies of life. It’s my turn now and I try my best to travel with them at least once a year.
I was eight, when my father had taken us on a South India trip. We visited many places, including Madurai but Rameswaram hadn’t happened. My parents would always rue about it. Hence, taking them to Rameshwaram had been on my mind. The timing of our visit happened to be the weekend of Maha-Shivaratri. This was completely unintentional, something we realized after the flight and hotel reservations were done. Rameshwaram was expected to be overcrowded during that weekend. Nevertheless, we decided to go ahead. Not for once did the thought of Covid-19 bother us even though the existing cases weren’t very far away.
When traveling with parents, everything needs to be planned to the T. At the same time, we need to be flexible as plans may have to be changed on the fly. It’s a lot different than how I otherwise experience a place. Consequently, the trip was more curated than I would have liked. I sure do have to visit Rameshwaram once again.
Here’s a brief of the places we visited at Rameshwaram.
The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and has one of the 12 Jyotirlingas in India. Mythologically, Rameshwaram and this temple is associated with the epic Ramayana. The sanctum has two Shiva Lingas – Ramalingam is made of sand, believed to have been built by Lord Rama and Vishwalingam, believed to have been brought by Hanuman from Kailash.
Architecturally, the unique aspect of this temple is its three strikingly long corridors. The first and innermost corridor is around the sanctum sanctorum. The second corridor has 108 Shiva Lingas and a statue of Ganapati. The third and outermost corridor is adorned by 1212 brightly coloured pillars set on an elevated platform and is said to be the longest pillared corridor in the world. The temple also has 22 holy tanks. One is supposed to take a ritualistic bath with water from each of the tanks before visiting Ramalingam. We didn’t do that though.
The temple has four entry ways, in all the four directions – North, South, East, and West. Two Gopurams stand tall at the East and West gate. The North gate of the temple was just a little walk away from our hotel. We visited the temple twice. My mother accompanied us once. My father was content with seeing the temple from the outside afraid of being unable to manage himself in the crowd. Though the crowd was much lesser than we had anticipated.
Other than the colourful corridors, something else caught my attention inside the temple. It was a powerful message from Swami Vivekananda, who had visited this temple is 1897. The message is prominently displayed at the main entrance of the temple. Below is an excerpt, you can read the entire message here.
"It is in love that religion exists and not in ceremony, in the pure and sincere love in the heart. Unless a man is pure in body and mind, his coming into a temple and worshiping Shiva is useless. The prayers of those that are pure in mind and body will be answered by Shiva, and those that are impure and yet try to teach religion to others will fail in the end. External worship is only a symbol of internal worship; but internal worship and purity are the real things. Without them, external worship would be of no avail." ~ Swami Vivekananda
Agni Tirtham is a beach located on the eastern side of Ramanathaswamy Temple. The norm is to dip in the waters of Agni Tirtham, followed by the ritualistic bath in the 22 holy tanks inside the temple, and then offer prayers to the deity. We did not quite intend to dip in the crowded Agni Tirtham and just paid a visit late in the evening. Consequently, I don’t have any pictures of Agni Tirtham.
Rama Tirtham and Lakshmana Tirtham
Rama Tirtham and Lakshmana Tirtham are water tanks with temples associated to each. These are water tanks where apparently Lord Rama and his brother Lakshmana had bathed.
Panchmukhi Hanuman Mandir & Floating Stones
A huge black stone statue of Lord Hanuman with five faces welcomed us in this temple. Our interest in this temple was because we were told it displays floating rocks. Rocks that are believed to be of the kind that were apparently used to build the Ram Setu towards Lanka. The rocks were quite a letdown as they were way smaller than we had visualized. I didn’t click any pictures here.
Gandhamadhana Parvatham Temple
This is a small temple situated atop a little hillock. We loved the quietude in this temple. The cool breeze and the view from the temple made it even better. It is believed that Lord Hanuman took off from here towards Lanka to fight the demon King Ravana and his army.
We traveled to Rameswaram by road from Madurai and hence drove over Pamban Bridge or Annai Indira Gandhi Road Bridge. This bridge on Palk Strait connecting Rameswaram with mainland, is India’s first sea bridge. A little more than 2 Km., crossing it was a scenic experience. A rail bridge runs parallel to the Pamban Bridge, which has a functional double leaf bascule section midway to allow ships through. We had plans of coming back and spending time on the Pamban Bridge and rail bridge but that didn’t materialize.
Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Memorial
This is a museum dedicated to former President of India, Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, that showcases his life and work. It is a memorial built at his burial site and displays selected photos, paintings and miniature models of missiles and other artifacts. Dr. Kalam had passed away in Shillong on July 27, 2015. Seeing the name of our hometown didn’t fail to delight us though.
The noisy bunch of over-enthusiastic friends from Poland that we kept bumping into at every tea house, quite a botheration they were! The huge group of nearly 50 people we crossed twice on the way and had to step aside to let them pass. The warm smiles of the two Japanese girls we often found sitting around the bends taking a tea break, every time we eyed their beautiful flasks. The two German men we ran into every now and then until they decided to introduce themselves, leading to small conversations each time we met. The petite Chinese girl who was perennially rushing but never missed talking to us – in her own language while we replied in English, we communicated without understanding. The two Korean girls with whom we shared a room at the base camp, who spoke English enabling some interesting conversations.
These are some of the people from different parts of the world we met during our ABC Trek, last year in October. I clearly remember so many of those faces, some leaving impressions deeper than the others. I wonder how all those people may be coping with the Covid-19 situation. I wonder if everything is fine with them. There is no way I will ever know.
A big aspect of travel for me has always been the people I get to meet and connect with. Of the several people I met during the ABC Trek, the following need special mention.
“Does that look like a baby carrier basket?”, I asked my sister. Curiosity had me striding a little faster. The basket looked fancy and the man carrying it, dressed in typical trekker attire. So, wouldn’t be a local. It was the second day of our Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek and we were climbing through one of the steeper sections of the trail when I saw this man several feet ahead of us. As I drew closer, my doubts gave way to confirmation. It was indeed a baby carrier! The man was carrying his 3-year old daughter as he trudged towards the mighty eight-thousander. He was with his wife and three children aged, 12, 7, and 3. The family had traveled all the way from Shanghai.
Trekking with a 3-year old in the uncertainties of the Himalayas is no mean feat. Things like Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), sudden weather changes, are for real. Well, I am sure they would have thought through all of that and were well prepared. They did, however, gather quite a bit of attention all the way. Every other trekker seemed to be talking about them and as one would expect everyone had some opinion or the other. While some hailed them for being brave others thought they were being irresponsible. I was too stunned to have any opinion. We met the family at several junctions during the trek and each time I envied the fun they were having and all the memories they were creating together.
“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” The septuagenarian trekkers reiterated Mark Twain. Janette and Joe caught our attention on the trail one day. The cute couple was sitting on a rock and taking a break while munching on chocolates. Later, we caught up with them at the two tea houses where we stayed together. They were well into their 70s, had come all the way from the USA, and were trekking in the high altitude of the Himalayas for the very first time. Their agility, enthusiasm, and zest for life was infectious. They could easily give all youngsters a run for their money.
Then we met John, who was also from the USA and was traveling with his wife (a septuagenarian too) along with a group of family and friends. John proudly announced that he was “Seventy plus Four years old”. People like John, Janette, and Joe are astoundingly inspirational. They go on to prove that trekking and hiking has a lot to do with mental strength, which is just as important as physical strength.
When I interacted with these elderly people, I couldn’t help but think about my parents, especially my father who belongs to the same age group. I am certain they would have loved to do something like this, but it’s simply inconceivable for them. In fact, I haven’t seen many Indians in that age group trekking or hiking.
However, one thing I know for sure – if I am to live up to a 70 and beyond, I’d better be someone like Janette!
Needle work and embroidery, stitching and knitting, tatting and crochet, fabric painting and spray painting are some things that grip me in nostalgia. There was a time when I was crazy about patterns and colours and fabrics. I could spend hours with needles and threads. The atrocious amount of patience I had in such things makes me wonder in disbelieve today.
We used to have a needle work class while at school and at that time I wasn’t very good at it, though every year I secretly wished to be selected for the best needle-work award.
During my college days, I developed a sudden fascination with everything that could be hand-crafted. Not only did I embroider and knit, I would also make things like floor mats, table mats, coasters, woolen shoes, tote bags, and what not. Anything hand-crafted that caught my fancy, I just had to learn. Back then there was no Internet, no YouTube. I would get my way by pleading people who knew the art to teach me.
I even went to Usha Sewing School and got a diploma in tailoring, which turned out to be a useless certificate as I never bothered to cultivate my skill. At that time, I didn’t even realise that my hobby was a skill that I could use to my advantage.
All those hobbies and skills got left behind when I left my hometown, Shillong. Life in a big city was too glamourous to knit and sew!
As a result, today I have forgotten most of it. I forgot the process of knitting a sweater, I forgot how to maneuver a tatting shuttle, I forgot how to hold a crochet hook, I forgot how to blend two colours while painting a fabric, the list is endless. Only in very recent times, I have started missing those days of knitting and stitching.
A friend using my hand-stitched mask.
Another friend using my hand-stitched mask.
My own mask
In the initial days of Covid-19 in India, people had gone berserk buying and hoarding sanitizers and masks. My parents were with me in Bangalore then and were leaving in the second week of March. With great difficulty I managed two N-95 masks for them at a marked-up price. Thereafter lockdown happened and the rest is history. I never had a mask and would wrap a scarf around my nose and mouth when stepping out. Wrapping a scarf each time felt cumbersome and I decided to stitch my own mask. I do not have a sewing machine and so I hand-stitched one. Thereafter I have hand-stitched more than a dozen masks and given them to my friends in Bangalore.
Many people have reached out wanting to know how I made them. So, here is a step-by-step process for hand-stitching your own masks.
There’s immense satisfaction and happiness in small little things of life, and that’s no secret! The small little things that I could have always done but never did.
Evening Cuppa at the Balcony
It’s nearly evening, or should I say late afternoon. At this time the mellowed sun appears perfectly rounded and has moved to the far west. On the way, it has splattered subtle shades of yellows, oranges, and crimsons all over the western sky. Seated in my living room, I can see the familiar warm comfortable glow fill up my kitchen cabinets as some of the light trickles in through the window.
I put my laptop to sleep and walk up to the kitchen. Soon, I have two cups of hot tea. I call out to my sister, who’s working in the guest room. She just happened to be with me during the lockdown. We leave our laptops and phones behind and for the next one hour settle down in the balcony with tea and biscuits.
The softening yellow ball of fire can be seen from one side. And, it’s time for the birds to go home. There’s the bunch of eagles soaring high up in the sky, the flock of tiny birds that glide a few feet below as if competing with the eagles, the squawking parrots that fly in small gangs one after the other, the unseen cuckoo that sings into the evening whose nest must be somewhere nearby, the cute little tiny sunbirds that perch here and there, the odd bulbul and the kingfisher that comes by sometimes, those few noisy mynas, a couple of ravens, and the irritating pigeons.
Amid admiring the birds and enjoying the changing hues of sunset, we talk about a hundred things – family, friends, books, movies, social media, our anxieties and worries, our travels, our jobs, Covid 19, lockdown, and anything and everything under the sun.
Now, we eagerly look forward to the evenings every single day. My home happens to be in a quiet corner of the apartment. The balcony was always there, so were the birds, so was the sunset but never did we spend time in the balcony. We were too busy, you see!
Mornings of Squirrel Cuteness
It’s about 9.00 AM. Breakfast time. Not just for us but for the squirrel family too.
A squirrel family has been visiting my home for the past 2-3 years. There are 3-4 of them and all of them look alike except for some minor differences mostly in their sizes. For the sake of convenience, all of them have been christened with the same name – TUNTUNI. They live in the tree that spreads across one side of my house through the balcony, the kitchen, and the guest bedroom.
It’s the common Indian Palm Squirrel, grey-brown in colour with a bushy tail, and characterized by three conspicuous white stripes that run from head to tail. Hyperactive and superfast, they had thwarted all my attempts of clicking them. I had since given up and just enjoyed their company. Not just me, they would entertain my guests too.
My sister had never paid attention to them before. Now she can be found chasing the squirrels and filming every act of squirrel cuteness. The renewed focus resulted in new-found adulation. I got a bag of peanuts for them even in the lockdown. Every morning we feed them in return for some unparalleled adorable and magical squirrel moments.
The Myna Nest
Talking about the squirrels, it’ll be gross injustice if I leave out the Myna couple. For the past few weeks, in fact even before the lockdown had started, we had spotted a Myna couple in and around my home.
It’s the common house Myna, which is sometimes identified as a pest in certain parts of the world. Little did we know that the couple had built a nest in my kitchen chimney exhaust pipe.
We had been noticing some noise in the pipe for a while now but did not pay much heed as this happens sometimes. We always thought the tiny sunbirds made their way into the chimney pipe. Recently, the activities in the chimney was nothing less than a ruckus. The Myna couple were seen busy with various activities through the day. Once they even angrily chased the squirrel and we could never figure out what what had happened. Two days back the babies flew off and the Myna couple have since disappeared – probably enjoying the graduation of their kids.
And, I can’t help but wonder that these are certain things that I could have always done but I never did. It had to take a Covid-19 lockdown or else I would have missed it all.
As Covid-19 tightened its grip around us, the initial few days felt surreal, as though we were living a sci-fi Hollywood movie. Anxiety and gloom took over as we were forced into a lockdown situation. Days passed and we started getting used to this new normal. A month into the lockdown in India now, the number of positive cases have risen but we have started talking about flattening the curve. We may see a gradual easing out of the lockdown soon.
While I desperately want the lockdown to end, a part of me sadistically wants this to continue – my love for Mother Nature makes me blind.
As I had written before, the lockdown hasn’t changed my life drastically. Certain changes did happen, which is but natural. However, some people have been drastically affected by the lockdown. I will not go into the stories of the migrant workers, the daily wage earners, and others like them. Their sufferings are beyond my comprehension. I have never experienced their fears and apprehensions. I can only imagine. The images and stories that I have seen and read have given me sleepless nights. I feel ill-equipped to write about them. Hence, let me stick to the impact of lockdown on people like me – the privileged lot, for whom the lockdown has been a rather luxurious one.
Many are struggling with issues like insomnia, binge eating, binge Netflix, etc. Many are struggling with being unable to maintain a routine. Many are struggling with serious issues of isolation, loneliness, depression, panic attacks and anxiety disorders. Again, contrary to this, many are jostling for some personal space in the confinement of the four walls of their small flats. I had read somewhere about the importance of having a balcony during the pandemic and I had thought to myself – well, how true that is!
Psychological disorders are a serious issue in metro cities, like Bangalore. Many of us live alone and are far away from family and home. Added to that is the stress of living in unplanned and chaotic cities. There are many people affected in some way or the other, the number is much more than we think. Some are open, most are not. If you have ever tried to get an appointment with a psychologist, you would know what I am talking about. The pandemic is only making it worse for this vulnerable group of people. I personally know people who would deliberately go for regular workouts to the gym or would regularly run/jog. Their only intention would be to keep stress and anxiety at bay. While some of them are finding alternatives in their homes by resorting to things like weightlifting, skipping, etc. others are struggling to find an outlet.
Several others are silently suffering – people stuck up with their abusive partners, abusive in-laws; caregivers of the sick and the elderly who aren’t able to take a break; people caught up in sexual abuse within the four walls of their homes; people facing mental and emotional tortures from their family members; and innumerable other situations.
Well, this is not what I was planning to write today. I had intended to write about some things that I have personally enjoyed during this month-long lockdown, but this post just took off in another direction.
Busy as busy can be, I still have no time – like it always has been!
We are on the 14th day of a nation-wide lockdown in India in our fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. The lockdown was announced suddenly, there was hardly any time to plan and think. It was a desperate situation. We didn’t have a choice. The virus wouldn’t wait, and we had to slow down its spread. It’s been the world’s largest lockdown, where the 1.3 billion of us have been asked to stay home for 21 days, that took off from March 24. While this was the need of the hour, it has led to several complicated situations. Not surprising though, in the world’s second most populous country and it’s complex and varied demography.
It’s a Tuesday. A weekday like this would usually revolve around office for people like me. Whether we like it or not, office takes up a large chunk of our day and thereby what we do for a living defines a large part of our lives. Most of the people in my circle have suddenly found themselves in a work-from-home situation, especially those from the corporate sector. While some are used to that culture, many aren’t. Then, there are some others, especially those working in the government sector, who are grounded at home with no work at all. Both these groups are grappling with their newfound and unusual situations. Initially, there was a sense of excitement of being at home, even with the Covid-19 gloom hanging in the air. That is now slowly giving way to boredom and restlessness.
Many are struggling hard as they juggle their office work, house work, children, and family. This isn’t easy, being used to the assistance of maids and cooks. Drawing the boundary between work and home while being at home is a difficult task. Then, there are others who are making good use of their free time by investing on things that nourish their souls. Some are sketching and painting; some singing and playing musical instruments; some designing creative videos and so on. A couple of them even displayed hidden talents that I that we never knew existed.
Amid all of this I am pretty much where I always was – lockdown or no lockdown. There aren’t any drastic changes in my life.
When I am in Bangalore, I am mostly holed up in my home. I have been working from home for nearly 4 years now. I am not required to go to office. Though, I did go once or twice a week but even that was at my discretion and sometimes I wouldn’t step out for an entire week. Neither my manager nor my team bothers about my whereabouts, as long as work gets done. So, my weekdays haven’t changed at all.
On weekends, the crowd and the traffic were deterrent enough to contain me in my little nest, except those occasional meeting with friends. However, I used to have people visiting me, which would happen quite often than less. I would also step out for grocery and other essential household items as I always preferred buying from the local market rather than online markets. Since I live alone, such outings were not in plenty. It wasn’t required.
There’s only thing that is significantly different now. There’s no travel, no outing, no planning for the same. Ironically, I am not missing them at all. Not just yet.
And, as always, I still struggle to keep pace with time. I just have no clue where all the time goes! Or maybe I do. The social butterfly that I am, even though I stay at home most of the time. No, not social media but connecting with friends and family over phone calls and WhatsApp messaging. And that does eat up a lot of my time.