Pantomimes and Paranoia
In January, 3 positive cases were found in Kerala and they were completely cured. But in March, new cases started emerging in India. My sister and I were in Bangalore. One thing led to another and I reached home in Kochi on 12th March while my sister reached on 14th March. Things weren’t smooth as you’d think. Before the lock-down was announced in India, Kerala had already begun its lock-down and the beginning of anything new has its fair share of problems.
Of all the people at home, when a calamity strikes, Dad knows what to do. He’ll freak out on a level, ten times worse than all of us put together, but he also knows what is to be done and he’ll do all of it and a million times more. Since my sister was coming home after a few cases had been reported in Bangalore, I was of the opinion that she had to be tested once she reached Kochi. At that point of time, we didn’t know the procedure. We were working on assumptions. So we agreed that as soon as her bus reached, I’ll contact the health care officials and ask them what had to be done.
The other thing you need to know about Dad is that, if you give him something to think about, he‘ll think it through to unbelievable proportions. While sometimes that is good, sometimes it isn’t. Ever since I mentioned about calling the health officials, he went into a trance. His eyes were unfocused , he was pulling at his mustache, a tell-tale sign that he was stressed, and the vein in his temple was bulging. I felt the wave of disagreement emanating from him. He didn’t like the idea even a bit!
“What happened, Dad?”
“I was just wondering if we’re blowing this out of proportion. She hasn’t had any contact with any patient.”
“Most likely, No. But we don’t know that for sure!”
“But if we go get her tested, then they’ll quarantine her.”
“I doubt that! They should ideally hospital quarantine her only if she is showing symptoms or if she has definitely come in contact with a positive tested person. Otherwise they’ll only suggest home quarantine.”
“Exactly! But they’ll quarantine us as well, as we have come in contact with her. Even worse, the whole apartment will be quarantined, all these people! No! The worst part is, they might throw us out of the apartment! Amma won’t be able to go to work, I won’t be able to go to work, you need to join for your new job in a week’s time, and that’ll be delayed and you might lose your job!”
“Oh my God! You are over thinking. Can you not see it?”
“No! You are blowing this out of proportions. We don’t have to involve the health officials. We will ensure that she doesn’t leave the house for the next 14 days. That will suffice!”
“Perhaps that’s what the family that came from Italy thought. Now see what has happened. Their relatives contracted the disease from them!”
“It’s not the same! They came from a country that has been badly infected. You want to get your sister tested just because she traveled!”
“All I’m saying is that they need to be informed. Many others might be doing this exact same thing as we speak!”
“I don’t think she has any way of contracting the disease and so I think you are just making a scene here!”
Well, initial days were a nightmare! It was confusion, paranoia, ignorance and what not! We were all clueless. The various stages, as the Covid-19 spread, brought out the best and worst in us and this was the micro version of what was happening in the society.
After the lock-down was declared on 24th, Dad went out one afternoon to purchase groceries and essentials for the household. He came back with 3 bags filled with, where-do-I-begin!? I am not going to list them all. But I’ll tell you that we had 2.5 Kgs of tomatoes to start with. He was definitely trying to help and sort his thoughts. We didn’t want to be condescending. Yet my sister decided to ask, “Wont all these vegetables get spoiled?”
“We’ll keep them in the refrigerator. Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are closing borders. What if we don’t buy enough and then there’s no more supply? Besides, there are long queues in front of supermarkets and the Police is questioning people who leave the house. We really don’t know what tomorrow would bring!”
We started arranging all the supplies and soon learnt that we ran out of space in the refrigerator. The next two days involved brain storming on which vegetables had to go inside and which didn’t have to. The old cabbage stayed inside, while the new cabbage waited outside.
If one of us sneezed, Dad would take the effort of getting up from his bed and finding out who sneezed, peep into the room and say,
“That was one hell of a sneeze!” or, “The people next door will definitely come investigating who sneezed.”
Sometimes he’d keep tab of my sneezes and much much later, maybe during dinner, bring it up,
“Today Ranjini sneezed so frigging loudly! It was so loud!”
If I sniffed, he’d ask, “Do you have cold? Why are you sniffing?”
This went on for so long that I would suddenly wake up at night and panic because I thought that I wasn’t able to breathe, that I had somehow contracted coronavirus!
He would never let us go down.
“The association has decided that we throw the garbage in the allocated area on the terrace, as the designated staff won’t be coming.” my mother said one day.
“I’ll do it! In the 7th floor, Arun’s son (name changed) has come from Dubai. So I’ll go upstairs. I’ll take the stairs. So many people would have used the elevator. It is not safe. Leave the door open.”
After he returned, he proudly announced.
“I did not touch the wall or the railing of the stairs. The terrace door was left open and I slid through, dumped the waste carefully and came back without touching anything!”
We looked at each other and smiled. He was doing this for us. But also because, he won’t be able to sleep properly if any of us went upstairs. He’ll always wonder if we touched the railing or the walls, or whether we washed our hands.
To be honest, we were all scared. We were scared for our Grandmother. We feared for Amma as she had to go for work and random people always walked into the bank. I was always careful about the food delivered by Zomato or Swiggy but you can only be so careful. It is important for people to understand the fine line between absurd paranioa and caution. I do not know where one ends and one begins. But who does? This was one of the many things we have been figuring out. Right?