The kid and her father were quizzing me on the various franchise movies. I was stuck on Marvel, and couldn’t name most of the movies. I got one partial name – Antman, but they wanted the full title. I knew it was another insect but didn’t know which one.
Antman and ….I don’t know..mosquito?
(I don’t think they have mosquitoes in America)
Oh, they do, trust me..big ones too.
(No, not mosquito)
Antman and fly?
(No, it’s not a fly, but it is a flying insect alright)
Antman and cockroach?
(Not a disgusting insect)
Ummm..antman and bee?
(You are so close)
OK, Antman and bumble bee
Antman and honey bee?
(No, what does a bee do?)
It sucks nectar
(What does it to do you?)
I don’t know..bug me…oooo…antman and bug?
(Noooo….what does a bee do to you that hurts?)
Antman and sting?
(What else stings?)
Antman and fire ants?
(Do fire ants fly?)
I hope not….ummm…wasp…yeah wasp. Antman and the Wasp.
In 1998, it had been close to a year since I graduated from an American university and was on a temporary work permit (EAD, I believe it was called) that was soon coming to an end. It was a year of severe recession and companies were folding like a card house in a hurricane. My bank balance was at a minimum, and I had not imbibed the “live on credit” spirit of the country I was living in and I had to return to my own country, with my tail between my legs, utterly defeated and lost.
I remember that phase today because I heard from a distant cousin I stayed with during that period. She and her husband graciously took me in and let me stay for two months while I wound up my life in the US to return to my homeland. Her husband was a natural counsellor, and he would talk to me every night after dinner, for hours, to make me understand that my going back was not a sign of failure but an opportunity to start afresh, and that “everything happens for good”. Their son, who was 10 at that time, was like a little brother to me; we’d roughhouse in the basement, I’d help him with his homework, take him to movies and buy him pokemon cards – the three of them saved me from falling off the deep end.
Today, she wrote to me after years because she was cleaning her basement, and found a certificate of a course I had completed while I was staying with them . She sent me a photo of the certificate and said it took her down memory lane, to the time I lived there. I was briefly disoriented and it took me a fraction of a moment back in time, to her house.
But it set me thinking on another track as well. Life is always full of ups and downs, I have noticed that every two-three years, there is some down in my life which would pass in a few months. But there have only been two occasions where the downs were really deep trenches that seemed impossible to crawl out of. One was those last months in the US, and the other is now. It seems almost providential that this cousin writes to me, when I am in the exact same mental state that I was back then at their house.
The last trench lasted nearly two years. After I came back to India, I struggled financially because my father was also broke, and I worked in a crappy publishing firm and hated every minute of it, until I got a break and after that there has been no looking back. Any problem that came after that were temporary – even my beloved grandmother’s death – and not as intense as those two years were.
I remember the feeling of “will this never pass?” in 1998-99, and I have the same feeling now. It will, I know, but god, I am exhausted – the bone crushing exhaustion of worry is the same as 23 years back. But I am glad my cousin wrote, for it reminds me of what kept me going then – everything happens for good.
The kid and I sat waiting at the dinner table while her father assembled the bean burrito. The word “assemble” set me off on a train of thought that started with the Avengers (“Avengers assemble”) and the time the three of us went to the 9 AM show of the movie, ate phenomenal amounts of theatre junk, and after the movie, I rushed to a high school friends reunion lunch party, at which I couldn’t eat much, but drank pots and pots of jasmine tea. I wistfully narrated this to my child and said – that seems like another life, will there be ever any more of these kinds of fun? The child rolled her eyes at me and said “We are having bean burrito for dinner. Stop complaining”.
There’s words galore in my head that wants out, but seriously no time. This lockdown is draining me. Last year, I got a lot of stuff done during lockdown, this year, everything about me rebels. I feel resentful and anxious all the time. And that constant background headache..bah.
My days are disorganized, as against the boot-camp style of my last year’s life. Did I complain last year that it was the worst year ever? I’ll never use the superlative term in life, ever.
My kitchen is a pigsty, my work backlog is growing, my floors are dusty, cobwebs are not being cleared, I am snappy, get nightmares and have a headache. Heck, it is 2021, if I survive this year, duckwalking up a hill will be a breeze.
You hear so much negative news about India and its COVID situation. Let me share some positive facts that I have come across in just the past two days in my tiny circle of existence. I am using real names in this post.
My best friend’s 16 year old daughter (Divya) called me to ask if I can cook and package food for 5-10 people to be distributed among hospital workers, funeral workers etc. She and her mother are participating in the mission organized by someone they know.
I spoke to a friend (Sudha) in Mumbai today, and she said that someone or another in her apartment complex keeps testing positive, and the entire apartment community, irrespective of whether they know the family or not, pools in to supply food and essential supplies to the family with the covid patient.
A friend’s (Radhakrishna) family tested positive in my community, and neighbours are supporting this family by providing everything they need.
The university (IIT Madras), in the campus of which I live, provides food for any family with a member tested positive. My next door neighbour (Bhavna) tested positive today and she was impressed and touched with the level of concern and assistance offered by the university.
This above neighbour (Bhavna) says that the health care system by the State government (Tamil Nadu State) is fantastic – an hour after her tests came out positive (this morning), the corporation sent an ambulance to pick her up from home to take her to a health centre in which she was given an X-ray test, the results of which were instantly sent to the doctor in attendance, and she was taken for a blood test, the results of which were obtained within one hour, and passed on to the doctor, and the doctor met her, asked about her health and living conditions, gave her a packet of medicines, and advised her to quarantine at home. She said the process was methodical, people were courteous to her and everything was smooth sailing.
Above friend also says that the state government has converted thousands of SUVs into ambulances to bring patients in for testing. She was taken in one of them.
Remember the friend in point number 3 – Radhakrishna? They are a young couple with a 2-year-old son. Both man and wife tested positive. Since they were both sick, and could not take care of the boy at home, they were given accommodation in a room in a 3-star hotel, converted into a quarantine centre, with room service et al. The husband, unfortunately, developed breathing problems and had to be transferred to a hospital, but the wife and child were well taken care of. She and the child are back home now, and he is better and has been shifted back to the hotel room for monitoring. The wife says she is overwhelmed with all the support she’s been getting.
Yes, we are the country with vaccine shortage. We are the country with corpses floating in the Ganga. We are the country with oxygen shortage related deaths.
But we are also the country with people who look out for each other. It’s easy to forget this in the middle of all the negative cross talk.
Understand that the rambling that follows is one way of getting my head out of the mess it seems steeped in. So, if it sounds utterly first-world, it is.
When I am not muttering prayers while cooking, I am listening to podcasts of whatever takes my mind off the mess my country and my own head is in right now. A few days back I heard a TED talk about how modern living has taken us too far from how nature intended us to live, in terms of posture. For example, the talk said that the human body is not designed to sit on a chair. I felt smug as I listened to it, because I don’t sit on a chair. No, don’t get me wrong. I sit on chairs all the time, but I don’t sit on it the way I am supposed to. I don’t let my leg down but bring it up to the seat and sit crosslegged (the suhasana posture) on the chair. Any chair. When I was younger, my dad constantly chided me to “sit properly” on the chair, but the moment he was out of eyeshot, I’d fold up my legs. I am superior – I am one with nature.
To take it one step further, I convinced my in-house technician to set up my workspace on the floor so that I may sit the way nature intended me to, doing a thing that nature certainly hadn’t dreamed of – working on the computer. It’s extremely uncomfortable, but I don’t like the taste of humble pie.
A second part of the talk said that we are not meant to bend over to pick up something, but rather squat like children.
I tried to recollect when I had squatted last – it was decades ago, when my father’s house had the squat type toilet when I was growing up. Then I left for abroad for my grad school, and since then I have not squatted. No biggie. I can get back to squatting anytime.
Since we are on lockdown and the maid does not come to wash clothes, I am washing clothes every day. Hitherto, I’d bend over and rinse the clothes, but now I decided to squat and do the same activity. I’ve been squatting the past two days while washing clothes, and my glutes are killing me now. I sheepishly confided to my family that I am not as flexible as I thought I was, and the better-half advised me to do a duckwalk to increase my flexibility.
Utterly scandalising my teen age daughter, I duckwalked to and from the kitchen a couple of times (the look on the child’s face was priceless) and now, my feet, legs, thighs, lower back and tummy are screaming bloody murder.
“Pride is more important than posture”, my child begs, to stop the indignity by an almost 50-year woman she calls mom. While the pain is certainly compulsive, that look on my child’s face gives me incentive to do this further. Perhaps tomorrow, when I can feel my legs again, I will duck walk around the house when she is within range.
This morning, as I stared into the refrigerator, I remembered the words of my writer-idol, Barb Taub. That woman is my twin soul – the one that took all the talent though.
I feel mentally exhausted. I go about my daily chores, immerse myself in my work, kid around with the child and spend cheerful family time more than usual, but I can’t shake off the intense exhaustion I feel in my mind due to the latent stress. The worry is constant and intense both for the outside world and for my inner circle. As much as I keep reminding myself that I am one of the fortunate ones in this world, and have no reason to complain, I feel the unrest in my mind. I try not to complain outside, and not put my worries and fears into words, partly because I can’t untangle the whole mess of intertwined issues inside my head to put into words, but also because I am in denial.