chapters in quarantine

Day 15 (March)

The only time I’ve stepped out in the last two weeks is to pick up groceries. My pincode has transformed into something post-apocalyptic: empty roads, shops with shutters down, no roadside vendors, and no one to vend to. Inside the grocery shop, face masks are a mandatory accessory, gloves, an added precaution, and the product aisle looks pillaged. There are five potatoes left and I wonder how many people have touched them, tossed them aside, and left virus trailing all over it. The post-real ambiance is like a vignette from the movie Contagion I saw last night, which is to say that stepping out for groceries is suddenly an activity pervaded with dread and anxiety.

My quarantine, quite like everyone else’s, has hinged on the outside world promptly receding: malls, workplaces, metros, salons; the weekend brunch my friends democratically planned; the ambient noise of large crowds in large spaces. I haven’t learned to stop touching my face just yet, and I keep missing the 20-second mark every time I wash my hands. Everything beyond my doorway is lost to the plausibility of infections and everything inside is immersed in the reticence of introversion. Over breakfast, my flatmate religiously announces the latest COVID toll in our city. The virus is inescapable- it's in the news, my financial advisory, memes, and family video calls. The ubiquitousness of this singular thing makes everything about my physical quarantine- emotional.

The loss of the outside world has entailed further losses- the most vulnerable sections of the society are rapidly losing their livelihoods, whilst being stuck in a city they can’t afford, without access to affordable transport. Even as the circumference of social distancing tightens around each of us, there are those who, at the heels of acute class difference, simply don’t have the privilege of social distance. In a way, the quarantine isn’t just a harbinger of emotional, physical, and economic recessions; it is a signifier of the unrelenting and pre-existing wealth inequality rendered harshest on those who have the least means to prevent it. The virus is merely revealing the unscrupulousness and exploitation at the heart of capitalist structures.

When the first lockdown is declared, I make myself a daily routine that consists of exercise and reading lists and lots of webinars. My flatmates and I take turns making something outside of our ordinary menu in the hopes that a homemade cheesecake will inject some optimism into our palpable zoom fatigue. The routines disintegrated quickly.

This aberration reminds me of very distinct features of my past that mandated staying in, a lot of which had to do with desi culture and being a female in this country. My early teenage years were spent in what was essentially a parental quarantine, and my early twenties were spent self-sequestered in hostel rooms in undiagnosed depression. What I lacked then in will power and agency, I built back with emotional growth and by essentially running away to a different city.

Still, what seemed most distant to me back then- the chance of proximity to something that was infinitely and implacably fulfilling- still feels like an unrealized reality. When a long term relationship dissipated, I self-isolated in a room that echoed all the love we held between us. Even then, the diaries, the movies, and the imagined routines were small acts of resilience in the middle of a grand loss.

What I am saying is that every time I lost what was once constant and dependable, I found myself rebuilding parts of myself that have always remained tethered to need and want; parts that, even in complete blissful naivety, signified abundance in a state of loss.

As I witness a global pandemic from within the contours of my home, the same parts show up as to-do lists, texts of care and concern, slow change, and weird little exercises that reconfigure absence as a kind of opening into a renewed present. The same parts remind me that repetitious domesticity notwithstanding, I have been vulnerable and resilient before, I have exhaled and arrived into days that deserved showing up for.



All artwork by Vidhisha Patil

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