Quarantine Journal III

March 31st, 2:38 pm

Going to be almost twenty days into quarantine. Life’s begun feeling like its mostly normal. India’s official number of cases remain around 1250 which is highly unbelievable for a country as densely populated as this. Nobody knows what the future holds. Every incident in the country for the last few months has been a mainstream newspaper headline for exactly two days before another incident replaces it quite promptly. After the draconian, bigoted, hateful CAA-NRC exercise and the protests that followed that were quelled with violent tactics used by the Central Government to an actual state-engineered pogrom against the Capital’s weakest and most economically impoverished Muslims to suppressing statistics about Covid-19.

I peel counter-news websites and am confronted with the same news again and again. The most recent news — doctors in some Government-run hospitals in some states have been given raincoats as personal protective equipment. A day or two after the announcement of the harsh 21-day country-wide lockdown, the Prime Minister urged supporters and citizens to take to their balconies at 5 pm and bang their utensils in support of the medics out on the frontline. This Government has shown its need for pomp and grandeur before the implementation of any real policies or robust support systems time and again. How quickly the world forgets as abandoned protest sites are dismantled, the minorities and disenfranchised return home, spurred with the comfort that while a deadly virus grips the country, fascist radical ring-wingers won’t be out to bay for their blood.

The human body and mind could get used to any possible outcome, any change of direction. People clang their pots and pans because in the face of death, everybody needs to know the Government they elected is doing something to protect them. The PM announces an opaque PM-Cares fund wherein celebrities and industrialists flock to pour crores in and consequently, advertise it on Twitter. My mother sends me a WhatsApp message about an app one can voluntarily download that enables the Government to track your movement and notify you if you’ve been in close contact with anybody infected with the virus. People voluntarily trading their privacy for safety. The pathologies of the modern world have truly accelerated.

April 7th, 10:22 am

It’s going to be a month in six days of quarantine. Yesterday, Sonali dropped me off to Nihar’s place towards the south of the city. It felt so good to be outside and yet somehow, not good enough. We snaked through empty roads, only the most destitute collecting in throngs, social distancing a concept as foreign as the novel disease itself. Bombay looks like a ghost town — abandoned in the middle of night. Signs of a not so distant life still populate the streets. A vegetable cart with rotting bitter gourds, blue tarpaulin covering abandoned homes blowing aimlessly in the wind that’s risen with a kind of coastal ease when not choked with exhaust fumes. Not even a stray dog or cat in sight. Municipal corporation workers in their dark brown uniforms, masks on, sweeping dead leaves to one side of the street, Sonali and I seated next to each other, masks in place, still in our pyjamas from last night and she tells me about how she spends her time, how the musician she was dating cheated on her a few weeks before the lockdown began but how they’re now living together. I listen, grateful for the ride and grateful for seeing somebody’s face other than the two others I quarantine with. I look around, eyes peeled for the sort of relief I can usually feel when I find myself scanning empty horizons and expansive landscapes but I feel nothing; just an itch to get home, go back inside.

Ultimately, it feels wrong to be outside; even with the reality of our matchbox apartments, badly ventilated and poorly lit with not an ounce of greenery or even a view of a tree grown wild intact. The skies aren’t as blue as you’d think they’d be. We live in a really rotten world. I think that’s evident. The more I lean into into yoga and meditation, the more I want to recede from the world. The more I yearn for nature. What am I still doing in Bombay? Goals seem inconsequential to me.

I spoke to my best friend last night who shifted to Italy a year ago to pursue a Masters in Applied Design. At the heel of Italy hitting its peaks a few weeks ago, she got robbed. Right after, cases exploded across Northern Italy and she moved to her boyfriend’s place. She tells me she thinks it’s a crime of vindication, of revenge of some sort since she finds her expensive lingerie, cut up and in tatters but neatly placed back in her drawers. She tells me with this as she reminds me that she doesn’t set too much store by material things but she’s a student, with meagre means and her plans for the future seemed to have turned on their head. She speaks to me about how she has to do virtual classes after going into student debt to actually pay for her tuition. The right thing for the Government to do would be to forget the debt but they’re too busy tarnishing an entire minority community for the spread of the disease. Unsure of what to say, a screen separating us, yet somehow connected due to a fluctuating WiFi system, I stay silent but can blame it on the Internet lag. She says she loves how happy I am, that my eyes are shining. I remember things being that way about three years ago too, at the start of my previous relationship with the beginning of my Masters. I find myself, yet again, navigating the treacherous waters of a new relationship barely three months after the end of the previous one. This wasn’t a planned manoeuvre, I wasn’t looking for anything, I’d ended up at a writing workshop in a secluded ecological, artist-friendly space deep in the forest of Tamil Nadu, to the south of the country. I was still grieving, I considered the workshop a refuge from everything I knew to be true and familiar in Bombay. That time had to come to a resounding halt and I know life was beckoning me into a new direction except I found myself clinging onto the limbo for just a little bit longer. The idea of the new so frightening. We became friends fast and I was quite quick to surrender my facades and guards in exchange for decadent stories and apart from attending workshop classes together, we’d immediately taken to swimming in the mornings and sharing our meals, coffees and cigarettes through the day. I can pinpoint the moment, in an auto rickshaw riding back to the jungle, after a visit into the a city bar where I felt a deepening silence and the silent suggestion of an impending kiss. It made perfect sense but instead, I’d pointed out to the full moon in the sky, so clear and hung low and throbbing with a dull, orange glow and instead of holding each other, we’d made a pit stop to pick up fried chicken and cigarettes. We got together sometime early December but chose to navigate the various accoutrements of the new relationship with a mellow ease and distinctive demarcations between his and mine. Since then, any initial misgivings or ways lost in the the beginning of something new has taken less precedence as we, as two writers from fairly different socio-economic backgrounds but somewhat similar lived experiences, stand witness to the systemic and irrevocable collapse of the Indian democracy. I’m often amazed by how much he cares — given how he has the least ground to be of afraid of losing. Upper caste, Hindu boy born into the 1% of wealthy Indians with wild access to various continents, jobs, visas, opportunities — why should he particularly care about a highly discriminatory bill that systemically seeks to oppress and consequently, alienate the country’s weakest? It’s been four months hence and I’ve long stopped wondering.

Every day, I try to accept that people can care without inherent stake or motivation. Every day is an unlearning of everything the world has taught me to be true so far. It’s now going to be almost two weeks since we’ve been staying together. Under any other circumstances, this would terrify me but it doesn’t at the moment. I know it’s a survival tactic for both of us but it’s also using the need for survival as a ruse to be in each other’s company. It’s so easy to get caught up in the idea of the future or the past. I’m content. I’m learning how to sit still. Learning not to worry about the outcome. I don’t feel like reaching out to my parents or my friends. Not particularly. I do it because there’s a sense of duty attached to it. I find it increasingly harder to relate to the people who I thought I knew best until now. I’m now connected to my body than ever before. I know when it’s hungry, when it needs water, I realise how prone I am to neglecting its needs. I want to quit sugar, I want to quit caffeine, I want to quit sugar and meat.

I find myself cohabiting once again. One room, two people. Quite often and yet somehow lesser than before, I find myself receding into my own head. Constructs increasingly have very little meaning. These medicines are making me burn up. We’ve put our bodies through a lot of abuse. When all this ends, I refuse to go back to habits that no longer serve me. I’m mad at myself for not treating myself well enough. I’m mad at having put others before me for this long. The entire quarantine and Naina hasn’t gotten in touch. Maybe she has — once or twice. I don’t feel like reaching out to her. I don’t want to make my heart bitter but at her wedding, she couldn’t find it in herself to be nice or kind or soft towards me and lash out when she saw fit. A huge part of me welcomed behaviour like that because it would reinforce my own judgment and cruelty towards myself. I feel so disconnected from my family. I’m not sure if the right thing to do after a decade would be to try and spend as much time with them as possible. Once this all ends, I’m going back to Dubai, going back home, full circle, going back to things I’ve spent a decade running away from. Is the line between cohabiting and codependence that fine? What does the word ‘sexy’ connote when you prescribe intimacy to it? Do I actually want to go back to grad school or am I depressed and can only find meaning in some illusionary academic pursuit?

External structures adding extrinsic value. Just when it felt like things had begun making sense, we’re all collectively living through something the real backwash of which will only be left when we’re standing on the other side — naked, arms caked with mud, compelled to ask for help. Missing the one you love is so much easier than actually being with the one you love. My boyfriend’s cute: he lets me know of his emotional and mental unavailability before he begins to live mix for an hour.

Why do I feel this pit of dread at the base of my navel constantly

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