Lockdown Musings Series 1

As the reality about Corona related Lockdown and Stay indoors deepens and intensifies, the social and political atmosphere around one acquires a rarefied feel with each and every moment bearing subtle and powerful insights and realisations. The experiences and real life stories that one comes across throws light into the fragility of human existence in a world we have created and call developed, modern and full of luxury that money and power can buy.

Having got out one day in the first week of lockdown with a friend to buy some essential items, the road looked dry washed and the trees so green and clean. Many news about wild beings reclaiming spaces in urban and other regions were coming in…and one did not know whether to feel happy or confused. This day too birds seem to singing in louder, clearer tones, squirrels and mongooses crossed the path fearlessly… and humans alone looked uncertain and scared with their real expressions hidden inside the flimsy masks.

As I sat in the car with these thoughts on the way to the shop, a lady emerged on to the road and signalled us to stop. As we did, we expected her to ask for a lift…the new kind of discrimination logic that social distancing has created made me frown a bit- no face mask, no sanitised hands and face…should we ?

But she surprised us by holding out a phone to me and said in a pleading tone “Please call this number “and she said the name of the person. I searched out the number and called…It rang in the first place and soon became engaged. The lady was shivering with expectancy. She kept asking “Did you get through?” I consoled her that the person is engaged and should call back. Then she emphatically said “No, she will not call back, for sure”. A bit taken aback I asked her whom she was calling. Her voice quivered when she replied “My daughter”. I immediately asked her “ Where does she stay?” She said the name of a place close by. My friend immediately offered to drop her there and bring her back. She said softly “No, no. I only want to hear her voice” and her eyes clouded. We kept trying to no avail. I gently suggested she should return home and not stand in the middle of the road which she did as if by command. Though we went back home, an inner voice kept telling me that something was amiss.

I searched for the Residents Association of one of the famous Housing Colonies in the city from where she came out to the road. Suddenly I remembered a friend who stayed there. On contacting she replied that she had shifted from there but gave me the contacts of two people who still live there. Fortunately, I had acquainted one of them and taking the liberty of that brief encounter called him. Another bit of luck in him remembering me and immediately rising to the urgency in my voice. He recognized the lady and narrated a story that is like a sad and moving account of senior citizens, widows, women and men in a fast, corporate world.

This lady a widow with two grown up children met with an accident a few months back and had partially lost her memory. Otherwise healthy, she was an asset to her daughter till her physical condition and mental instability worsened. Able to afford another space and a full time help, the daughter shifted the mother to the apartment and keeps assuring all physical support in the form of medicines, provision and logistic help. Fortunately for the mother, the full time help was unable to leave during the lockdown, thus assuring her food and minimum care. One of the conditions that the daughter had told the helper was to not call her just for her mother to talk. There has to be a specific need which would be satisfied without fail. Period. Stop.

This is where the issue started. As far as the elderly mother is concerned, she has eyes and ears only for the daughter. Whenever the helper refused to connect her with the daughter, she would stray stealthily out and beg an unsuspecting passerby to help. This has been going on for months. With lockdown tightening, the daughter stopped coming altogether. Restless and listless with longing to see her daughter and hear her child’s voice, the mother would wait endlessly and also ask about her.

This is one experience that opened my eyes to what security is…There are so many things that money cannot buy and the small virus and its manifestation have taught us that. Neglect and denial of care and love are one of the most viral of infections that has attacked the human mind ages back. There is no cure for this malady and its spread is more dangerous and secretive than the COVID-19. The best (or is it the worst) way one can use power and wealth to disempower the weak is by ignoring, avoiding and neglecting them. In this case all physical needs of the woman are met with. But mentally she is in an uncertain and distressed state.

I remember an elderly unmarried woman, so attached to her niece and family whom she had looked after all her life. She was shifted her to an Old Age Ashramam when she became old and weak.Though a part of her hard earned assets were used to provide care for her and she was in a very comfortable space, her heart pined for her niece and children who were in another town. She would pleadingly ask whoever visited her if it is very difficult to travel to her place from the other town. She died with the pain of not seeing those whom she considered her kith.

The denied feelings and thoughts of the elder people have a way of hovering around you long after they are gone, especially when you also start getting older and dependant. When social distancing and lock down started, it is this category of citizens who lose their stability and security. There is a limit to which money can buy security and care. But beyond that their loneliness, sorrow and insecurity can only be driven away by quality time and unconditional love. Without passing a moralistic judgement on those who chose to neglect and ignore, we should be able to create a social space to which we can all belong and relate. Such spaces are emerging in an artificial elite manner.

The response of friends with whom I shared this was different and interesting. Many quoted from the Maintenance of Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act 2007. Others felt there has to be a long term intervention to this increase in neglect and negligence by indoctrination of values and compassion in children. Can laws and lessons instil compassion and love in one’s mind? It is ironical in these lock down times that  staying away and far is the best form of love and care especially that one can give elders….

As I write this, memory of an elder Chieftain in an Adivasi Kadar settlement wafts into my mind. An excellent tribal musician, he was much loved in the community. As age started manifesting in various forms the childless widower’s care was voluntarily taken up by a woman and her family in the same settlement. She walked him through death (in her own words) bathing and washing him, feeding him, singing the songs that he had sung for the whole community for years…and she and her family mourned his passing away like he was their own.

The borderline between kith and kin and oneself is narrow and the balance delicate. The small virus should make us realise how fragile the scaffolding of our social set up is based on elements that are so physical and short term. Can we see this as a chance /opportunity to reset the frames and strengthen it with love, compassion, tolerance and care which will sustain us through this locked up scary dark state? The choice is ours…, ours only… and the decision too…

P.S : As each day passes, one tends to count the blessings- safe home, food to eat, water and electricity, friends to share….we are still in Paradise!! Each day is yet another day in Paradise with minor inconveniences.

24.04.2020

Taken from the song ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE by Phil Collins

Anitha S  is a writer based in Kerala


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