Little Chinchu was in the much loved space of her grandparents home in a city far away from where she and her parents lived. She had come here two months back for the birth of her baby brother born a month ago. By the time words like COVID, Corona and Lockdown were household names. Chinchu was intrigued by the anxiety and anguish on the face of the elders whenever the television news started. Her grandmother would dramatically shut her ears with both palms and exclaim” I do not want to hear, do not want to hear” but continued hearing. Her mother would hold her close and say “Do not worry, Chinchu, we are all together”. Her father and Uncle would churn out interesting stories of their childhood so that there was always an air of mirth in the house.

By the time her baby brother was born, the family had shifted from one of their homes, an apartment on the 8th floor of a high rise to the house by the side of a river where her mother grew up. Chinchu loved this space with its green grass covered garden with mango trees, a jamba tree in full fruit and space to run and play. She also liked it because her grandfather would come up with activities which let her stay out in the wind and sun. The other day, they both cleaned the bird baths and fixed it with water – Chinchu was amazed with the birds who flew in as if they got a message to have a sip and take a bath. Her grandfather told her the names of the birds- Tree pie, magpie robin, barbet, crow pheasant, koels and of course the noisy crows.

Chinchu had a project to take back to school after the lockdown is over. She asked her grandfather and uncle if she could take a video of the birdbath and why it should be kept in summer –the short video they made for her was so good and beautiful. Her Uncle and father promised her a surprise soon on a day when she was bored and could not go out because of the unexpected summer rains.

The next day she was woken up by her father and carried outside to a small swing they had tied to the overhanging branch of the mango tree. Chinchu brushed her teeth and was served her morning cup of milk as she swung on it gently. Her other source of entertainment was the dog which was so friendly with kind brown eyes that lived on the terrace of the house. He would come down visiting occasionally with a “grin” and run around the house inviting her to play.

Chinchu’s family loved good food and would go out to eat once a week. She missed these outings and aimless wanderings with her parents in one mall or the other. She heard social distancing was on and one had to wear a mask. In the evenings, her father would take her for a walk in the deserted road outside their house or they would jog up and down till she would be tired. Most often she would sit on the low wall of the house and watch her father. At times she would be carried on his shoulders and she would imagine being on elephant back. The best part of evenings was when her grandfather would take her on his old bicycle making her a perch on the handle bar. She loved the wind on her face and his reassuring body to lean back upon.

On most evenings her grandmother or father would explore and experiment with different delicacies…hot crisp bajjies, banana fritters, cakes and cool drinks. On many an afternoon there would be biriyani, noodles. On many days her uncle would order food from one of the places that still reached it to their homes. Her grandfather would be upset with all the plastic and aluminium foil waste that food deliveries would create! Her granny who was so fond of fish had her daily supply from a sweet fish vending lady- her visit would bring the neighbouring cats which Chinchu loved watching though it made the dog go berserk!

Chichu’s grandfather who had a “sweet tooth” was very ingenious in making different varieties of payasam. He would appear with a twinkle in his eyes carrying a bowl of milk payasam surprising everyone.  Chinchu knew her 4th birthday is coming and caught her parents and Uncle whispering and giggling sometimes. She longed to hold her soft and quiet baby brother who looked at her whenever she went near him. She was proud, excited and anxious about her new role as elder sister. Her mother had explained in detail her own excitement and how joyful life became after her brother was born. Chinchu was eager for him to grow up fast so she could play her role in real earnest.

When her birthday dawned, Chinchu was woken up by her parents and taken outside to see a bright red cycle that she had been promised. Her granny had baked a chocolate cake and Uncle had arranged for one from the bakery with her name in it. All her favourite delicacies were on the table and she was showered with love and care. Chinchu felt this was the best birthday ever, with the only miss being unable to go out. She also missed her paternal grandparents, aunt and cousin. But her father arranged a video call everyday and it was almost like they were nearby.

The other day Chinchu had an experience which she understood would be one of its kind. The lady help who stayed with them was cleaning the courtyard. Suddenly the dog started barking uncontrollably. Her grandfather and Uncle ran out to see a one foot long snake. Her grandfather ran inside with a face flushed with excitement whispering something. He asked her father to stay in the verandah with her and not get out. He got a whole set of items and together with her uncle started what he later called ‘OPERATION COBRA”. The source of all the thrill was a Cobra, one of the most venomous snakes. Her mother and granny were petrified. But her resourceful grandfather caught the snake and put it in a plastic jar. It kept rearing up and looking around with beady black eyes. Her Uncle kept exclaiming “ Look Chinchu, what a beauty” much to his granny’s indignation. It was decided to hand over the snake to a collection centre in the city…

A full day was taken up by the coconut cutting activity when they all got their fill of tender coconuts. Her father spent more than half a day making toys for her with the green coconut fronds. Chinchu watched him with fascination as his deft hands weaved and folded the leaves into helicopter, spectacles and so on. Though Chinchu’s little fingers were not flexible enough she decided to learn the trick of folding soon to make them for her  little brother when he grows up.

For Chinchu the lockdown was just a minor inconvenience when there were no outings, mall visits, get together with her large family and friends, being with her paternal grandparents and so on. She spent her days basking in the attention of so many people who loved her and expressed it in myriad ways, with no one to disturb when she was on the swing, with her grandfather in attendance when she tried to balance on the bicycle, with her father and uncle coming up with new games, with her mother inviting her to spend time with her soft baby brother, with her granny making hot delicacies and the occasional exotic home deliveries…who could ask for more.?

For Chinchu and her discerning family, the Corona and lockdown was a passing phase which gave them an opportunity to explore the quality and value addition of time and attention with each other, to find subtle ways to reassure and love, to enhance each and every moment with interesting elements, to stay positive and safe…

I am reminded of the famous Rachel Carson quote from The Sense of Wonder “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”…

Chinchu blessed to have a family full of nature lovers to keep alive her sense of wonder and a wonderful home with so much wilderness would perhaps realise the value of this point of time the whole world went through much later in life – and narrate this to her child..

For many, the Corona and the Lockdown has given the opportunity to look inward and slow down, take stock of privileges and luxuries, shed unnecessary frills in life. They are in a position to see this phase as a chance to look life anew….

Anitha.S is a writer based in Kerala


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One Comment

  1. Avatar Zeenat Khan says:

    Congrats to Anitha.S for this beautifully written uplifting piece. You have captured the essence of this little girl’s family in such a way that it resonates with what we are all going through right now. You truly are a gifted writer. I read your part 3 and have to go and read the previous ones. Please keep on writing. Simply wonderful work! Gives me hope that we will be okay.