Life in the time of Covid-19

My heart goes out to small businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals who are having it rough in these uncertain times. All news seems grey – almost as if a giant cloud has lodged itself in the sky perennially. But the sun shines the fiercest when it pierces through the pillow of clouds. Now, more than ever, it’s important to look for those sharp streaks of sunlight.

Since March second week, when the lock-down began in the United States, my husband and I have been strictly adhering to the ‘Stay Home Save Lives’ motto. In the beginning, the weeks, which had become open and fluid all of a sudden, demanded some structure. Our home had to be rearranged, spaces created, to accommodate the new lifestyles of two working adults. Visits to the supermarket reduced, and bags of vegetables in the freezer increased.

I would remember this lock-down as the time when mornings were about sipping coffee unrushed, sitting next to a windowsill lined with well-nourished plants, and evenings were about whipping cake batter without a recipe, watching Brooklyn 99 with warm dinner bowls in our hands, and solving crosswords till sleep conquered.

I would remember this lock-down also…

…as the time I asked strangers/friends to send photos of their home office set-ups, and carefully recreated them in black and white illustrations.

(To see the entire series, click here)

…as the time I binge-read books set in Paris.

…and as the time I opened a new account on Medium to write stories focused on art trends and art news. I have been writing artist interviews for a wonderful Philadelphia-based magazine called Artblog, but I had so much more to tell, and so often, that I had to start a blogging account to pour out my words. Follow my art writings here and here.

Life in the time of Covid-19, most importantly, has been about putting in consistent effort to stay positive. It has been about embracing the negative, accepting the lows, but also calmly, like a big round balloon, floating out of it, above it, and into the crack between the clouds where the sun always shines the brightest.

How is your life in the time of Covid-19?

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Turning 30 in France

There was no big celebration inside the hotel room. Outside, the whole town of Nice had come together for the annual carnival. Abba’s Dancing Queen blared from the speakers. We walked past children with painted faces, adults with masked ones. Past the line of high-end boutiques and restaurants with al fresco settings warmed by outdoor heaters. We stood watching the sleepy Mediterranean sea gulp down the hot sun and turn grey.

Back in our hotel room, we switched on a French reality TV show. The participants seemed angry. Probably used expletives. But in French, the words shed their bitterness. It was a new moon night, a pitch dark sky engulfed the last hours of my 20s. When I woke up, I expected a new world. But the sun was already on its long slow dive into the sea. And the sea… the sea lay with a certain disinterest, stretching its blueness like a long yawn, stripping the day of its significance.

That morning, my husband and I caught the train from Gare de-Nice Ville in Nice, to Gare de-Lyon in Paris. We walked along the fifth arrondissement to a bright blue door at 74 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine, where writer Ernest Hemingway lived and loved. Here’s probably where he wrote ‘The end of something’, we wondered while lunching at an Armenian restaurant amid French-speaking crowd. It was our last night in France, we spent it in a hotel that stood floating on Seine.

From inside, we watched the resilient river reflecting with clarity, the bridges that rose from it, the tall yellow street lights, and the high-rise buildings that shimmered in the background. The reflections danced the entire night. Until the dawn swallowed them just like it did the last of my 20s.

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Peace Lily

On the week preceding our second year anniversary, we find ourselves at the garden center of Home Depot. From among a plethora of options including Boston Ferns, Burgundy rubber plants and Yucca canes, our eyes rest on a modest looking plant named Peace Lily. Its white shell-shaped flowers wrap around a baby corn-like spadix like a secret. We bring it home, and place it next to our bookshelf. Haruki Murakami’s Dance Dance Dance, and Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink are its new friends. Every once in two days, we water it. Every friend that comes home drenches it further in compliments. 

Two weeks hence, we find a new baby leaf. Elated, we buy a new overarching acrylic shade floor lamp, just to shine on it. 

Everything is peaceful, until one morning we find a leaf turning yellow. It slowly wilts and falls. The yellow, like over-watered paint, spreads on other leaves, and then to the creamy white of the flower. Concerned, we move it closer to the window hoping the first rays of sunlight would heal it. We fill our living room with plant friends — Anthurium, Kalanchoe, and chocolate mint; we feed it sugar; and till the soil with surgical care. We also bring in the Masters. Vivaldi, Chopin and Beethoven. Every morning, at the strike of dawn, they fill the house with music. 

But Lily seems obstinate. She continues to shed some leaves, sprout some. She has grown taller ever since, but now and then, as if overcome by a sense of sadness, her leaves droop and turn color. She is not ideal, but she is resilient. Full of peace, hope and beauty. Just like love, just like a relationship.

Aren’t we glad that – on the week preceding our second year anniversary, we found ourselves at the garden center of Home Depot. 

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Love that smells like cake

I remember the taste of my mom’s cake batter. The feel of sugar granules on my tongue, and the shock of seeing so much butter poured into a bowl in one shot. My mom would whisk the egg, butter, sugar, flour and baking powder with a spatula. We didn’t have a food processor, or even a whisk back then. When tired, my sister and I would take the bowl from her and make long strings of the sticky batter; sometimes spilling it all over the floor. Annoyed, the bowl would be taken away, and given to my dad who would patiently bring it to the required cake consistency. Impatient and hungry, we would stand next to my mom in the kitchen, while the cake baked in the pressure cooker. We didn’t have an oven back then. Years later, now, though I cannot recall the smell as easily as a visual memory, what I can recall is how it felt like to be able to slice a piece off the translucent butter paper. It felt like the warmest hug and the softest kiss. Years later, thousands of miles away from my mom, when I tried baking a set of blueberry muffins in the oven recently, all I could think of is that modest pressure cooker that baked some of the happiest memories of my childhood.
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All packed, ready to move

Home is where the bathroom door groans resisting a push; where a black cotton curtain hangs limply over the bedroom window trying its best to keep away the fierce morning light; where a faint smell of rose petals hangs loosely in the air like a fragment of memory.

Home is where a row of Lego toys sits perched on top of a shelf of books; it’s where the paint on the bathroom wall is slightly peeled off because of a stubborn artwork that refused to let go. Home is where hats and bags adorn a coat stand, and a cactus called ‘Pokey-Mon’ rests on top of a wooden chess board. Home…it’s where mornings are defined by the uproar of Nespresso machine; the clunk of the toaster; and the sight of a listless white cat that sits solemnly at the neighbor’s window.

Home is what we left seeking great adventures, but always came running back to for its yellow lights, soft mattresses, and the familiar cool temperature. It is where we loved, laughed, and grew to be better versions of ourselves, in the last two years.

Home, sweet home, is from where we leave now, with our bags, and a truck load of memories, to start anew. Only, this time, we won’t be back.

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Hit the road, Jack

Road trips are the best.

One: You don’t ever feel stagnant. You are moving forward, constantly. Red lights are temporary.

Two: You never have to stop eating. There is nothing else to do. Eat your Twinkies, chocolates, and chips. And sing along Ed Sheeran’s and Justin Bieber’s “I don’t care”.

Three: You are a kid again. Playing peek-a-boo with the sun, racing the wind, and following the moon.

Four: You can discuss the most disturbing thoughts here, and your partner would listen. Nobody is going anywhere.

Five: You can shift from “doing” to simply “being”.

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Mourning dove

Watercolor painting of a mourning dove by yours truly.
Inspired from a watercolor print by Dean Crouser.

We had had the company of a family of ‘mourning’ doves (they are called so because of their call that sounds like a lament) for a few weeks. Until we didn’t.

Not sure when they decided to vacate. Maybe they heard us complain about how nasty they had made our patio, even as they sat solemnly on soft cushioned chairs. Or maybe they didn’t like being stared at, photographed. Once or twice, we expressed our annoyance at seeing three birds perched on ledges, railings, chairs and the center table. We tried to shoo them away, gently. But they played dead. Since we didn’t have a place to sit, with creases of irritation on our faces, we went downstairs to the parking lot to get some fresh air. Maybe they saw that. Not sure when they decided to vacate. But our ‘mourning doves’ have flown away. What remains is an empty nest, and some stray straws on the floor. While we can still hear their faint calls from far away, can they see us mourn?

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To Ohio and back

To me, Ohio is about watching Steve and Maggie on Youtube; walking amid half empty bottles of milk, an assortment of toys and stray crayons; eating Kirkland’s ice cream bars and madeleines; and getting kissed and hugged by the three-year-old niece.

N and I drove to Stow, Ohio, on Saturday morning. We started around 5 am, when the moon, big and bright, still dominated the blue sky. It followed us, as we began a journey of 430 miles, passing three States. In Ohio, we remained within the comfort of home, even as winds picked up speed, and swayed the trees outside. Indian home food, Malayalam movies, and lots of catch and throw. In the night, once my niece was asleep, we watched the final episode of Game of Thrones, and went to bed, a little disappointed. But the morning brought the sound of happy laughter and excited squeaks from the little one.

We painted, stuck stickers, and watched a new series, Barbie’s Life in the Dreamhouse, on Netflix.  We took a little walk outside, but the wind swept her red cap away. So we walked back home.

After a heavy lunch, it was time to leave. We packed our bags, and started our drive back home. This time, there was no moon following us. Even the sun left us midway. In the darkness, guided by street lights, we crossed the 430 miles, and got back to our warm, cozy bed. Waves of silence slowly rocked us to sleep. Only to take us back to the effortless laughter of the three-year-old niece in Ohio.

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Exploding kittens and baby corn fry

As far as board game nights go, the other day was no different. In the evening, we met up at a friend’s place. Over bowls of crispy snacks, we played a round of Exploding Kittens. Dinner was ordered on Uber Eats. Indian food. Vegetable Biryani, Gobi Manchurian (crispy fried cauliflower), and baby corn fry. An hour’s wait, it showed. Meanwhile, the table was set for Pandemic. There were six of us. We formed three teams, two in each. And while the world on our board was losing to epidemics, we paused to get plates full of food, while also switching on an episode of Street Food on Netflix. It was the one focused on South Korea. Nobody watched it though. The conversations rolled from real estate prices in Mumbai to Kareem’s, the popular street food place in New Delhi. Once dinner was done, chocolate cookies were brought out, and again, the focus was pulled back to the board game. Moves were planned. Plots were designed. But still we, the whole group, lost against the game. Niceties done, good nights said, we drove back home. As far as board game nights go, the other day was no different.

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Six Flags

Six Flags (Great Adventure) was more than about rides.  It was about this red bottle which never ran out of soda. It was about the overly juicy, pesto-dripping bread that we had for lunch. Of course it was about Nitro, Batman and Bizarro, but it was also about the really funny photo captured of us shouting our lungs out. It was about waiting in line for an hour for the first row in El Toro, and of cheering for the little kid who was too scared before the ride, but too happy after. It was about getting drenched to the bones in Log Flume, and shooting with an unforeseen rage at all the 4d creatures, in Justice League. But most importantly, it was about feeling like a superhuman for one day. Floating in the sky, riding along with the wind…and getting a little closer to the bright yellow Sun.

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Sunday night

It’s Sunday night, there are many more hours between now and the rush of Monday morning. So we sit back, make some jokes, share some laughs. We let ourselves sink into the couch, and watch a heartwarming movie. And then we move slowly from the living room to the kitchen as if intoxicated by the joy of the weekend. We make some space on the table for a game of Tsuro – the game of the path. Tile by tile, we move our respective coins, surrendering to wherever the noodle like path takes us. But we must stop, for, the pizza guy is here. Board game aside, we pour ourselves a glass of coke each, and take a heavy cheese-dripping slice of pizza. Mouth-full, we chuckle to Frasier’s rib-tickling jokes. After all, it’s Sunday night, there are many hours between now and the rush of Monday morning.

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Game night

Pandemic with friends
Personalized Monopoly

It started with Monopoly. N and I would sincerely carry the rectangular box along with a bottle of wine to all our friends’ houses. An hour into the game, the laughter would cease, and there would come a sense of tension, jealousy, anxiety, and a raw need to win. So we kept the little houses and mansions aside, and instead, got tiny rail carriages. In Ticket to Ride, USA version, there was no room to argue, beg and trade, as in Monopoly; and there was less left to chance. But then, one could always block another player’s route. When this happened, there was one less happy person. It was the same with Risk, Catan, and Seven Wonders.

Until one day we trespassed on Forbidden Island. N and I played it nine times, always defeated by the game. But together, we strengthened our resolve to beat it, and the tenth time we did. Us against the game. Together, united. Whether we lost or won. We found the same joy in Pandemic, last night. We plotted for hours to end a breakout, find cures, and build research centers around the world. Over pizza and wine, six of us fought our hardest; and when we lost, we cursed the game, swept the coins off the board, then laughed and planned another game night the next day.