Considering the pandemic we’re living in, I keep my grocery dash to the bare minimum, once in 7 days or so. Medicines for an elderly mother and some food for a household of four are generally what is required. Since lock down, I remain conscious of how we consume and am reminded every single day that very many don’t have the same access. This morning I had to step out since the gas cylinder was out and the distributor had discontinued home deliveries. Since it was to be a run, I decided to try and replenish medicines and provisions as well. The last couple of trips were straight to the shops and back but today I took a circuitous route coming to the street where I usually find everything I need.
Along the way, I saw that summer had made itself at home. The trees were bursting, the koels were at their shrillest notes and the first of the gulmohurs were beginning a display that promised fiery beauty. I also saw shop shutters were down and it was a sobering image to see what used to be a bustling cafe stand desolate. All around I could hear a resounding new lexicon that includes social distancing, quarantine, isolation, curfew, lock down etc, which have now become part of our every day conversation.
By the time I got to the chemist, there was a sense of something not quite right. There were far fewer people on the roads compared to last week and the four young girls who would loiter around were missing. Those young ones would wait outside the grocery store waiting for someone to buy them provisions. The grocery store was also shut today. There was a single vegetable vendor with a cart and I was buying a few items when a lathi brandishing cop came rushing at us telling us to scatter. The lady cowered trying to pack up while I looked on in dismay at the way fear and fatigue reduced that policeman and others like him to an angry force. Another cop did the same to an old banana seller and I found myself wondering how could that old man do anything if it went beyond a threat of a beating to an actual one. Threats are also delivered differently depending on who is the recipient.
Medicines were in short supply and I took whatever was available. I could see fear in the chemist’s eyes with every transaction that took place, every exchange of money and goods. Touch is such a primary way in which we experience the world and now the very air that glances off the skin seems loaded. At a time when a hug might comfort, we find that it could be potentially fatal. Every time I come back from a trip outside, I feel exposed and vulnerable. Regardless of the almost obsessive- compulsive levels of cleaning and sanitizing, I wonder if I am still a risk to people at home. I can’t begin to imagine how it must be for health care workers and their families, the constant doubt of infection.
The gas cylinder distributor had a few people in line and we collected slips before heading off to pick the cylinders from a truck at another location. This is common for very many people where deliveries are difficult but a first for me. In the wake of a curfew like atmosphere, traffic rules and regulations don’t really apply, not that they did very much in this overgrown town. But I found myself thinking vaguely of lines in my car insurance document that mention something to the effect of not carrying inflammable goods.
On my way back home, I saw that one of the tiny stores selling coffee was open and my regular blend was available. It was a mixed moment, elation at getting a pack of indulgence while feeling a little guilty for my delight. But not for too long since my guilt would serve no one. While the scales may not be balanced always, there’s always atleast a feather weight of joy and love to the heaviness of fear and sorrow. At some point, the tide will turn one way or the other and hopefully the maverick virus will be contained. But until then, each person stares at the terrifying gift of uncertainty to ask what it truly means to be alive.