It was March 20, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji announced a janata curfew for just one Sunday. This was a trial before a long painful one. In IT parlance, one would call it a POC before a production run. In the next eight weeks of lockdown, I learnt more about my apartment than what I had in the last eight years.
The first couple of weeks was a novelty. People shared pictures in the apartment mailing group on how the lockdown has rejuvenated Mother Nature. They sent pictures of the sunrise, the lake behind, pigeons, pigeon poop and a deserted Marathalli bridge. You can’t blame Instagram if it got a tad jealous looking at my apartment mailing group.
Just when we were getting bored, Modi ji introduced some group activities. We all came to the balcony, greeted each other, produced sound and lighted diyas. Up until that event, I didn’t even realise, there is someone in the apartment next door. This dude got so excited that every time there was a power cut, he rushed to the balcony with a couple of diyas. If Modi ji was a school teacher, this guy would have got extra marks for doing homework when there wasn’t one.
The apartment mailing group was a live wire. Not one day went by without a mail about coronavirus. There was always one building uncle who would start the day by giving free gyan on corona. He pretty much copy-pasted what was already available in the morning edition of Times of India. In spite of which, at least a hundred people would respond, “I agree”.
Once in a while there would be a mail saying their heart goes out to the migrants. Then hundred mails would follow saying, “I agree”. Quite honestly, I was getting annoyed with these guys posing as Jaya Bachchan from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, with a morose expression but nothing more.
Eventually, I could take it no more and responded, “Dude… doesn’t matter whether your heart goes out or your liver goes out, unless your money goes out, it’s of no help!” And there was a huge backlash. It didn’t help that I refused to sing along in the chorus. That’s when I realised this “migrant walking” is like the new “soldier dying at the border”. It doesn’t matter what the conversation is about, you can use it any time to shut people up.
With every series coming out on Netflix and Prime, I earnestly looked for new topics on the mailing group. The next big one was on guys walking in the apartment complex in spite of the restriction. The corona activists were furious! I must admit I was one of those defaulters who took a walk in campus (in my defence, I got approval from the local police station).
Eventually, I had to stop when this guy threatened, he would take a picture and put it on the mailing group. It got me scared… getting my picture posted on a public domain. Saloons have been closed and my hair is in a mess. I haven’t shaved for ages. How can I let him take my picture? What if this guy doesn’t use filters before posting?
Then a big confusion popped up in my apartment complex when the Karnataka government decided to relax rules. The topic of whether or not to allow house helps was beaten to death. There was one group of people who came up with a probabilistic model predicting how much the corona risk would increase if maids were allowed inside.
There was another who justified their entry as coronavirus does not look at rich or poor, and the virus is communist by nature. Also, basically they were saying ‘get lost’… I can’t clean the dishes anymore.
After a lot of deliberation, the association agreed to allow them by putting in place a stringent set of rules. The rules were so complicated that it was easier to get a green card in the United States. The association also came up with its own set of green, orange and red zones – big park allowed but not the small park, badminton singles allowed but not doubles, walking is okay but swimming strictly prohibited.
Someone wrote back saying swimming pool is safe as chlorine kills coronavirus and that’s why US President Donald Trump had suggested “Hydo Chloric Acid” as medication since it has chlorine in it. Then a bunch of people wrote ‘plus one, plus one, plus one’. One person even sent a PPT (Powerpoint document) explaining the atomic structure of chlorine and how it effectively combats the DNA of COVID-19.
(Don’t try hydo… whatever or even hydrochloric acid as coronavirus medication. Trump never said it. Please follow the government guidelines and consult a doctor if the need arises. Don’t self-medicate)
The mother of all topics was when the BBMP (Bengaluru Corporation) asked all gated communities to share the personal details of its residents with self-attestation. And the association had sent out a mail asking for these details. One smart dude came up with an idea of creating a Google form for the community so that people don’t write individually and spam the inbox. Brilliant idea isn’t it? Then everyone religiously filled the Google form and sent a mail – “I have done it”. It was initiated by one person and everyone followed suit. The next morning when I opened by inbox, I saw about 200 “I have done it” mails. Even corona does not proliferate that fast. I don’t know the Google form guy, but I am sure he must have looked like this “face palm” emoji.
It took me two full hours to read all those “I have done it” mails. Then I get into a call with my boss. He asked, “How are you doing Rajesh?”
“Very busy boss. This work-from-home is a lot of hard work. Last two hours I have only been clearing mails,” I replied.
Over time a lot more people started walking on the campus. We all practiced social distancing. Based on the “social distance” maintained, we could even guess the number of years some couples have been married for. We wore masks. It was sometimes difficult to identify people with their masks on. But it helped that some stuck to a routine attire. Like superman, they wore the same clothes every day. This is one place where social distancing from them is a blessing in disguise.
I observed people a lot better in the last couple of weeks. Everyone had their own style of running. Some would run with purpose; very determined, fully focused. Like Milkha singh. Some had their quirks while running. This dude ran with his head looking up all the time. It was like he is doing both surya namaskar and running at the same time. There is a minority that would sprint for two minutes, stop, pant for breath and run again. Pretty much like a toy teddy bear that is running out of battery life. As for me, I walked with a tag on my head that read: “my wife kicked me out of the couch”. One uncle kept spitting every hundred meters. I mustered courage and asked him, “Uncle, are you practising for swab test?”
A ritual that always happened was that every two minutes, I had to stop, greet people and indulge in small talks. As a prep work, I always checked on the latest corona figures, number of zeros in ‘20 lakh crores’ and the new definitions of zones.
It was one of those routine walks, when I got into this conversation.
“Hey, you are Rajesh right? I could recognise by the slouch.”
“Prashant… isn’t it? Could guess from the hair coming out of your ears.”
After covering the mandatory corona updates, we moved on to a discussion on apartment mailing group and that’s when I said, “People are going crazy with these mails. How stupid of that one person to initiate this “I have done it” mail? How dumb can anyone get?”
Even with the mask on, I could see that Prashant didn’t look pleased. “That mail was from my wife”.
“No no. That’s from the id Pinky24@… so name is Pinky… age 24… and must be way younger than your wife.”
“My wife’s pet name is Pinky. Her date of birth is 24th March. And she isn’t old.”
By then, the situation was heated enough to brew a dalgona coffee. I had no idea what I could say to ease things. But for the sheath of social distancing, I would have had a fist shaped mark on my face.
Here is where I wish, in real life too, like in WhatsApp, there is a “delete for everyone” option.
After a long deafening silence, I blurted, “Migrants are walking yaar! Heart goes out to them. Government should do something no?”
(The author is an IT professional working for a leading FMCG group)
(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Federal)