Household work was always welcome for me. How could I ever miss a chance to put things in order – cushions in perfect diamond position, curtains just that much apart to let the light in from the centre, shoes at 90 degrees! Even more immersive would be to seek out every spec of dirt from corners no one could see, or make utensils shine till I could adjust my hair in the reflection. All my academic-type friends advocating anarchy, what would you know about the pleasures of symmetry and planned asymmetry?
But the coronavirus lockdown has had me amazed. Never have I ever washed, dusted, swept, ironed, baked and shopped for groceries as much as I have in the last three months. The desire for order hasn’t quite gone away, but there’s a new respect for people who do all this work and more, day in and day out, because they have to and don’t have a choice of doing it just once in a while like I do.
Not so long ago, India’s politics and Kolkata’s pollution had had me numbed and choked. The citizenship related protests that preceded the pandemic brought back some air. But the real feel came from the lockdown catastrophes. Never have I ever inhaled cleaner air in Kolkata, but more than that, never have I ever felt so angry at what I have been complicit in – in being part of a society that so badly let down its most hardworking and vulnerable people in cascades of health and livelihood emergencies. I’m talking about migrant workers, but also domestic workers, trans individuals, sex workers, people with disabilities and many others who rarely register on our minds. The sitcom that played out in balconies only added to the anger, but it also made me burst out in laughter because what could’ve been more farcical!
Thankfully some of the anger got channelled into relief work, for never have I ever gone beyond monetary donations in past occasions of crisis brought about by natural calamities (where again human callousness and greed were invariably involved). The visitation by the Amphan super cyclone – far frightening than any film in the Conjuring series – made sure that I must respect the time I have in hand. I’m fortunate to have friends, colleagues and family members who’ve joined me in raising funds and organizing rations and medicines; going out for relief work even where masks and sanitizers can provide only so much protection from viruses; and in documenting and disseminating stories of not just the devastation caused by the multiple crises but also the heartwarming public response to the crises.
On a related note, never have I ever translated television news for our domestic workers so often – to help them make sense of the pandemic and the lockdown (but certainly not Donald Trump’s doings). And never have I befriended the migrant workers engaged in different capacities in our apartment complex or in the neighbourhood. In return for a small amount of relief support there’s a wealth of learning to be had from them about the ground realities.
What hasn’t worked very well though is something on the work front. Domestic violence against queer individuals and couples everywhere has gone up and for the first time there’s little that Varta Trust has been able to do through its legal aid work – other than advising the individuals to avoid conflicts and bide their time.
Hidden in all these happenings have been some trivia. I discovered the perfect way to crease a shirt while ironing, something that an exasperated ex had tried teaching me (I also discovered that half the reason I loved him was because of his ironing skills). I also found out the power of unsalted butter, an electric whisk and a different position for the baking tray in my oven. Yes, my cupcakes are ever so tastier and crumblier than before (not to worry, I’ll have the broom handy if you drop any crumbs). Finally, never have I ever realized the power of my voice – for recording Varta podcasts and pride month videos, as also for flirting and romancing on the phone.
What has been your lockdown revelation?
Main graphic credit: Pawan Dhall