The lockdown has been eased a little. We are allowed to step outside our communities and drive or take a walk. Its a relief to be set free after 70 odd days of complete lockdown.
The changes brought about as a result of the pandemic are visible. We step out with a mask on. With the Mumbai humidity, after a while it feels like we’ve been in a sauna. Its hot, stuffy and simply uncomfortable behind the mask. But the mask denotes equality. Unlike the purdah system followed by Muslim women or the ghungat system followed by Hindu women, here everybody has to wear a mask – man, women and children.
In the building there is a sanitizer kept in front of the lift in the lobby and there’s one at the gate. There’s also water kept aside for people to wash their hands. It reminds me of the traditional homes in the South of India – every house had a tap outside close to the entrance door or a bucket of water kept on the steps leading to the house for people to wash their hands and feet before they entered. Customs which died a natural death are making their way back as a necessity. The security guards are all wearing masks. The podium is empty. There are no senior citizens sitting on the benches basking in the sun and there are no children playing outdoors.
A pool of rain water lies in the landing of the slide, in the garden.The pigeons congregate on the street ignoring us completely. They do not budge as we walk in their direction. As for the crows, they seem habituated to not having us around for they swoop in and fly straight at us or past us making us duck.
Within the community the rest feels the same- the grounds have been cleared of fallen leaves by the housekeeping staff who have not gone home since the lockdown began. The garden’s been mowed. The flowers are in full bloom.
Once we step out, the changes in the last two and a half months are more obvious. Lines, circles, squares have been painted on the pavement in front of stores and restaurants – a reminder that we are ‘boxed’. There is a unfamiliar quiet. Shutters over shops selling non-essentials remain pulled down even after 90 days of lockdown. The ones that are open, have a sanitizer kept in the front and the guard stands with a temperature reading gun in his hand – he points it at our forehead when we decide to enter.
A few cafes have opened their doors but they’ve placed a table across the door so nobody enters. Orders are taken at the door. Starbucks is open. We push open the door with our elbows. Its been two and a half months since we had a cup of coffee from there.
It no longer has the cheery buzz and aroma of brewing coffee is faint. Its different from when we last visited. There’s a guard sitting at the entrance with the ‘gun’ to take our temperature. He updates our phone number and name in a register. He asks us to sanitize our hands. There are two or three people behind the counter and they’re not really visible in the dim lighting. Only a few lights are turned on. There are squares painted in yellow right from the entrance to the counter at a distance of two feet from each other.
Tables have been kept away in the inner area and that area has been cordoned off. The chairs in the foyer are overturned. Sitting is no longer allowed. While my husband stands in one of the boxes to place the order, I linger around. This was the place where we had our first coffee when we landed in Mumbai, two years ago. It made me miss what I had left behind a lot lesser. Its where I met my new friends in Mumbai for the first time and where I met my old friends – the ones who came visiting on a holiday to Mumbai. Its where my husband and I went every weekend to make up for the inability to go any further with both the girls’ busy with their board exams.
It is where we went for a little ‘us’ time before he went on a trip on account of work ( which was often before the pandemic). It’s where we made acquaintances – people we did not really know or speak to but nodded at – like the group of retired Engineering professors. They were there whenever we went – men in their seventies. Some frail, others stronger but all impeccably dressed in knee length short or cotton trousers with T-shorts or half-sleeved checked shirts. If you did not look at them and just heard them talking you could never guess their age. In the beginning, I’d look up several times to check if the voices were indeed theirs. Every conversation had ‘IIT’ in it. You did not have to eavesdrop to hear what they said. There were about eight to ten of them. Thanks to age, they spoke aloud. I assumed it was because some of them may be hard of hearing. But each time I saw them I remembered thinking wanting to grow old like them – have a group of friends to meet, live in a neighborhood with a great coffee shop and have money of-course to treat myself to a coffee. At times like these of-course, none of that matters. All you need is a home and a family and health. I thought of them now. The pandemic has affected all of us in different ways, in different degrees. But we’ve all been affected- the rich, the poor and everybody in between.
Taking our coffee out we left the cafe and sat on a bench across the street to have it. . While the cappuccino was the same, and I relished that first sip after two and a half months, it wasn’t the same as sitting at the cafe’. I guess we’ll have to wait a while longer before that happens.
In the meantime to avoid being overwhelmed by the negativity of the current times, I’ve been entertaining myself with learning to paint. And as part of my learning journey, this is what I did using watercolors. Thanks to the amazing online videos, the journey is so much more easier.
Note: I did this on a new watercolor pad I got on Amazon. The paint wouldn’t merge because the paper was hot-pressed and overly smooth. For watercolors, its best to use rough, cold-pressed 300 gsm paper. New learning for me. Thought I’d share it with you’ll. 🙂
Stay home. Stay Safe.
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