Balcony musings

At 5.30 p.m. every evening, I stand on my balcony and observe the neighbourhood. The sky is blue with cotton puff clouds, and the gentle evening breeze teases the trees. But down below, there are fewer people and vehicles on the road. There is an unprecedented strangeness to everyday living.

Courtesy – Photo by Miles Rothoerl from Pexels

Mundanities like shopping for bread, toilet paper, groceries and other simple tasks – that one did unthinkingly earlier – have now taken on new avatars. From bigger life questions about career prospects, investments and children’s education, we are preoccupied with questions such as – When to go shop? How many masks do we have? Has everybody sanitized their hands? Do we have adequate food supplies to ensure that we don’t go out often?

How could things have changed so quickly? Not even two months back, the Covid situation was unfolding slowly. Who ever thought that it would crash land thus on all parts of the world! Has any place been spared, has any community been spared? Life has become all about numbers now. We keep reading and reviewing the spike in the number of cases, trying to make sense of terms such as flattening the curve, circuit-breakers and the number of deaths. We have transitioned into virtual living, connecting to work, school and friends through our devices.

The annals of history romanticize the wars of old, where soldiers went to the battlefield, and ruthlessly fought the enemy, understood his every move and used that knowledge to vanquish him. Those wars needed manpower, they needed men to go out and fight.

This is a bizarre war, where soldiers are required to stay at home. The enemy is stealthy and has crossed battle lines and infiltrated our camp. We know that this enemy strikes at the powerful, the famous, the old and the weak, without mercy. We can combat this only by fighting solo, from the battlefields of our living rooms, by not giving the enemy a chance to gain strength.

Let us stand on our balconies and observe the world, let us clap and cheer for those who have taken up this cause, so that we may all be safe. Let us thank the government, the hospitals and all front-line workers for doing all they can. Let us stand on our balconies and not step out. Let us watch the enemy lose strength and fade into oblivion.


Five minutes

I have to step outdoors for just five minutes to pick up something. Earlier, before I left the house, I would check the contents in my handbag to make sure I had everything I needed, and used to check my face in the mirror one last time before I left home.

But now, before I leave, I check my mask, and if I have worn it the right way, and check if I have a bottle of sanitizer in my bag.

The street is deserted, I can see the odd person here and there. There is a strange silence. I half walk, half trot, constantly checking my mask. I meet a friend, who is also wearing a mask. We wave at each other, but cannot see each other’s smile, though we know we are both smiling. Our eyes make brief contact, but we don’t stop but greet each other and keep walking in opposite directions. We shake our heads in disbelief at this surreal situation.

On my way back, I am stopped by a flash of green, streaking across a blue sky. It is the most beautiful parrot, in such a beautiful shade of green. Its red, curved beak is silhouetted against the sky. It perches on a flame of the forest tree, at once merging with the green leaves. The bright reddish-orange flowers enhance the green.

I feel a rush of delight, at this unexpected treat, a small and beautiful moment in time. Where, for a moment I forget the world, and what’s happening.

As the parrot turns its head this way and that against cotton-puff clouds on a blue sky, I feel hopeful, I feel charged. Things will get better. There will be many such wonderful days for all of us again. And at that time, such simple moments will be valued more…we will never take anything for granted!

The new normal

Just like people all over the world, our family is also trying to adapt to this new norm of staying at home. Thus far, we each had our own lives, our own routines, our own meetings, assignments and to do lists. We met at breakfast or scrambled for the bathroom or went around the house shouting and squabbling or teasing, looking for last minute things before leaving home to meet the challenges of our everyday lives.

Now, in this new world that we inhabit, there is no crazy rush in the mornings. By 9 am we have all drifted away to our own rooms and work tables to exist in a virtual world, where online lessons and meetings rule our days.

I tread silently through the house and navigate the kitchen like I am a spy. But then, the inevitable happens. A steel plate crashes to the floor and….the ting ting ting reverberates across the house and enters the virtual world that my family inhabits.

My son pops out and hisses…my husband says shhhhhh. I mouth a sorry…and get back to my work. As I pass through each door, I hear long conversations happening and periods of silence. I gently open the door to signal that lunch is ready.

At lunch time the virtual dwellers come alive in the real world and we have animated discussions about food, and discuss how the Covid situation is unfolding. Thirty minutes later everyone is back to their rooms, their minds travelling to new realms, as their bodies swivel in the chairs.

It is time for coffee. When I enter my husband’s room, his chair is twisted at an odd angle. Without realizing that my husband is on a call, I walk in and hand him his cup of coffee, only to realize that my hand is visible on a video call, with 16 people watching. I am mortified, and make a quick exit.

Courtesy –

Later, I ask my husband why he was sitting at such a weird angle that I couldn’t see his screen. Then he says, “If I sit straight, all our suitcases on the cupboard are visible on the call…so I had to twist so that the background was the wall.” Aha…another new thing to think about.

All these days, we brought home bits of our lives from the outside into our homes. Now, in this new world, we unknowingly share bits of our lives and homes with the outside world. We become conscious when family members are around. We worry about Wifi and charged devices.

Finally after 6 pm, the virtual world begins winding down. The family troops into the kitchen in search of chips, chocolate, ice-cream. They raid the fridge and complain – “Is there nothing interesting to eat?” Dinner time is somehow different as we seem to be talking more. After dinner, we have time for a quick family board game.

The sky is dark, the stars are out. We pray for all those suffering. We pray for a solution. We pray and call it a night.