I will be honest; this blog post is mostly an exercise in self – indulgence. I say that because unlike my previous posts which may be considered purposeful reviews of books, activities or movies, this post is all about my lockdown experience.
Everybody has a lockdown story – some more inspiring and heroic than others. Mine, I suspect, is quite ordinary and perhaps not worth jotting down.
So, why write it?
First, because I also see my blog post as a diary or bookmark to the pages of my life, something I can flip through when I reminisce about interesting times in my life. Public reading is welcome, but not necessarily the primary goal.
Second, I have not written for some time now and a small but faithful band of friends and loved ones have been demanding my next post 😊
So my dear reader, feel free to hit the cross button on your browser anytime you feel bored – no offence taken. As I said before, this is my vanity project.
Officially India went into its first lockdown on 21st March 2020 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered one of the world’s most stringent nationwide lockdown for 21 days, limiting movement of the entire 1.3 billion population of India as a preventive measure against the COVID pandemic in India.
However, I had a 13-day head-start going into isolation even before the lockdown got announced. How? It started with a phone call.
The phone rang at 5 am on Saturday morning with ‘Brother Calling…’ flashing on the screen. We all know about that uneasy feeling when we see a phone call from home at an unearthly hour. His first few words “Hello, Tejas where are you? You need to get home”.
My brother, unlike me, is a man of few words. He did not realise how it would sound on the other end of the call. It was less than a minute though before he explained the reason for the call, but I still remember the momentary sickness that I felt in my stomach with a million thoughts running in my head worrying about my parents. (Bhai, please never do that again).
Hearing that Mom & Dad and everybody at home was fine; I think any news following that was manageable.
Well, it was still not good news though. I had about 12 hours to fly back to India before the country closed its door to everyone without an Indian passport.
I was away in Sri Lanka far away from its Colombo International airport and just reached Kandy the previous night for a wonderful sun n’ sand experience that was planned through the week. I still had a hangover from the night before and all I could understand was that in response to Corona virus all countries around the world are closing their borders.
If I didn’t leave immediately for a country where I would be allowed in, I risked being stranded in a foreign country for a long time. .
With my multi-country residency, UAE, UK and India, it was a highly unlikely scenario, but back then it looked like a real possibility and I did not have enough time to weigh my options. In hindsight, knowing what happened for the next 3 months, I think it would not have been bad if I had got stuck on the island.
Partly I was also taken by surprise with this development because in the preceding days, I had not kept pace with the global news. A quote that that I read somewhere ‘Media makes sure every problem becomes your problem’ – perhaps, I took it too seriously and had decided to cut down my social media & news diet. Well, it turns out this time the world problem was my problem too.
I quickly checked last remaining news app on my phone. Hangover disappeared; things were indeed bad. I rushed to book the next available flight to India, cancelled the spa day, took my last pic of Sri Lanka (ref. pic above), hopped into a taxi and in 7 hours I was on a flight to the city of Hyderabad.
Arriving in Hyderabad, India
On arrival in Hyderabad I was asked to stay in home quarantine for 14 days. Living by myself for so long, I had this temptation to break the rule and fly to Mumbai. But then I thought it would be selfish and reckless to risk the lives of other people and my family in case I was indeed an asymptomatic virus carrier. Well, I will also admit that 4 daily calls from local police, health authorities and my overzealous building committee were some of the reasons I could not get out 😉
Anyways, it wasn’t that bad. In fact, I liked a bit of routine after many years of constant traveling and living between countries. Food take-aways were still getting delivered, Netflix was still interesting, Work was almost normal, and so the life was fine.
But just as I was about to be set free from my 14 days custody (as I called it), on the 13th day, 21-days of complete national lockdown was announced 🤦♂. I was gutted, felt like a prisoner who was on the cusp of release after a long sentence and just got his time extended.
A quick look at government guidelines made it clear this was going to be the most stringent lockdown anywhere in the world.
I did not spend much time dwelling on it because as someone living alone I had more pressing concerns – from securing food supplies to essential medicines. The local administration diktat was clear, there would be no deliveries even from e-com stores such as Amazon and not even local food-takeaways.
Also, in a city where I did not have any close friends or relatives there’s always a fear of catching Covid and not having anyone at home to help.
To add to the hardship, as expected, resident welfare association members (RWAs) of many housing societies in their zeal to ‘protect’ the residents, started acting like tinpot dictators coming with up with their own arbitrary rules and lockdown guidelines.
All the gates of my building were closed, nobody was allowed to walk-in or out of gates or even flats unless for ‘emergency’ & ‘essential’ services, the definition of both of which would be decided by the building ‘committee’.
The First few days…
Day 14, the last day of my self-quarantine. hardly mattered any more, given that I was already further sentenced to 21-days lockdown. Since I was already in isolation, I knew the importance of a routine to keep my sanity.
On a typical day, I would wake up pretty early, exercise and meditate for an hour. I would get in the shower and then I would start my workday at my dining table interspersed with calls from friends and family. The day would then end with some cooking, reading a book or watching Netflix.
It went on like this for a few days. However, as things started getting worse in India and across the world with more apocalyptic news daily, so did things in my personal & professional life.
The lockdown had put many people through different forms of hardship. But for some it was a much-needed opportunity to slow down, spend time with their families, self-reflect and contemplate about their lives. It helped them put things into a fresh perspective; Money, careers and other worldly affairs. Sadly, I did not had this luxury of contemplation.
Totally unrelated to the pandemic, the lockdown coincided with major changes at my workplace.
These changes led to many of my colleagues, with whom I had worked for many years and had now become good friends & confidantes, to move on. It suddenly became very lonely at the top.
This was followed with a long period of uncertainty about my own self, trying to navigate through the complexities of the new work landscape and modern corporate politics, plus dealing with the pandemic’s effect on the business.
I could barely sleep at night with constant thoughts running through my mind, irregular and skipped meals, getting short with people… it was pretty much unrelenting Groundhog Day.
There was no time or motivation to participate in Zoom reunions, baking videos or boasting about learning new skills on my Facebook or Instagram account.
Hold on, actually I did pick-up a new skill – albeit involuntarily, but I did learn ‘cooking’ 🥣
Even though I have been living abroad for many years, and mostly by myself for the last few years, my culinary skills were still limited to making Indian masala tea and Maggie noodles and may be an odd curry in desperate times.
Well, turns out these were desperate times. The local administration had stopped delivery of all food-take away & tiffin services.
Of all places I lived in the world over many years, I never imagined myself having to be in this predicament (about food) in India.
Anyway, I had no option now but to depend on my own cooking skills – YouTube was my saviour.
The solitary confinement in the house which already felt like prison to me, now had come to full circle. My self-cooked meals at the beginning tasted nothing short of prison food.
I looked at the bright side though, there was little chance of me putting any extra weight because of over-eating 😊
By the way, dear reader, I hope you have noted my use of prison food as a euphemism and are not thinking that I have actual prison experience.
Coming back to food, I learned that it was not just me who had food concerns, but some others out there on the streets too whose survival was at stake.
During lockdown, not only humans but even stray animals in the city were badly hit. Many of them who depended on roadside eateries and volunteers for their daily meals were forced into starvation.
One morning standing in my balcony, I noticed some local dogs sniffing around for food. Their body condition showed clear signs of serious starvation. With no experience with dogs and building gates closed the best I could do was throw cookies and bread from my flat, but I soon realised it would not be enough.
Thankfully with the help of a friend who is kind of specialist in dog matters and with some prodding to building management to open the gates so that dogs could be fed, the tragedy was avoided.
From childhood I have kept my distance from dogs, especially strays. But after eight weeks of observing and interacting with them, the few minutes I spent with them every afternoon turned out to be the most joyful time of the day. They were the only constant companions I had during an otherwise solitary existence.
I have been living alone for some time now and so the concept was not new to me. In fact, some days I believe if one is living a busy social and work life, it needs to be balanced with time alone.
But living in lockdown, without contact and sharing of physical space with another person takes things to a whole new level.
The flip side of living alone – always it being your turn to do cooking and cleaning, not having anyone around to offer light-hearted chit chat when you’re feeling overwhelmed and finding yourself battling the deafening sounds of silence – these problems only got amplified during lockdown.
Whilst I still appreciate the value of solitude, a key learning has also been that solitude loses its value if it’s not underpinned by social connectedness.
Some Final Musings…
I don’t really know how to end this post. It is hard to conclude when you start writing with no clear end or goal in the mind. But I will try.
What started as 14-days of home isolation, stretched to 62 days in total lockdown with each extension being stricter and more demanding than the previous one.
Undoubtedly there were challenges both physical and mental of living in isolation for a long time; and I certainly do not want to experience it again.
But through these difficulties, there were some valuable lessons too. I would not claim anything profound though, nor any life-hacks to share or boast about. I will leave those things to social influencers and celebrities.
What I felt was simple basic gratitude about all the great things and privileges that I have in my life.
Even if I faced issues living alone, I always had more than adequate means to manage them.
- I was living alone in a 3-bed apartment with all its modern comforts. And this contrast was stark when I watched millions of migrant workers on television stranded in big metros and towns with no means to get back home – living in difficult conditions without work & money.
- Talking to some people, I realised that living alone can be a privilege in itself 🤨 . Some were dealing with the everyday irritation of living in crowded homes. Not to even mention the far more dangerous situation of being trapped with someone who may be abusive.
- Many thousands of people had lost their source of income, their jobs and were staring into an uncertain future. I did have relentless pressure at work too, but then I still had a job, and changes worked out well for me in the end.
- Yes, I was away from my family and was worried about them. But they too were in the comfort of a nice house and healthy (touch wood!). I know few of my friends who lost their loved ones with some were not even able to say their goodbyes.
- I did face some discomforts living alone, but in the process, I learned new things – from discovering that cooking can be a good stress buster to experiencing the joyful company of a dog
Above all, isolation has highlighted to me the importance of relationships more than ever (no, dogs cannot replace humans 🙂).
The word ‘solo’ has been a pre-fix in my life for quite some time – solo living, solo traveling, solo eating, solo thinking etc and I realise I definitely want to make an effort to change this.
Also, in a larger sense, I have come to realize deeply the value of human togetherness. During this pandemic, where a microscopic virus brought the whole world to its knees, the only way forward was together. And this was demonstrated so aptly by the thousands of doctors, nurses, administrators, scientists, researchers, policemen and women, business owners, delivery men, cab drivers and others who kept at their jobs and thought of others before thinking of themselves. Many of them laid down their lives.
This post is humbly dedicated to them. 🙏🏽 😷
It’s been over three months I’m free from lockdown. But unfortunately, the world is not free from pandemic. While the virus Armageddon predicted by few has not yet come to pass, but with over 34 million infections and a million deaths (and still counting) nobody knows when it will stop.
As soon as the lockdown was relaxed and planes took to the air, so did I. After 6 flights between three continents, living in 3 cities and three Covid tests enroute, I am now back in London. Some may say that I am back to my pre-Covid nomadic life. But it’s not true, the world has changed and so have I.
I have now greater appreciation for this life and my freedom. And I’m also looking at ways in which I can use my privilege to help others. I have recalibrated my life based on my recent experience.
Living under the shadow of Covid, I have started focusing more on ‘here & now’ than constantly worrying about the future. I’ve started exploring the countryside, enjoying my runs even in rain, meeting friends I had not seen for long and reaching out to new people from different walks of life. Work is going well; friends & family are doing good.
I’ve not had a chance to test my culinary skills again, but I am more confident now in case I get locked-in again. I hope not. 🤞
And yes, my new friends – three dogs. Little did I realise the bonding I developed with them in such a short time (I will not mock my friends about dogs again 🤐) I was worried about their well-being after I’d left and was sad to say goodbye. But worry not, as of my last WhatsApp message with building security they are well and good. With a friendly volunteer, I’ve made robust arrangements to make sure that they do not have to starve again.
What comes next in this uncertain world, I do not know.
But for now, Life is Beautiful.