I have been fascinated by the phenomenon of hibernation. I had never imagined that I too would be forced into a similar state, where instead of a shallow burrow in which turtles hibernate, the pandemic would force me to withdraw into the confines of my home. The initial months with their lockdowns and curfews, and the paradigm shift from my fulfilling creative world of reading and writing to a new routine packed with endless domestic chores, left me not just breathless, but resentful, angry and anxious. Add to it elder care, and I had a situation where my sanity was threatened constantly. Being the youngest and fittest in the house, I was automatically responsible for the wellbeing of those more vulnerable than I was. Usually, I take on the mantle fairly well, but with the sudden sea change in circumstances for which, like most of us, I was ill prepared, I had to look for ways to not just survive but also thrive. It was easier said than done.
Overnight, I was loaded with both professional assignments and endless drudgery. All the self-talk I gave myself on waking (including the big smile at my reflection in the mirror), came to naught by the time I washed the hundredth utensil. Taking care of the special nutritional needs of elders entailed spending a good chunk of morning time with plant produce; chopping, blending, and grating till I started acquiring the persona of a vegetable. I did try to make it pleasurable. I observed the colour and texture of the greens and herbs. I inhaled their earthy smells. I thanked the almighty for the food on my table and the roof over my head. I sang as I went through the motions. I did all I could to stay upbeat. Yet, with no time out, no discharge of the build-up of fatigue and helplessness at being incarcerated against my will, I became a crotchety creature.
I refused work assignments that came my way, abandoned a few projects midway with genuine regrets, picked up books but could read very few pages, jotted down story ideas only to lose the thread soon, ate too much, laughed too little, and despite the constant admonitions to myself to not spiral into negativity, conjured up morbid what-if-scenarios. All I was writing in my busy notebooks was lists. To-do lists, to-not-do-lists, the menu for breakfast, lunch, dinner, the leftovers list, and some doodles to add a light touch. Despite fairly astute planning of my time and resources, I found myself faltering and dreading that I was soon going to acquire the notoriety of being unprofessional and unreliable, if I had not already. Was I the only one enmeshed in this quagmire?
It was different for different people depending on where they were located, what was at stake, and the outlook towards the pandemic in their housing complexes and homes.
Ours permitted entry to house help long after others did. But, so strung out was I was by well-wishers cautioning me that with an octogenarian at home, it was unsafe to let ‘outsiders’ in, that despite being tired to the bone, I kept putting it off till I reached a point where I knew I had to be kind to myself. I saw ‘normalcy’ return to many a friend’s and family’s homes. I longed to sweat it out at my writing desk, never mind if it was to stare at a blank screen, and to read a Chimamanda story late into the night without dozing off. Enough was enough. It was a kreegaah bundolo moment, with my teeth gnashing and my body in a samurai warrior pose. I was ready to flatten all opposition to come out of my shell. I had to battle guilt, fear and doubt. I did not want to see myself as selfish and uncaring nor as a self-sacrificing ‘poor thing’. I knew I was neither.
So eight months after the lockdown, I dared to come out of my partly coerced, partly self-imposed hibernation.
It’s wonderfully strange how the air feels fresher, the heart lighter and the breathing easier when you get a window to reconnect with the world and words. Was it all work and no play for thirty-two weeks? Not really. I do have some diary entries to revisit, partly written stories to complete, some adventures in the kitchen with quick one-dish meals, and aha! moments of self-discovery. I have learnt to pause between two tasks, to take deep breaths, to deactivate after every couple of hours, to count my blessings, to stretch and connect with my body, to feel deep gratitude for being alive. I have read some brilliant poetry. Every morning, sunrise filled me with hope, birdsong with immense joy. Through my window, I watched the landscape assume a new avatar daily reminding me of the ever-changing nature of existence.
When hibernation ends, hard work begins. It also means that spring is just a few months away.
Views expressed are the author’s own. What’s your story of trying to come out of this pandemic and try to get back on track? Send your pieces to [email protected]