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COVID-19: Days by the Arabian Sea

By Gracy Samjetsabam

COVID-19 lockdown continues. I am stationed in a small modern town, surrounded by rustic villages in coastal Karnataka. From some of the tallest buildings in the locality, you can see the mighty Arabian Sea in the horizon, far and wide like a steamy mirage. It’s dreamy!

As uncertain as the pandemic, the day kicks off with the thoughts of the “what ifs,” “What numbers?” and “What next?” Waking up to birds chirping, calm sunrise, though the sun’s the same — shining bright and ever brilliant — I wondered if today was going to be the same or any different. It was the same. It was a melodious morning with birds chirping and singing, except that I was missing the honking and bonking of the pre-office and office hours rush of children and people moving, waiting, walking, rushing, driving in or away, or embarking on their respective buses to work or school. My mind was not merry but having decided to ceremoniously spend some time in the garden before breakfast, I freshened up and invited my husband to join me. He isn’t always interested in garden stuff but agreed. In disbelief, he uttered, “COVID-19, it’s truly a Black Swan situation.”

I called home to find out their condition. Unsurprisingly, identical stories of the contagion loomed large enmeshed with gloom, grim and grimace. Feeling cynical, I asked my husband what would happen if things would get worse? Would we never go out again till some vaccine or a solution took the form of a saviour, or, if things got out of control, would we all fall sick and die — unable to get back to the old normal?

He just said, “Don’t be silly. It will be over soon. I mean, it has to …” Watering the plant leisurely, I was happy for those moments that I was able to spend tending plants, admiring the blooms and nurturing my garden. I wanted to think that this day was going to be a blessing in disguise.

Multi-coloured Hibiscus

As I watered the plants, I was greeted by a couple of sunbirds sucking the nectar of the multi-coloured variety of hibiscus plants that grew along the fence in a row interrupted by jasmines followed by a parade of Ixora flowers mostly red, a couple of tall jackfruit trees bearing jackfruits big and small, a middle-aged cashew tree, a budding chikoo tree, curry leaf trees with its young ones sprouting around it like little children gathered around to listen to stories and, an alternate of tall coconut palm trees and lanky areca nut trees in each corner.

In one of the corners, was a family of plantains with one out of the two bigger ones that stood out gracefully, bearing tender bananas. They hung like braided hair with a flower at its tip. As I reached the corner, I could look up to the coconuts that hung so bountifully with spiky leaves that stretched out fiercely and proudly against the azure sky. For a moment I felt I was wrapped in a blue bubble.

I thought the sky is the same as the one I had seen from the rooftop of my house in Imphal on certain days when there were no clouds and the sky was exceptionally clear. But as I continued to look up almost breaking my neck, I twisted my head a little and wondered that it was the same sky yet it was different like a picture with filters. Spellbinding both though, in their own ways. 

Coucal

Spotting a greater coucal (crow pheasant) taking a quick-short flight from the cashew tree to the bushes reminded me of the Hume’s pheasant (Nong-in), the state bird of Manipur, which too loves to utilise the early hours of the day for food and fun. It reminded me of the familiar and at the same time made me curious.

Atypically, I missed rava idlis for breakfast, which I relished on certain mornings in the canteen, and so I had made plans to finally try cooking some at home. I always thought that the people of the place made it best, which surely is the case, but I thought of giving myself a chance. I looked up for the recipes and the procedures and made some with the emblematic coconut chutney. As I gave the final touches and made ginger tea, I thought of friends and family in this cosmic crisis. I could not help but feel heavy in my heart. I poured the hot aromatic tea into my favourite cups.

We were supposed to be home at this time of the year. By home, I mean my home in Manipur. A time we always look forward to, as the summer breaks are long and it has become a luxury to spend time at my home with dear and near ones. Along with the idea of longing and belonging, the idea of home too, keeps redefining with the passing time. And each time it gets defined, I get redefined too.

I remember, the first time I saw the Arabian Sea, it breathtakingly blew my mind. At the first glance, I felt like I was on the moon. The sea was calm and teeming blue. On the contrary, during the monsoons, the sea is wild, rough and voluminous. The sea, the waves, the sounds and sights of the beach slowly, becomes more familiar, the more I visit, the feeling is the less of a surprise but more of an endearing one.

Precarious as it may seem, the pandemic injected a moment of retrospection on the accustomed and the unaccustomed.

I continue to hope. I looked out into the garden from my window and smiled contentedly. I picked up my cup, sipped my tea and thought of home and of homes, at home. It captivatingly dawned on me that it was quite the same, yet not the same.

Gracy Samjetsabam teaches English Literature and Communication Skills at Manipal Institute of Technology, MAHE, Manipal. She is also a freelance writer and copyeditor. Her interest is in Indian English Writings, Comparative Literature, Gender Studies, Culture Studies, and World Literature. When not reading or writing, she loves to indulge in Nature.  

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