A special for the Republic Day of India by Nishi Pulugurtha, what will it be like this year with social distancing and the global pandemic
Christmas this year was a quiet affair like most other festive days for the past nine months of 2020. The pandemic has changed much of life as it was for all and for me. I have been indoors mostly. Work and reading has kept me busy for much of the time. Online classes and examinations tire me but then reading and writing keeps me pleasantly occupied. And yes, cooking too. As the sun mellowed and temperatures dropped a little, I began to spend some time in the afternoon sun in the backyard. The water tank is my seat and a few plants around add to the ambience. A few colourful butterflies flitter around, the neighbour’s cat mews as it moved around.
I sat in the afternoon sun catching up on a novel that arrived a few days ago when I heard a voice. The two little girls in the red building just beside my apartment building were back again. They were at their mamar bari (maternal uncle’s house). The little one, the younger of the two, asked me what I was doing. The last time she was here, she was mostly quiet, following her sister around. It was the older one who did most of the talking. This time, the older one played a more protective role – that of the elder sister. When I expressed my surprise, she told me that the little one talks a lot nowadays. She, for one, still had online classes to attend to, she made it a point to tell me that. The mother looked out from the window with a warning — the little one asks too many questions and that they will keep coming. She added that if I was doing something important, I would be constantly disturbed. I smiled at them.
I answered her question, told her that I was reading a book. She then wanted to know what the book was about. I told her it was a story book. She then asked me my name. When I told her, she repeated it after me. Then again, she asked me why I was sitting outside. And she went on and on. The questions kept coming. She had a small doll and she showed it to me. She wanted to see what I had in my hand. I show her the book. I know she could not see it clearly as she was on the second floor. But then, she was happy to see it. I guess, she was happy that I responded to her. A little later, she was joined by her older sister who smiled and told me they were going for lunch, reassuring me they would be back soon.
I smiled at the two at that window and as the questions stopped and the two disappeared, went back to the novel. The sun was on my back, a little kitty on the wall under the neem tree. As it got warmer, I moved indoors. I could hear their goings on. It was time for my classes too.
Today, I heard that familiar voice again. We have been talking almost every day now. She told me she has a book too. She told me she is reading. She even had a pencil in her hand. I asked her about her book, and she began a tale – a tale of a princess imprisoned in a big house. She tries showing me the pictures in her book. “Can you see the pictures?” she asks. I smiled at her and listened to the bits and pieces of her story. The older one appeared at the window bars, smiled at me and said that she had been reading that story to her sister. The little one wanted to read, everyone else around was doing so.
It is nice to see the book in her hand, her interest in them and in stories. It was also sad to note that they are, like most of us, stuck in small spaces. I hear the voices of these two girls ‘playing’ with the two young boys on the opposite terrace. Their play was verbal, they could not meet, run about or fight. One of the best childhood memories that I have is playing on the street just in front of our home. In winters we played badminton, our racquets would be out and dusted and shuttlecocks bought and kept ready. We lost many of the shuttlecocks. They would fall into the open drain, get completely wet and dirty, would land up on trees, would get damaged too soon. We took turns to buy them. There were plastic ones available too, and though they lasted longer we didn’t like them. We played singles and doubles as well – pushing and jostling on that road in the para (colony). We would stop for a passing vehicle and then get back to it, all over again.
It is not just because of the times we are in, running around and playing on the streets is almost a thing of the past these days. There are other things that keep children more occupied and other activities too. Times change and so do norms. I just hope that these little ones get a nicer space to live in. As I go on with work, the headphones plugged in, cutting me from sounds excepting the ones that emanate from the laptop, I move, for some time, into another world, a world that most of us have got used to in these COVID-worn times. In one of my classes, one student says that since Republic Day was approaching and that we would still be online connected virtually, maybe in one class we could just talk about how our lives have been affected by the pandemic. “There would be the flag hoisted at college,” someone else chipped in.
“Yes,” said another, “but we wouldn’t be there. So, it would be interesting to talk about the scenario now.”
“I saw flags being made in a house nearby,” said another. I agreed to the idea immediately. I would surely like to hear about what young minds feel and think about things happening around us.
Nishi Pulugurtha’s works include a monograph Derozio, travel essays Out in the Open, edited volume of travel essays Across and Beyond, and The Real and the Unreal and Other Poems.
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