Sunday, April 19, 2020

Lockdown: Day 1

Silence.

It’s like an apocalypse movie. Deserted streets, dust blowing in the wind, empty tins pattering as they roll across.

No, actually it wasn’t. Empty lane, check. A few cars parked outside the gates, check. No one in sight, check.

I took cautious steps outside the gate. And onward, towards the highway...

No wind, no dust, no tin pattering across. Absolute stillness. As though even leaves were afraid to breathe.

I heard voices from a house; their gates were open. I did not look as I went past. If they catch my eye, they would glare at me: what are you doing outside when there is a lockdown in place? I had to buy vegetables and milk, and we are allowed to go out in case of emergencies, including buying provisions. But people who glare would not know my emergencies, would they? They would only assume I am one of those rule breakers they hear about in the news.

The disquieting silence made me crouch a little within myself. I wasn’t afraid, but had this strange feeling of being where I shouldn’t be. Just a couple of weeks ago, this same street was filled with residents who were offering Pongala to the Devi. Lined up on both sides, making fire and smoke and prasadam.

The quietness was broken by the low rumble of a scooter as I approached the highway. Then a car. I turned a bend in the road. Some vehicles were plying, but not even half of the usual traffic. This was peak hour. Back when there were things like peak hours. Only a few days ago, but seems like ages already.

Am I the only one walking? Oh, no. There’s an old man, shabbily clad, unconcerned with anything, trudging along, to who knows where. When cars passed me, I did not look at them. I did not want to invite questions - unless they were the police, in which case I had a written note that explained the whys and wherefores of my outbound adventure. Which was a pre-requisite, as per the new rules.

(Pause a moment and ask yourself: just two months ago, if anyone had told you that you would have to convince police officers or the government with a written note, about your purpose in stepping out, and if it isn’t important enough, they would have the authority to turn you back, how would you have reacted? Laughed in their faces? In this world, in this democracy! you would have said, indignantly. I have the freedom, you would have said. I live in an independent nation! Are they trying to turn us all into Kashmir? And so forth. And now look at yourself, meekly following rules, Yes, sir, I have a note with me, look sir, with my name, phone number and address, the date and time of my visit to the shop - I need to get some medicines for my mother, sir, and a couple of vegetables, because everything has run out; and oh! milk too, yes I will be back the moment I get it, sir. Of course sir, I won’t even stop to say Hi to my neighbour. Take care of yourself, sir. Thank you for protecting us, sir. Would you like some water, sir?)

The shop was closed. It would open in ten minutes. I decided to wait. A man came up to the store, looked at the shutters and hesitated. He would not talk to me, or even look directly at me, because we are in Lockdown. So I offered the information that the shop would open only at 11. He nodded and walked across to the medical shop - the only shop open on the other side of the road. We have this way of talking without really looking. Our attitude has changed. We see others without having to look into their eyes. We pretend we're not even here. You don’t see me; I don’t see you.

A post woman (not our regular), looking haggard under the blazing sun, with her khakhi uniform and her khakhi bag, returns to the post office. Her work goes on as normal. At least for today.

When the shop opened, I quickly went over to the vegetables section. Picked out whatever I could. Whatever was there. A handful of people had come in. Staying away from each other; again, conscious of each other but pretending to not be. Some wore masks. Which made it all the more difficult to identify them. But that was okay. We did not want to identify anyone. We're all invisible for the duration of the Lockdown.

In the midst of strolling with the trolley, I had to sneeze. I tried to hold it in, but it begged to be released. One hand on the trolley and another holding a packet of milk, unable to get to the handkerchief in time, I had to let go, using my sleeve to cover my face. I could sense everyone freeze and glare at me if I were the COVID virus itself. Everyone is suspicious of everyone else. We're battling an enemy we can't see, who can confront us through the face of our friends.

I did not look at anyone, just went ahead with my trolley, as though nothing had happened. I wanted to wipe the perspiration off my face; I wanted to clear my nose, I wanted to rub my eyes, I wanted to do a million things that were now considered dangerous. But everything is different now. As I waited to pay my bill, a packet fell from the hands of the person standing in front of me. Normally I would pick it up and hand it over to him. Today I did not budge. I am not supposed to touch anything. For my sake as well as his. I paid for the items and cleared out of the shop.

A few cars were arriving. But the roads were mostly empty. Sun was shining - burning is the word.

Again back into our lane. Two people waited by the road, one on a scooter and one on foot. There was a gas cylinder on the ground near them. Again that evasive eye technique. They don't see me; I don't see them. My reasons for emerging from the protection of home are my own; yours are your own. For a fleeting moment I wondered who they were. What if they knocked me down and took my purse and my purchases? I could do nothing. The handwritten affidavit would flutter away in the wind. No one would come to my aid. Everyone was shut up and keeping to themselves out of fear from catching the pandemic. The scene was perfect for criminals.

Nothing happened.

I crossed them and reached home, sweating from all pores. Nothing can match Kerala's summer, I assure you.

I hope the virus would find it unbearable too.


(Written on March 25, 2020)

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

This Moment In History


We're here, at this moment in history,
Looking out across the gulf
Trying to see the bright, free land
That we once knew and have lost sight of.

This generation, the people who are
Alive and aware at this moment,
We're going to remember forever
The battle we fought
... and won.

We're living in that sliver of Time
When History is being written
The Pandemic of 2020 will be talked about
Whether we survive to talk of it or not.

Will we ever find the normalcy we knew?
It seems unlikely. The normal will change.
Can you imagine getting a haircut,
Going to the grocery store, or standing in queue?

But years will pass, wind will blow
and a new normal will return,
Heaving with the burden of the past
and establish itself in our collective memory

We shall sigh, we shall pause a moment -
A long moment when, passing before our eyes
Would be the steep curve rising daily
Before it began to flatten. (Of course it will flatten.)

The endless cries to wash your hands,
to stay away, shut yourself up,
protect yourself, protect yourself,
To save humanity...

How we broke the chain, how we
stood together, even as we
Kept our distance from each other;
How we held our breath...

The sacrifices, the hardwork,
the never-ending worries,
The optimism in the midst of terrible news
One half idle as the other half works double...

A new normal will return, fear not -
It might seem too long, but
We shall see the other side,
When the world reopens after the lockdown.

Sometimes we need a reminder.
Today, the Silence all around
Reminds us the profound truth, that...
...we're all in this together.



This has been featured in "Stories to connect us" by Commonwealth writers: https://www.commonwealthwriters.org/stories-to-connect-us/

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The elephant in the room

They walk around it - taking care 
Not to step on it.

They speak of the illness, the discomfort
The sleepless nights and the lengthening days
They see the wall ahead, dark and sinister
They know what it signifies-
Each step getting them closer-
Nonetheless pretend it does not exist.

They talk of the coffee, the dinner,
And the journey someone has to undertake
the next morning
Secretly wondering each second,
Will the next morning arrive at all?
Will there be a sunrise, a sunset?

When can there be another walk 
on the grass, barefoot ?
How many more rains, and sunshine,
How many more full moons?
How much more time to enjoy the flowers ?
How much longer, this precious life?

Talking of it is taboo.
They tip-toe around it, taking care 
Not to disturb it.

They see it, and close their eyes
They turn away lest it feels itself invited
They say not its name, for fear of tempting it.

It bides its time, 
mocking them,
stalking them,
scaring them...

It matters not what they do,
What they say, or not,
What they pretend,
...It'll get them in the end. 


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Fear...

It’s difficult to find happiness or contentment in this world, and hold on to it. It’s like seeking warmth in the middle of the cold, dark forest. We manage to create a little spark. A piece of paper, a few dry leaves, twigs. And we carefully blow on it so that it catches without dying out and spreads its heat to us, and protects us from the wild beasts. Are there wild beasts around us? We do not know. But as we sit around the fire, we are conscious of the intense jungle around and the possibility of danger. We do not gaze directly into the fire, for if we do, our eyes will take too long to adjust when we need to look into the darkness. Who knows, standing just outside the circle of light are all kinds of creatures, patiently waiting for the fire to die. We look around; see nothing. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Nor does that mean they do. As long as the fear is in our heart…

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

How do you think the world's going to end?

According to my early morning dream, it's alien invasion. Not your regular, creepy, six-tentacled, three-eyed, human-sized alien. These are insect-sized. Of all shapes.

Small they may be, but they arrive in large numbers. And we have no escape. Our planet is doomed.

The story begins deep in the heart of Kerala... Actually I've no idea where I am. I've forgotten the backstory. I just remember I'm there for work. There's a mountain range at a distance. And the place looks like a Kerala village. Somewhere I've been, in some forgotten past.

I know the name of the mountain. (But I've forgotten that too, now.) We know everything, in dreams.

As we stand there admiring it, one side of the mountain goes up in a tremendous blast. It's too far away but we feel the tremor.

We've no idea what happened.

A little later, probably hours, as we stand watching, a building closer to us explodes as if a bomb was dropped on it. This time debris fall towards us... We are thrown backwards.

With an eerie instinct we have in dreams, I realise what's going on.

I pick up my phone and call my mother.

I know she would see the news and be worried.

I tell her that this place is going up. I know it's goodbye. I can see her in my mind, holding the phone and staring at the TV, too shocked to even react.

More time has passed... On the river close to our place, we see small boats, thousands of them with colourful sails, they just keep coming...

And I remember, again with that knowledge we get only in dreams, that I've heard this somewhere:

They come in boats.

The next part is sketchy. We run, we hide; we see small insect-like creatures crawling and rolling all over the ground, over everything they see. They have eyes, but pretty much nothing else, except an urge to crawl over and destroy everything in their path. Just swarming everywhere.

A few of us escape from view, acting dead... And dash to an abandoned shed.

We peek through the window, it looks okay.

We go in and close the door. We turn around...

only to see, the room is already filled with these creatures.

It's over. There's nowhere else to go.

Nothing else to do.

We look at each other, my friends and I, smile knowingly, and we hug. At least we have each other.

We're ready.

I feel them creep over my feet.

I hold my friend tight.

And I wake up. Here, in this world, in my bed.

(It's just like Inception. If we die there, we wake up here.)


I remember the feeling. I was ready. I wasn't afraid. I knew there was nothing else to do.

It was time.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Stillness

Not a leaf moves.

Not a stone takes it upon itself

To roll to a side.

Not a tree desires to sway.

Not a vehicle arrives.

Not a human decides to stroll this way

Nor a pet or a stray.


I open my eyes.


Leaves are rustling.

Trees are swaying in the wind.

Cars swoosh past,

Flinging pebbles to the flanks

Cats meow eerily

Busy dogs sprint along

For no purpose


The world moves on.


I shudder and I...

close my eyes again.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

When you scroll down...

If you are going to scroll down the pages

Know that you will encounter my Life

What you have known, what you haven't

What you have felt, or haven't suspected

What will shock you, send you reeling

What will calm you, or astound you

What will make you nod and say

I have known this all along

What will make you marvel

Or will disappoint you

You'll find philosophy

You'll find silliness

You'll find half-cooked thoughts

You'll find abandoned efforts

And promising plot-lines

That never quite made it anywhere

You'll see my dreams

Concealed well or peeping out

You'll find reminders

You'll find secrets

You'll find almost everything.

But there will still be a part of me

That I haven't written down

That's mine alone

To die when I'm gone.

They don't emerge from between the lines

They're buried deep in my mind.


When you scroll down these pages

And encounter my Life in words...

Make sure you treat it with care

Because you now hold

My living, beating heart in your hands

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Looking for the perfect weekend read?

15 short stories at ₹99 only - for a limited period


"Refreshing and untold stories"

"the perfect gift for any book lover"

"beautiful writing style and strong narration"

Shadows of the Past - a collection of short stories: Available as paperback (₹190) and Amazon Kindle ebook (₹99).

"offbeat stories"

"Stories are unpredictable, narration is very good keeping readers engrossed"

"the stories cover all the human emotions"


Read sample pages and reviews. 
Purchase now: https://www.amazon.in/Shadows-Past-Jeena-R-Papaadi/dp/9387649369/ (Also available from Amazon International stores, across the globe.)

Read more about the book:
https://navy-blue-jeans.blogspot.com/2018/06/my-book-of-stories-now-in-paperback.html


Please share this post with your friends who like to read.