A book of short stories on the lockdown

Gayatri Gill   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

For a couple of months now we have been staring down the barrel of a dystopian summer. No camping trips, no swim in the community pool and no family holidays. Just lots of peace, quiet, and communion with Nature. And, plenty of domestic violence, melancholy and murder.

Of course, some have to get out to work for survival while others have upped and left home for elsewhere where they have hunkered down to record these strange times. Gayatri Gill is one such writer who has written her debut book The Day Before Today: Lockdown Stories (published by Speaking Tiger) while the Coronavirus made us beat a forced retreat to our homes.

Over phone from Goa, where she is living out the pandemic with her two children, Mumbai-based Gayatri says, “We are living in such a tumultuous time; all boxed in. Getting these emotions out was cathartic for me.”

Writing is an old, familiar haunt for Gayatri, who has been scriptwriter, producer, and co-founder of Swastik Productions, and has spent more than a decade working in digital, animation and documentary formats. The 15 stories have been illustrated by Niyati Singh, who is lead researcher of the India Justice Report at the Tata Trusts.

“I was raised in Delhi and worked in Pune and Mumbai with mass media. Working on documentaries has helped me perceive the unusual,” says Gayatri, on how she came to tell the short stories in her book that were first written as WhatsApp forwards for family and friends.

“The idea to write first struck on March 25, when we went into lockdown. The book has lived its own journey since. I never thought of it as a physical book. After five stories did the rounds, the publisher got in touch for an e-book,” says Gayatri adding that she wrote five more and then another five, dwelling on nearly every aspect of the lockdown.

‘The Day Before Today: Lockdown Stories’ published by Speaking Tiger

‘The Day Before Today: Lockdown Stories’ published by Speaking Tiger   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The stories, written in the early months of lockdown, strangely seemed to have predicted the future, especially some of the terms that crowd our vocabulary now. “A lot of the stories came from reading the news. Fact and fiction merged,” says Gayatri, adding that when she wrote her story on the containment zone, it was still not a walled off concept.

Written in-between work from home, the book begins with Day One, the story of a widow crushed under the burden of living with her in-laws, young children, the annoying sight of her brother-in-law sitting where her husband used to and the awful truth of having to live with a glorified image of her dead husband. The closing line of the story is a zinger and sets the tone for the rest of the book.

There on, the stories, running into a page or two, dwell on a particular emotion and move on. There are the stories of a family that discovers fun and baking late one night because there is no school on the morrow; there is Sia trying to time her visit to the supermarket so that she can bump into her crush; colony apps that restrict walks and jogs around the neighbourhood; a matter-of-fact murderer who decides to come back from work and clean up the mess, and a child holding on to a pandemic blanket and the memory of a grandparent when the world turns cold.

Scary, poignant and melodramatic with cliff-hanger endings and tight-fisted storytelling, the book is brought to life by Niyati’s sombre illustrations. The stories, like our present world, stand at a razor’s edge holding a precise mirror to the times we live in, to instances we recognise happening around us. Gayatri, who is now working on a children’s book, says she has no plans to write a sequel portraying a post-COVID world, but ends the book with a note of hope for the Day After Tomorrow.

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Printable version | Jul 27, 2021 10:37:58 AM |

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