Lifelessness in lockdown

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As the COVID-19 pandemic puts life in perspective, we realise that those of us racing with rats, forsaking human relationships, might want to sort out our priorities.

Nothing like a life-changing lockdown to make us understand the importance of cherishing and nurturing our loved ones.

I stay within India, but a flight to where my family is takes a bit more or just about the same time as it would take to many foreign lands across the world. My wife and I have struggled for every penny since we got married. We could have lived reasonably well if we weren’t too anxious about building our tomorrow. But, days into months into years into decades, we — both of us — worked like slaves until we suddenly realised, we haven’t lived! We also realised that a few more years, and our bodies and energy levels, withered by age and battered by work, wouldn’t let us dance or live life. I know slavery is perhaps a melodramatic term, but it is indeed the state of mind when you have worked through many nights and, after one such night, the boss calls for a meeting at 4 a.m. morning and all you get to say is, “Sir, sorry, in my narrow perspective I didn’t realise it doesn’t meet your vision. I shall try and make it happen, sir.”

Anyway, my wife and I realised that we have little time left and that we must consciously consider being a little gentle with ourselves, with our daughters and with our life; that we should spend some time together; that we should travel and see the world and so on. Before, it’s just too late. Meanwhile, suddenly my father fell ill. Just a few days back, I we had travelled from Delhi to my hometown and he, though nearing eighty years of age, ran around to shower his affection on his grand-daughters. Now, he just could not get up and we found out he had terminal cancer. In those couple of months, I had to make several trips from Delhi to my hometown and could not really focus on work. My father passed away at the end of the second month and I had to spend thirteen days in my village for the last rites.

I came back and, to put it mildly, had to leave work. Finances, self-esteem and our plans to live life, all got derailed. When one is out of work, there is a lot one loses. Not just money, but a lot more. Anyway, I did get a job and moved to where I am, as of now. At a time when our family was planning to live some life, we got splintered. We did put on a brave face. But the truth is we simply cannot bring back lost time. In the early years of our married life, we spent anxious years as we were to acquire our own house, build our home and all that fuss about a better tomorrow. Then our daughters came and as I moved up in my career, life was far too tense to have genuinely meaningful moments with my daughters.

Now, as I have been staying here alone for a few years, the daughters are gradually growing up and apart. I have a life partner but am not living my life with her. The years are flying away even faster and there is this dreaded feeling I have that life is almost over and I have hardly lived. Seriously. I did fly back for a day or two, once a month or so. Every time, coming back has been very tough. In fact, I will never ever forget that moment just as I got into the cab for the airport to take up my new assignment. Given that my wife and I had focussed on building our economic life, we never really not got the time to work on our relationship. The strife of building our tomorrow would get the better of us most of the time and we fought ever so often. I would always feel that she was rather callous — she has cried only when my father and her parents passed away. But at that moment, as I was getting into the cab, she cried looking at me and I have tears in my eyes as I write this. I guess, she realised, it’s all over.

I think she was right. Last I left home was about eleven weeks back. As I had planned, I was to go back home sometime in April. But then, COVID-19 struck. Forever striving to strike the right balance between emotions and professional commitment, I couldn’t fly back home in time. To be brutally honest, I felt like if I got stuck there, I might lose my foothold here, as I did when I had to stay back in my village for my father’s last rites. It’s now eleven weeks and about two more to go, even if one were to assume that this is likely to be the final extension of the lockdown and I would get to go home after this.

During the six weeks plus of the lockdown, I have had to spend about a month inside my apartment, all alone. Work did keep me engaged. However, somehow, every song I played on my Bluetooth speakers and any books I tried reading would remind me of my wife, my daughters and my old mother. It began to suffocate me. Not so long ago I would scoff at men talking about depression and so on. But my views have changed, having myself cried several times of late. For about two weeks now, our office has been open. There is some respite from the forced solitude. But I feel that life has just about crossed that ‘best before’ date.

I do not know when life will, if ever, become normal again. That may be a tad melodramatic; it is not like I will never see my family ever again. But, perhaps, like I had been feeling, our family life has crossed that ‘best before’ date. I realise it is too late, far too late to live a life with fun… something that is worth a genuine smile. As of now, social distancing is a compulsion. A mandate one cannot and mustn’t defy. But, simply put, when we were in that stage of life, we should have given time and attention to each other, to our families and to our own selves. That awful sense of “it’s all over” is just too crushing. I know it’s not easy. We all must earn our living. But then, is it easy to repent and regret? To not be able to sleep through the nights and scream, “what the hell am I doing!”

About a year back, the India head of a global biggie in his early 40s just collapsed and passed away. Just a few weeks back, the India head of yet another global biggie in his mid-40s just collapsed and passed away. I am much older. Am not trying to write haunting copy of melancholic poetry. But we must draw a line somewhere. I am asking myself a question. Presently, it’s about the lockdown, but such and maybe even more devastating catastrophes will happen. Likely, more frequently. But, even without such catastrophes, young men and women, many of them with monies to buy anything, are going to just collapse. In any case, what success are we bragging about with so lifeless a life?

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