Chapter 1 • Family
Every other evening, when the Sun is a little kinder, my housemate Varun goes up to the roof of our building and calls up his mother. We live in New Delhi, his mother in his hometown of Jamshedpur. On the very first day of the lockdown, she received his call with some surprise. After all, sons are notorious for avoiding their mothers. “Phone kyun?” (“How come you called?”), she asked. And without losing a beat, Varun replied, “Kuch nahi. Aapko sunset dikhaana tha” (Oh, no reason. I just wanted to show you the sunset”) and promptly raises his camera towards a gently bleeding horizon.
When we least expect it, our families nuzzle their way into our hearts. Some we are born into and others we choose for ourselves. Either way, they slowly curl themselves around your shoulders until -- before you know it -- you are wrapped in their nurturing embrace. For slightly over a year now, I and Varun have shared the subtle luxuries of co-existence. This man, radiant in the evening sun, is one third of my chosen family: we have lived a year together and apart, in sullen exchanges and warm embraces, in delicate artistry and food like I’ve never tasted before. Ours is a quiet companionship, a love articulated in the delicate construction of a home.
The first symptom of this fever, then, is loneliness. And the cure? Family: chosen or otherwise. So do yourself a favour: call them… and show them the sunset.
Chapter 2 • Communication
I live in a household of cats but bear a decidedly dog-like impatience. One of my co-inhabitants is a little kitten called Wasabi, while another is a feline spirit that goes by the name Shivangi. Both, in practice, have a similar daily routine: eat, play, nap, repeat. Simple cycles of soul and sustenance, wrapped in a very (very) quiet bubble of silence.
Unfortunately, cats aren’t known to speak very much, at least not in a language I understand. So I live my day making (mis)calculated guesses at their needs: offering food, affection and play completely at whim, desperately trying to hide the fact that I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. But as I discovered today, language takes on many forms; for instance, the cat-equivalent of saying... ‘I love you’. Step one: look into the cat’s eyes and blink very slowly (in closing my eyes, I tell him: I trust you). Step two: give them something that holds your scent (in my case, I offer my glasses). And crucially, step three: gently stretch out your palm and…. wait.
So here I was, sprawled out like an Egyptian sphinx, awaiting some kind of validation from my feline master. On most days, my cat would do what he does best -- which is ignore me -- so in a way, I was prepared for rejection. But much to my surprise, His Royal Moewjesty slowly blinked back and gently put his paw on mine. Wordlessly, he let me know: I trust you too, you have nothing to be afraid of. A little later in the evening, as I sat in shared silence with Shivangi, I was struck by the oddest impulse. I looked at her and did the exact same thing. I instinctively blinked: slowly, deliberately, and with profound intent; closing my eyes and letting her know I trust you, I love you, you have nothing to be afraid of. And just like that, she put her palm in my hand, wordlessly letting me know: I love you too.
The second symptom of this fever, then, is uncertainty: wordless, ambiguous, and seemingly unending. The cure, here, is simply communication: not always verbal or direct but offering, in its own subtle ways, that quiet assurance… that you have nothing to be afraid of.
Chapter 3 • Acceptance
When I was thirteen years old, I was sent to attend an army camp a little ahead of Mussoorie. This was, by no means, some rigid military encampment: it was simply a little adventure camp, set up by the army, for the children of its servicemen. Unfortunately, at the time, I wasn’t the most adventurous child. My father, on the other hand, is an out-and-out military tough guy. General Shanks, they call him, even to this day. His hair is never out of place, his virtue even more so: every star on his shoulder gleams like something out of the sky. Ask any of his soldiers and they'll tell you: he is a man to be feared. Ask me, though, and I’ll tell you a different story.
Camping, back then at least, was not my style. I felt cold, claustrophobic and socially awkward, locked down in a little adventure prison out in the middle of nowhere. So the night I got there... I cried all the way through. News of this travels across the camp. A few hours later, a soldier finds my tent and hands me a phone: it’s my father. Now, my dad might be a military man and all that but really (to me at least) he’s just my dad… which means he often says some very dad-like things. In this instance, crackling through an old Nokia headset, I hear: “Son, I know you’re having a tough time. But remember; when the going gets tough, the tough get going”. Meaning, when shit hits the roof, you accept that shit and do something about it.
And so I did (or at least I tried) and continue to, to this very day: here, now, in this weird lockdown, trapped all over again like back in camp. So, it got me thinking. The next symptom of our collective fever, really, is this stuckness: we are all feeling a little trapped. And the cure -- as my dad so aptly put it -- is to get going, get moving, get in the flow with it all, and simply... accept it.
Chapter 4 • Hope
This is a story of two images.
The first was captured in the very first week of lockdown, as thousands crowded markets to collect (and in some cases, hoard) essential groceries. I, and my two roommates, were no exception. We entered a market we had always taken for granted, now forever scarred by an invisible fever. If you look closely, you can still see those chalky, circular scars on pavements around the world: keep your distance, they say, and make sure to cover your face; the enemy could be anywhere.
The second, shared by my mother via Whatsapp, dates back a hundred years to the 1918 Pandemic, commonly and incorrectly remembered as the Spanish Flu. Similar to how COVID-19 is no Chinese Virus (despite whatever the orange folk might claim), the 1918 flu wrecked havoc without bias. The scars it left behind made no exception to the colour of skin, to the shape of a flag or to the method of rationalizing the unknown. Gods and people alike: the enemy spared nobody.
Two images, with one story. The revelation of yet another symptom of our collective fever: Fear with a capital F, naturally occurring and often induced: by the ignorant, the power-hungry and the spiritually-blind. Perhaps the only enemy we need ever care about, grotesquely coloured by our specific biases until we change its name to something else altogether. An enemy that has crept unto us before and will undoubtedly find us again…. unless.
Unless we apprehend it using the simplest of cures: Hope with a capital H, that we can do better, that we have learned from history, that perhaps there is no enemy. Just people suffering from the same fever.