Home-quarantine: Through the Eyes of a seven-year-old
When she went to her weekly ballet class on Saturday, 14th March, Srishti had no idea that her normal school routine was about to change drastically. On Saturday, 15th March, the West Bengal State Government declared suspension of all classes and exams in all educational institutions of the state till 31st March – to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus. I broke the news to Srishti only on Sunday night. She gave me a quizzical look… but thankfully was very sleepy and didn’t proceed to ask any question.
Just a day later, the suspension was extended to 15th April. The whole of that week, her international school & the private undergraduate college where I teach, like all other educational institutions, were frantically trying to re-adjust to the new reality – working out the modalities of conducting online classes and working/learning from home. I was caught up in it both as parent and teacher, wondering whether this session/semester can get back on normal track at all. Towards the end of the week, a ‘janta’ curfew was declared on Sunday, 22 March. No sooner was it over that we came to know that there would be a ‘lockdown’ from Monday evening to Friday. But just a day later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation, declaring the extension of the lockdown till 15 April. In 10 days - from 14 to 24 March, to be precise - the enormity of the crisis was brought home to Indians, many of whom had deluded themselves to be immune from such a calamity.
My life, like everyone else’s, has been vastly affected by this lockdown. Working from home, with a child and elderly parent, and in the absence of all domestic help, is a challenge that I’m still in the process of figuring out how best to handle. But as the situation turned from bad to worse, and a looming threat morphed into an unprecedented crisis, it’s my daughter’s response to it that I tracked carefully - half-amazed/half-amused.
Here’s her journey - in dialogue, text and image.
Monday, 16 March 2020 - Day 1:
“Mama, can we visit Damayanti and Anaya, and they come here during these 15 days? We’ll have such FUN!”
I tell her that that’s precisely what we can’t do: what is keeping her from school is also what will not allow her to visit her friends. She is crestfallen. Tears well up in her eyes immediately… a big tight hug and a bit of cooing about video-chats saves the day.
Tuesday, 17 March 2020 - Day 2:
I make her a home-school routine. She is super-duper excited. Like me, she loves planning! And very helpfully suggests:
“Mama, you also make a routine for yourself, ok? We’ll work together. It’ll be such FUN!”
I love it when she says that, the way she says that - “such FUN” - with the involuntary stress on “FUN”; her eyes closed, her small palms joining in a joyous clap. Her ability to be happy with the littlest of things is a daily reminder for me of the innocence of childhood. She’s actually in the habit of saying “It’ll be such FUN!” for a wide range of reasons – but I’m floored whenever she includes an activity with me in that list!
Wednesday, 18 March 2020 - Day 3:
This is a day of reckoning. Her life has gone for a toss by an invisible enemy, and she deals with it fair and square in her English ‘composition’ of the day:
“My school is closed because of cronona varies.
I am not geting close to anyone because of that too.
I have been asked to wash my hands every one hour.
I am not touching anyone because they have infection and I don’t want to sraed it that why.
Mama has made a small rooteen for me and I am trying to follow that.
And now I am stuck with mama in the house. (Evidently, she’s not having fun with me!)
I am staying away from meet and fish.
I am not going to any place and I am not going anywhere outside.”
Thursday, 19 March 2020 - Day 4:
There is an accidental pink co-ordination in her outfit after her bath. And she also chances upon her misplaced pink sunglasses the same afternoon. What do you think happens?
“Mama”, I hear, while working on something (can’t recall what). I look up: there she is, giving me a pose. (She can pose anytime, anywhere)! We have a small photo session.
Friday, 20 March 2020 - Day 5:
She is furious with me:
“The whole day you are saying, “Don’t do this”, “Don’t do that”… “Don’t touch this”, “Don’t kiss”, “Don’t put your hand inside your mouth”, “Don’t rub your eyes”…
She continues with some gibberish, and then… makes faces at me. I am appalled. But before I can respond to that verbally, she storms out of the bedroom.
“WE HAVE TO BE CAREFUL, beta”, I shout back, helplessly….
Saturday, 21 March 2020 - Day 6:
Her dad gifts her a portable chess board which he had ordered online. She learns the preliminaries of the game from him with great interest. But she is far more intrigued with the mechanism of the item: the wooden square board folds into a rectangular box, with all the combatants encased in a green velvet cushion inside. She opens the box into a board and shuts it back into a box innumerable times that evening, taking out and putting back the double kings and queens, bishops and knights, and the rest of the gang. She gives them the freedom of movement that she is being denied.
Sunday, 22 March 2020 - Day 7:
Srishti is in a lazy mood in the morning. That doesn’t change much in the afternoon, but at some point, she plonks herself down on the sofa and making a table of her upraised knees, draws a set of flowers and a ballerina. I’m surprised to see the firm breasts and cleavage of the ballerina (never mind her face and palms); but I love the flowers, especially the rose. The orange tinge on the left petal and the yellow tint on the left leaf are “because of the sunlight falling on it”, she tells me. Her drawing teacher has taught her that, I’m informed. Her own favourite is the other (undefined) flower: she is mightily impressed with herself with the shading she has been able to accomplish with her colour pencils. “Just pencils”, she adds, in case I’ve missed the point.
Monday, 23 March 2020 - Day 8:
It’s exactly a week that she’s at home, and she’s bored to death. I know it when she is pissed off with, of all things, PEPPA PIG! She is supposed to have outgrown Peppa long time back. But she loves watching the series; and by now, probably knows all the dialogues of all the episodes by heart. I frequently see her mouthing the dialogues of Peppa or George or Suzy Sheep or Rebecca Rabbit while having her dinner – finishing a sentence someone has just begun or giving a response before it comes. And I see her laughing at the end of every episode with Peppa and her family, their backs to the ground and bellies thrust up.
But tonight she hungers for something new: “Why do they show the SAME episodes over and over again?
I’m genuinely surprised. But I also know that a lot will happen in the next few hours. Getting bored can be very productive: Srishti is at her creative best during these spells.
So first: she transformed herself into a fairy; and then, late at night, when her sleep just won’t come (because, uncharacteristically, she has slept during the day), I ask her to style my hair. I need to write… and there’s no other way of engaging her while I do so. Immediately, she’s all fired up: with her small arsenal of clips and bands, she gets down to being the hairstylist, expertly commenting on the quality of my hair, of the need to oil it regularly, how the styling could have been so much better if it was longer, etc. etc…
Tuesday, 24 March 2020 - Day 9:
The happy effect of the hairstyling wears off with sleep. She wakes up with a rage and writes an angry letter to Corona Virus.
“Dear Corona Virus,
I would like you to get out of earth and travel to Mars, it’s lovely there, nobody is there, and nobody will try to harm you. If you stay here I will beat you! And sqish you and kill you. If you don’t want that to happen then you better get lost from here.
Angry regards from Srishti.”
The PM will address the nation at 8 pm, we are told the whole day long. Srishti listens to the address in Hindi. I translate it for her in Benglish (Bengali + English). The PM is earnestly requesting the citizens to draw a “Laxmanrekha” around their homes, and warning them of the dire consequences that will follow if they don’t.
Srishti knows the story of the Ramayana and understands the significance of the epic reference. She is quiet for a while and huddles close to me. After a long lovey-dovey session, I connect her to a friend of hers. They video-chat for a whole hour: she looks and sounds the happiest in 9 days! I have never been more grateful to WhatsApp than I was that night.
Wednesday, 25 March 2020 - Day 10:
I tell her I’ll be writing a post about her quarantine. She is delighted! As I select the photos and list down her activities of the last 10 days, date-wise, in preparation for the post, she sits by me and directs the photo-edits.
“I love to see you write, Mama”, she tells me, before konking off. I melt!
While I write the post, she turns 180 degrees in bed, and is now finally sprawled out diagonally across it, in magnificent abandon. Time for me to join her!
I'm dealing with the other end of the problem, trying to support my 94 year-old mother nearby while my children worry frantically that my husband and I should be self-isolating because of his health issues. We are, pretty much.. but I can't completely abandon my mother! Her cleaner has, though I begged her not to. All over the UK there are elderly widowed parents struggling to look after themselves because their usual support network has collapsed and their children are frightened of unwittingly giving them the virus. It's for the best of reasons but the result is a different kind of suffering for the elderly.
I feel so sad hearing about your experience of battling between conflicting loyalties... it must be so hard on you. I can understand both your natural desire to support your mother & your children's concern about you. Both of you are impelled by filial love.
The state of the elderly during the current crisis is really pathetic... I earnestly hope we'll come out of this sooner than later.
Stay safe. Stay well.
You'll be in my prayers.
Hope you manage to keep Srishti occupied. What a bright little thing she is!