Keeping up with the new normal

An article by Seetha Jayakumar that appeared in the The Hindu’s Open Page on May 31, 2020

“Which zone are you in,” asks my sister over the phone. It takes me a few seconds to understand her question.

“Red zone or orange?” she continues. “Oh, orange,” I tell her.
“Same here. How many cases?” “14 new as of yesterday evening.” “Oh! That’s bad.”

“Where’s my mask?” my husband interrupts.

“I’ll call you back,” I tell my sister. “Your brother-in-law is getting ready for office.”

“Oh, essential service. No stay-at-home. Lucky man,” she laughs.

I hang up and help find his mask.

Socks in the blue box. Masks in the black. How difficult is that to remember? I grumble to myself.

“Take the blue striped. It will go with your shirt,” I tell him when he picks a black one. “And here is your lunch and sanitiser bottle.” I hand him both in a freshly washed cloth bag.

“Enjoy your WFH,” he says stepping out.

“With ever-hungry kids, a slow Internet and a never-ending job list, that is a tall order,” I say. I close the door behind him and start my daily disinfecting routine. Light switches, door handles, key boards…

“Aren’t you being a bit paranoid,” asks my son watching me clean the buttons on the remote with a baby cotton bud.

“I wouldn’t have been, if you guys were more responsible. Look at this,” I show him the greasy fingerprints on the remote.

“Amma, I have my Zoom classes now. Can you guys keep your voices down?” the younger one bursts into the room munching on something. “And please don’t barge into my room without knocking.”

“By the way, did you wash your hands properly before snacking on that thing,” I ask her.

“Yep. You don’t have to ask me that all the time. I am not in kindergarten, you know,” she says.

“She did, Amma. I heard her singing happy birthday twice. It was hilarious.” My son guffaws and she stomps off to her room.

“Sabjiwala is here.” I get a notification from my housing society’s WhatsApp group. I look at the clock. I have been assigned the 9 to 9.30 slot. Ten people at a time.

I mask up and walk down three flights of stairs to join the queue. At the landing, a man in a tracksuit runs past me, keeping no distancing whatsoever. What a nerve! I flap my hands in the air, almost involuntarily, as if to chase off any germs that might have rolled off him.
In the apartment compound, the queue looks longer than I expected. There are more than the permitted 10 people. Someone waves at me. Is it my next-door neighbour or the one from the other block? With the distance and the mask, it’s difficult to tell.

By the time I reach the front of the queue, there is hardly any good stuff left. Dejected, I climb the three flights back home to find the children watching TV, the volume set high. “The teacher’s Wi-Fi isn’t working. So class cancelled,” my daughter tells me happily.

“You can finish your class projects then,” I tell her, removing my mask and breathing freely. “No. We are watching Contagion. It’s about this deadly virus,” she says enthusiastically.

“Why do you want to watch it now? It’s scary, as it is,” I tell her. “We are mentally preparing for the worst,” the elder one laughs.

“It’s no laughing matter. People are dying, you know.” I express my disagreement on the matter.

“Come on, Amma. Take it easy. The virus is going to be here for a long time. We will lose our sanity if we are serious and scared all the time. Let us stay positive and learn to live with it,” he says sagely.

I am impressed. “You’re right. There is no point in worrying. Let us stay positive. Maybe we should do something productive. Together. Like cooking. What do you say?” I am super thrilled.

“Hmm… I don’t know,” he shrugs.

“Come on. Cooking is a life skill. It will be useful for you in the future as well, like when you stay in a hostel. Let us do it. Today.” I get carried away and jot down in my mind a list of things to make.

“Maybe tomorrow, Amma. I have to finish my project first,” the younger one says, scooting off to her room. “I too have an assignment to do,” says the elder and disappears.

“Let us do it tomorrow then,” I shout after them. I wait for an answer, but all I could hear is the sound of doors being shut.

As I log on to my office’s website and get ready for WFH, I feel strangely relieved that at least some things are still the old normal.