Virus Update


These days we scour the news looking for hope and information and minute to minute updates. Which country is the latest to succumb? Who is the latest to catch it? What will the new future be like? What is happening outside our doors and borders? The inflow of info is both overwhelming and underwhelming. We seem to learn nothing new other than what we have known from a couple of weeks. We need to self-isolate to flatten the curve.

The world and all of us are so tightly connected that it seems almost unbelievable that we live the way we do, day to day, rushing from one thing to another as though all that matters is that meeting we are going to present at or that argument we had or that meal we want to eat. It is incredible that we are so complicit in destroying the very planet we live on by our consumption and travel and mindless use of plastic and cars and almost everything else.

In India, workers without jobs are walking fifty miles or more to get back to their villages, crowding bus stations, the very antithesis to the current problem. Those who have no means of stockpiling food are in danger of not having enough food for the unforeseen duration of the virus life.

Meanwhile my children are able to study online, my husband and I work from our rooms, there is enough devices and privilege to keep us going. But what about the rest of the world? The ones who have no way to get home or far enough away from each other, the ones risking their life to keep the rest of us going, what about them? Because if there is one thing that is startlingly clear isn’t it this that we are not in this world, we are the very world we inhabit?

Love in the times of Coronavirus

I am on my way to Mumbai for an event I didn’t want to miss, to meet someone I have wanted to meet from a while, a last minute and really need to do and go travel.

And so here I am in Heathrow airport. At six in the morning it is not deserted but definitely not humming with activity. Through security in less than ten minutes. I should commend my excellent packing but there were only a few folks in front of me, a few behind, all of us with steely expressions of we have to do this and we are ok and we will all be ok expressions on our yet to drink coffee faces. A small group of Asian men with disheveled hair wearing face masks stand in a small group talking to each other. Not many people traveling the lady behind the counter at Duty Free tells me. Buying deodorant and face cream are symptoms of my vanity and optimism. The headlines on white newspapers inform us in CAPSLOCK that the NHS is preparing for an epidemic.

I told my husband this morning before leaving that it would serve us, the world of adults burning up everything with our plastics and airline travel and fossil fuels and cutting down of forests, if the children of the future in a subconscious state of self preservation were carrying a virus that did not effect them but only us.

How to be Lovely

There is a Brazilian lady who comes weekly to clean the home, stale cigarette smoke a cloud around her, a beanie, black jacket, a wide smile and not a word in English. For a while we communicated over Google Translate but it frustrated me to take so long to say something like, Could you please change the sheets? So now we say what we have to say and we nod agreeing over god knows what.

She has taken to bringing me flowers every week. A bunch of daffodils, the yellow peeping out from closed buds, a bouquet of tulips wrapped in cheap plastic, their potential already in blushing tips of gold and orange. I am at my desk, unbrushed, unbathed on another cup of coffee. I protest always, too much money I say. No, no she says. Love she will say and hug me and then help me arrange them in a vase.

It is a mystery why we are loved by those who have no need to do so. When I was getting ready to be a divorcee twice over, that was surely a question. Now I would be struck off the lovable/datable/marriageable scene. Women came with invisible check boxes–virgin, fair, unblemished skin, well educated, qualified, financially independent (or has the potential to be), pliable, kitchen worthy, sexy, modest, humble, soft spoken, straight teeth…

Disbelief when I married again, picking up my divorce certificate on my way to the registry office. A direct rebuke to dictum–shameless, immoral, renegade, outcast, difficult, defiant, dangerous, impulsive, immature. Social structures will collapse. Children will run wild, hair uncombed and buttons undone, kitchen fires will burn down the house.

She will spend her entire day staring out the window at the grey and gold London skies, read a book and type a word or maybe a page on a good day. She will have eaten before her children and returned to her desk or angry with her husband, slammed the door and taken the dog for a walk or even gone to bed. She will be available and not available, she will be loving and not so much, she will be there and then she is gone.

I wonder why she still get flowers that bloom on her table on such a dank damp day.

Noting

This winter has kept me out of my skin. What I will remember are cold dark days, wet dark days, sometimes sunny dark days and me unable to rest or find a pause of restfulness in them. Being in my body has been shall we say a challenge. Panic, panic attacks are inane words of my state. I describe it as my days of un rest.

Unsafe. It can happen on the brightest of days and moments. The girls watching a sitcom, I am cocooned against their bodies, I close my eyes and I wake up scared. Their warmth and laughter and the evening dark gathering in the air outside cannot protect me from myself. Three girls, how I had kept them safe within me.

The biggest danger in my bed. It is my bed. A generous California king that can hold if needed a family of five and their dog. It leans against the window and light pours in on some winter days and tries to warm me. Or is it warn me? It, the bed, warns me to jump out of it and run. Flee like it is about to be bombed or mobbed taking me with it into a fire.

There is no fire. I know. I can see. It is a simple room. A bed side table on one side with my books and a clock, some medicine bottles, a pair of spectacles, a lamp. On the other side, my husband’s side table covered in his language learning books and wires and gadgets. On the ground near it always discarded clothes that he has stepped out of as he steps into the ones he will wear into the world. He makes it look easy. This stepping into the world. A cozy intimate bedroom one would say. Why, even I would say it.

My body does not let me rest in the room or in the bed. Especially during the day. At night I take a bunch of herbs to soothe and relax, ashwagandha and passion flower and HTP5 and sometimes a xanax or a melatonin. Passion can happen on that bed. In the dark. In the day it could have been a tent in a war zone, the way I flee it. Rest is for the wicked.

Could be that my work these days is all about mining my dark and that of the dark stories/myths apparently lit with the light of ancient wisdom and goodness. I have found hiding within them the darkness of subservience and obedience and coercion that we have been taught since the time we have been born. Sita the queen, Sati the goddess, see how they shine as they burn. You are not a good girl. See how you don’t shine.

I have come downstairs now to the couch in the living room. It is bright orange. More home furnishings meant to comfort and hold a family. Cushions, chairs, tables, a TV, musical instruments, photos laminated and framed, a piano, the back-greying dog sleeping on the purple bean bag, one eye always open like me, the remote near my feet urging me to give it up and watch something.

Noting. That is what my therapist had once told me to do. Note what is in the world around you. Make that safe corner in your home. So I try. There is a brown harmonium with a broken glass frame, a statue of dancing Shiva who went mad after his wife committed sati and he almost burnt the world down with his anger, children’s books and yoga books topsy turvy on dvds that line a shelf. Keeper of Lost Cities and Harry Potter with Anatomy of Hatha Yoga. The dvds reflection of a home I tried to make in foreign land. Bollywood movies and Bengali movies. Lagaan, Queen, Swades, Dangal, 3 Idiots, The Lunchbox. More.

Noting. I ate too much this morning. Sometimes I do it even before I think or know the fear is near. My stomach always seems to know and feeds me in anticipation. I cannot digest the eggs and nuts. The sun is in and out of the window.

The dog is having a nightmare. He barks under his breath in his sleep and breathes in deeply. The sun continues to come in and out from whatever clouds are in the sky today and my face moves from light to shadow with it. I continue to note. Maybe it will be enough for today. Sit still through the light and the dark. Brave.

Tube stories

On the tube a blonde woman in a brown muffler scanned the news.The headlines all in caps lock KILLER VIRUS TWO CASES IN BRITAIN.I went through stations I had  read about no actually watched in movies Paddington Notting Hill Victoria.Life in the tube has its own breath.Stale air fatigue impatience patience.Headphones books eyes on books eyes into space.We climb in and out of the netherworld and I wait always for the sky. Winter summer night or day. At a stop a young woman with kohl rimmed eyes steps off into the arms of a clean shaven man. I remember once waiting on a platform for the man I would one marry.Ten years since then and many life lessons later here we are in London leading or following our children.

London return

After a exigent return from India to London due to some circumstances, I have spent the last few days in a state of fugue of anti-climax. Coming back into my body after several hours in flight between time zones and countries, I started to look at the world around me and take note. A gaggle of geese flew low over the Thames as I jogged beside the river this morning, I met a friend for lunch. I took the tube to class. A woman in a grey hijab pulled my seat down for me while I struggled with my bag, coffee mug, books and I sat down gratefully next to her. Walking to class over the London Golden Jubilee bridge, I saw the same two petitioners asking for alms. One is always bowed over as though in prayer while passersby walk by her, their feet dangerously close to her head on the ground. The seasons are turning around and the days are just a little longer, the light a little brighter. One would hope that occasionally one can say the same thing about life.

Kolkata Day 1

Like the women in Ray and Tagore’s work I find myself today standing by the window, this first day back in Kolkata, still in my airplane clothes, eyes gritty with fatigue and yet unwilling to sleep, because the world is outside these windows and I want to see it and if possible be a part of it. A man passes by carrying a knife sharpening tool on his back. Have you seen them? A block of wood on which is a spinning wheel of sorts that you pedal with your foot like an old sewing machine and you sharpen knives on the wheel. Your body works through it, bending and straightening over the wheel while your hand caresses the edges of the knife testing it for sharpness. A whole family dressed in bright winter woolens pass by. I wonder where they are going. A blue and yellow bus with Alipore Zoo written on it in black paint is stopped to a side. More people in bright sweaters. No blacks or greys or dark blues I suddenly realize, my standard Western garb for winter especially. Two young men, tall and gangly, one in a bright red sweater, the other in a white one. I am loving the colors. It lifts me into being in India and even in this fatigued jet lagged state I want more. There is the smell of wood burning and food cooking and there are the sounds of horns and bells. Kolkata is pushing me to wake up and take it all in.

My winter of discontent

For the last couple of days the sun has come out briefly every day, yellow and gold in blue and purple skies and in the evenings the light seems to linger just a little while longer than it normally has during this long dark winter. I feel greedy for the sun, I want to swallow it up, steal it, put it in my bag or pocket and peep at it time to time to let it illuminate my face, I want to keep it jealously for myself, no I can share it as long as I am sure that it is mine and will not go back to its wintery state of unkindness.

This winter has dragged its feet in the muddy verdure of London and I have dragged my own feet too wanting an out from the gloominess of the days. I need sunlight and sunshine and sun rays and sunniness, all things sun. I need it on my skin like a lover need to be touched, I need it in my belly like food, I need it in my brain to be able to write and create, I need it in my heart to be able to love. How do people survive and live and thrive in weathers such as this? Perhaps it is my own shortcoming but why blame myself for this sunless state?

On sidewalks around London Christmas trees are still piled up in their now inglorious state. No lights on them, no decorations, tinsel or ornaments. They block your way sullen and rude as you navigate the sidewalks. They do not comprehend their current state. I see myself reflected in them. They had their glory in the ground and then they were raised to the state of almost worship, at the center of homes and palaces and living rooms, gifts poured at their feet, candles lit around their bowers, families gathered around their branches. Now banished to the sidewalks they lie unclaimed for weeks, not even a decent private burial, they must wither and die next to cemented roads, passing dogs pee on them gladly, such ignoble ends they meet on their backs and sides.

I am impatient and turn my face away from their faded greens and browns as I continue to seek my sun.

Cuppa

This morning I almost had a panic attack in the train. I was the last one to squeeze myself in on the Eastbound Piccadilly train and at the next stop when the doors opened on the other side of me, I realized I was effectively at the bottom of a heap of humanity. An indifferent humanity dressed in black, their ears blocked by headphones, their eyes on their screens or closed or glazed into the fatigue that commuters tend to acquire in the underground realms of travel.

I reminded myself to breathe as I stifled the urge to scream or scramble, four counts of air into my stomach, eight counts slowly out but that was too much to do, so it became three counts into my belly and six out. Rhythmic belly breathing my yoga teacher calls it and it always helps and it did. I can do one more train stop I thought and I did but I couldn’t stay at the bottom of the human pile anymore as the door to the platform at the next stop opened once again on the opposite end to me.

The girl next to whom I was wedged smiled as I squeezed myself in front of her and I was grateful for her smile. Over the duration of the next two stops, I kept inching forward like this, fitting my body and my big backpack like the pieces of a puzzle through the people who stood between me and the exit door until I arrived at it and stood there in relief. Even though I was semi blocking commuters entering the train, it was a relief to step on and off the platforms to allow them in. The illusion that we are free is an important one. When my stop finally arrived I decided to walk the rest of the way to class instead of taking the connecting train.

Early morning downtown London. The stores still closed, the pedestrians limited to the office goers and not the melee of tourists too and I breathed the air, grateful to be out. Several coffee shops tempted me and what I wanted more than anything else before my class was the good old English breakfast tea, in a cup and a pot on a tray, the way it seems only the British serve it anymore. Foyles was open. If you haven’t visited this bookstore and if you are in London, you must. This five or is it six storied bookstore opens at 9 am and not only has the choicest collections of books and paraphernalia, it has a coffeeshop on the fifth level. A sizable room with ample of light and ample of tables and chairs and space and food. At that time of the morning I had my pick and sat next to the windows facing a rooftop garden that was a home created for bees. Bees need all the help they can get, a sign read.

I got my cuppa and read a book. In front of me on the wooden table, the white pot and cup of tea gleamed silver with the light of a new day.

Satsumas in Autumn

An immigrant is not just a foreigner in her adopted countries, she becomes eventually as much a foreigner to herself. To whom lies her loyalty? To what language or faith or borders?

The view outside my window in London is of other people’s backyards, other people’s native or foreign lives. A white sun umbrella, clothes drying on a rack, plants in pots, a string of lights and voices of children floating from beyond the walls. Airplanes fly overhead every few minutes. I enjoy gazing up at their sleek frames against the colors of the sky. Sometimes they are close enough that I can read some letters and I can guess the countries they are from, sometimes there are letters on the underbelly, QATAR flies by often and yesterday I thought I saw an American flag on the tail of an airplane but the letters on the side of the distant aircraft seemed to spell out Korea. It was all very intriguing.

A neighbor stopped me on the road yesterday. She said she had met my husband and wanted to say hi. We crossed each other again later in the day and she talked some more, mainly about running to pick her four year old and being ready with a empty stroller to whisk her home. I will bring by satsumas to her house today, bright orange, plump with the promise of autumn, gleaming in a brown paper bag.

The wanderings of an American family