By Maya M
PROMPT—During Covid-19 ...
Agasthya understood that something serious was happening around him. Dad and Mom stayed at home and they did not send both his sister Gowri and his brother Aarav to school, or me to the daycare. They even asked our housemaid not to come. Dad, who otherwise used to scold us for playing in the tap water stopped that and he himself started washing his hands multiple times a day for looong hours. He even started helping his mom in the daily chores at home. Nobody knocked at our home these days except for the occasional visits by the service-providing guy from the nearby supermarket.
Although Agasthya was sad about the cancellation of the weekend trip to the nearby park which was the only outing possible for his parents who were otherwise busy with their work, he was happy that his mom, dad, brother, and sister were always at home now. Most of the time Aarav was inside his room playing video games on his phone. Agasthya didn't know his brother’s mood, as sometimes he would chase the little one for disturbing the flow of his game. Agasthya started enjoying the food prepared by Mom and spent more time playing with his sister. His sister told him that they were not supposed to go out or touch anything, as it would cause a very serious ailment and there might be difficulty in breathing too. He was also a little puzzled to see how his mom started washing his toys three times a day. Anyway, he did not want to choke at night so sometimes he himself began giving his mom the toys which he used to hide under the bed. Agasthya observed a few changes at home. His parents became very careful about not wasting food and his mom stopped visiting even the beauty parlor. Dad stopped getting newspapers and told his mom to pay the milk supplier a lump sum amount and stop receiving cash as balance. Agasthya could not understand why the currency notes which used to create sparkle in everyone’s eyes had turned into being a thing to be feared. He heard his dad telling his mother to gift the free provisions which everyone is entitled to through the civil supplies corporation. From his sister, Agasthya knew that not everyone was alike and there were people who worked for daily wages like the maid who used to come to their house. He inquired to his mom whether the maid Kasturi would be starving or not. Mom assured him that they would be paying her even if she could not come to their house because of the fear of the spread of illnesses. Agasthya’s sister told him the story of her best friend Nita who was very sad, because her mother who was a nurse was not at all coming home these days and she missed her dearly. Nita’s father was working in the Middle East. She overheard her grandparents saying that her dad lost his job but couldn't come back due to the cancellation of flights. After hearing this sad story, Agasthya, who wanted to become a pilot, decided that he would not become one if someone can just stop flights. Both Agasthya and his sister opined that Nita’s mother was not doing the right thing by leaving Nita with her grandparents. Nowadays there are more phone calls coming to our land line connection. Mom and Dad are telling everyone about the precaution they have taken for our grandma. In the initial days, grandma used to be in front of the television most of the time and Agasthya had to fight with her to change the channel. But gradually she stopped watching it and engrossed herself in knitting. Agasthya was curious about this. She was no longer fighting with him to put on the news channel and not scolding his dad for stopping the newspaper. She kept on asking his mom to call and inquire about the few relatives in her circle. Dad asked all of us to use sanitizers before going near our grandma. Agasthya doubted whether Grandma was seriously ill because last time when she was in hospital, sanitizer was kept outside her room and everyone had to use it. However, he cherished those moments when he and his sister would be asked to spend time with their grandma when both his dad and mom were having online meetings at the same time. Agasthya felt some pride when his grandma told them that they were witnessing a significant event that marked history. Gradually, his elder brother who was getting angry owing to the boredom he felt as he could not go out with his friends, started joining them in their conversations and other little games. It was at the suggestion by his grandma that Agasthya and his sister started having a new prayer. Every day they started praying for everyone who suffered from this crisis. Grandma told them that it was not just people with this new ailment who were suffering, but also those who had a precarious condition owing to loss of a job or other things. She asked the kids to hold them in their prayers. His brother, who initially laughed at this loud prayer, began to join them soon. Agasthya was happy that his mom and dad also joined them in the prayer. Mom told them that now all people around the world would face one problem and have one fear. The only thing they could do was pray. From their balcony, they could see a construction site which was very active with thousands of migrant workers working in shifts over the last few weeks. They were slowly getting adjusted to the buzzing sounds. Suddenly everything came to a standstill. They were surprised to see the workers slowly leaving the premises. They had either kids on their lap or cloth bags on their heads. Agasthya’s sister remarked that they looked like ants walking. Turning inside they saw similar images on the television. Although they could not comprehend fully, Agasthya felt a sudden choking around his throat and he ran towards his mom. Agasthya saw on the television that the people who fed stray dogs were now left alone due to the lock out. Suddenly he remembered the black dog who used to be seen in the road nearby and he wanted to sneak a packet of biscuits through the balcony to him. He and his sister looked for the dog the whole day, but did not see him. The disappearance of the dog was a mystery for little Agasthya. His grandmother comforted him by saying that the dog must have moved to a nearby place where he was getting food. Grandma told him about the animals in the zoo, as well as Gods in temples, churches, and mosques who were left alone. Both his sister and he couldn’t figure out the exact emotions they were having. It was usual for the family to meet their doctor at least once a month either for their grandma’s checkup or for their vaccinations. Now their grandma laughed and said it was ok even if they didn't have their regular routine visits to the doctor. There is some magic, Agasthya felt, now that he and his sister were not having their regular running noses or cough. It was all because now everyone was at home and they were happy. Dad working from home was not an unusual thing ... He used to do that before, too. Earlier he used to work from his office and then work from home afterwards. In the initial days, he seemed to be irritated and anxious, always sitting inside closed doors with an occasional appearances to watch television. But now he came out often and chit chatted with them. Agasthya was happy to see both his dad and elder brother coming out of their otherwise cocooned existence and engaging with the family. However Agasthya did not like his mother saying that she had a meeting. At night, in between his sleep, he saw his mom wake up and sit in front of her laptop busily doing some work. As she sat next to him, she also touched him with one of her hands and he liked it. He started filling his drawing books with these happy moments of togetherness. "I need to show this to Hema mam once the school reopens," he decided. Another good thing that happened was that now they were allowed to sit and play in the balcony without the fear of dust. Earlier, both Agasthya and his grandma used to get scolded from his dad. Dad and Mom did not advise them to be inside and they themselves spent more time on the balcony saying that the air was clean. Agasthya loved watching the sunrise and sunset from the balcony although his brother never got a chance to see the sunrise as he woke up very late every day. The children never knew that their dad knew the names of all of the constellations until he began showing them to the kids at night. Agasthya decided that when he grew up, he would touch the stars. His sister started getting some online lessons and his brother got calls for interviews online. His parents worked from home, everyone was around, and there was no tension during mornings about getting ready ad rushing to different destinations. He felt his sister was too philosophical when she remarked that this phase would be torment for some people. Sitting on their lap in the balcony, Agasthya told his parents, "Let us have all the vacations like this, at least for a week. Now I feel more like home."
Maya M is a sociologist from South India who is interested in ecology, indigenous communities, and public health. She writes both in her mother tongue, as well as in English. This is a creative non fiction piece that captures the changes in everyday life during the first wave of Covid-19 through the lens of a child from an urban middle class family.