It was the twelfth day of my self-imposed home quarantine with eight more days of vanvaas to go. I had recently started field reporting on the coronavirus disease pandemic from the slums and koliwadas (fishing villages) of Mumbai, a hotspot for the virus. Since I have two young kids at home, whom I didn’t want to risk infecting, I packed them and my husband off to my mother-in-law’s house so that I could focus on my reporting without fearing for my family.
In the last four decades of my life, I don’t recall ever being home alone for twenty days with no living being in sight, except some potted plants in my mini-balcony in the suburbs of the concrete jungle, Mumbai. (I have my daily evening chai in the company of my plants as I like to see the leaves display life as they swing gently in the evening sea breeze).
I love my independence, my space. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say my freedom is one of my top priorities. While my kids and my husband were away, the initial days of self-isolation were well- spent visiting the slums and koliwadas in the metropolis to interview urban poor women and understand how the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown had impacted their livelihoods and their lives.
Since I have two young kids at home, whom I didn’t want to risk infecting, I packed them and my husband off to my mother-in-law’s house so that I could focus on my reporting without fearing for my family.
But such reporting also has a negative side-effect —— anxiety, and a lingering feeling of hopelessness and helplessness.
And when you are all alone, with no one to share your anxieties with, these feelings can push you into a dark dungeon. You sleep with stories of weak slum children going to bed hungry, or fisherwomen who cannot sleep as they have had no source of income for the last three months. You wake up to the news of more migrant workers dying of heat and exhaustion, or a toddler trying to wake up his dead mother lying on the ground.
So, on the twelfth day of my self-imposed home quarantine, after I had filed my day’s story, and video- called my kids and my husband and felt a bit saner, I shut off my laptop and collapsed on the bed. I wished to think nothing. And wished there was a plug by which I could switch off my mind.
As I lay there, with my eyes closed, my mind travelled (thankfully coronavirus cannot stop that) some two decades back in time, when I had just started my journey as a journalist with a fortnightly in New Delhi. Smiling faces of some ex-colleagues, who eventually became very good friends, flashed in front of my eyes. I knew what I needed to do. I had been planning it for a very long time. May be a year or two.
I picked up my phone, this time not to check the latest tweets, but to call up an ex-colleague, who is a dear friend and also a mentor. He (let me call him S) took the call and from his voice I could gather he was happy to receive my call. There is something about old friends. Even if you connect after months or years, you pick up the conversation from where you had left it last.
I poured myself out — my anxieties, my work, traumatic stories, and more.
There is something about a friend-and-mentor. He/she doesn’t just listen, but also calms your mind. As always, S beautifully explained underlying things in life by citing simple examples. Back then, he always had the best of music folder in his computer, which we all used to log into and enjoy. As we ended our telephonic conversation, he sang a few lines of Kabir’s bhajan Bin Satguru Na Rahat and explained its meaning to me.
After I put the phone down, he sent me the link to that bhajan.
In that moment of self-isolation, I realised, once again, how rich our lives are because of our friends.
Positivity breeds positivity. So, I dialled another ex-colleague-cum-friend’s number (let us call him K), whom I had been promising a long conversation for more than a year. We haven’t met in the last one decade.
The next hour was spent talking to K — catching up on our lives, our kids, our work and travel schedule, old jokes, and serious conversations around the pandemic. He hadn’t lost his sense of humour. The conversation finally ended with “Must meet as soon as this COVID-19 pandemic eases a bit … even if with the face masks on”.
As I ended that twelfth day of my self-imposed home quarantine, I realised I had rediscovered a pot of gold — old friendships.
In this pandemic, which has impacted every single thing in our lives, it is becoming increasingly difficult to lead a ‘normal’ life as the ‘normal’ has been redefined, almost overnight. No doubt our families provide us the support we need during difficult times, but friends are also family– the one we choose for ourselves. And friendships have healing power. Don’t believe? Pick up the phone and call up an old friend.