Sound of silence

Sravanthi Challapalli | Updated on April 13, 2021

New Year Call: Flowers being sold for Ugadi in Hyderabad   -  THE HINDU/NAGARA GOPAL

On Ugadi, the Telugu New Year Day, a chronicler recalls slices of an isolated year gone by and realises that the more things change, the more they remain the same

March 25, 2020

It’s Ugadi, the Telugu New Year Day. I had forgotten all about it amidst the stir about the pandemic and the lockdown.

It is a curious day. Used to living on a busy road, surrounded by commercial buildings and having come to abhor all the noises — the honks of traffic, the jangles of construction and repair — the silence is extraordinary. The cawing and chirping of the birds sound sharper than usual, and only occasionally can you hear a vehicle rumble by.

Come evening, we venture downstairs for a walk around the building. We go up to the gate to see the silence — a stranger in all the 20 years that we have lived here in this Chennai apartment complex.

March 28, 2020

Two of my friends have their birthdays today. When I call them, one is drying clothes and the other standing in a queue outside a grocery store waiting patiently for her turn to enter and stock up. One says it will be a “memorable” day.

My own birthday three weeks earlier was not normal either. I spent it in great sorrow; I’d had to drop the holiday I had planned. It seems shameful to even mention the disappointment given the scale of the impact, the travails of migrant workers and the poor, the loss of lives, the stories of isolation, the galloping rise in cases, the lack of equipment for front-line workers.

Memorable usually has a positive connotation; but to those of us urban souls who are facing what are only minor inconveniences, the days will be unforgettable because of their strangeness — standing in queues metres apart, inside carefully marked lines and boxes, being administered hand sanitisers at the entrance of a supermarket, being turned away for not wearing a mask, washing hands over and over, staring incredulously at empty shelves, scurrying away from the aisles lest the acridity of assorted goods bring on a sneezing or coughing fit, the terror you feel when the back of your throat tickles.

March 31, 2020

Does every enjoyment come with a dose of guilt?

I have been enjoying the silence the lockdown has created. There! I’ve said it. I know it’s one of the toughest periods for many people — they have lost family members, friends, and are in fear of losing their livelihood, their jobs. My savings and investments, too, come to think of it. I don’t know how they are faring, the stock exchange is falling, dipping, plunging. I have neither a head for figures nor the heart to confront the mayhem.

I cannot enjoy the silence without guilt, knowing that I am so much better off than most. The day progresses in silence. I cannot but help feel a pang for the day it will go back to the blaring, clanging, tumultuous, heaving status quo. There is so much stillness and the only sounds are made by beings that cannot keep quiet — crows, pets, babies.

I had been praying for quiet to prevail here and it seems to be coming true. The only thing left, now, is to accept that it cannot be for ever.

April 4, 2020

Have you lost track of the time during the lockdown? Many of us have. I work from home, and wake up with a jolt when I realise that I have to write my report and send it in. I thought I had an extra day.

How do the days get mixed up? Is it because the world around me is quieter? Has the world of work — mine, the spouse who is now working from home, the help, the postman, the newspapers, other callers, whom I no longer see — changed?

April 9, 2020

I’ve had to think a little about what is new in my life since the last instalment of Corona Chronicles. Now I have it — it’s my new protective mask. My only mask, I mean, and it’s new. Come to think of it, I can’t recall when I last wore a mask. In some school play? During a factory visit? I really don’t think this can be my first mask!

This is a proper mask, with an ISI stamp, branding and a warning. I saw some people wearing such masks a few weeks before the lockdown. The panic shopping had started by then, the shopping carts tottering under the kilos of onions, potatoes and tomatoes that people had begun to hoard. The masks made their wearers look rather beaky. I look beaky too.

Some people I know were issued cheaper masks at their place of work. They are somewhat like surgical masks, but do not provide as much coverage. The spouse has one of those. Some days ago, when we went out for a walk, he let it hang below his chin because it did not let him breathe. I had not bought my mask. And then the unmasked lone man walking down the lane on the other side coughed.

April 29, 2020

And now half my savings are gone.

A major chunk of my savings over the past 15 years invested in certain funds are now locked up as the company wound them down, citing the pandemic’s impact. I have to wait indefinitely to recover that money.

I should have been more hands-on. I shouldn’t have left it to a consultant. I shouldn’t have taken comfort in my nest egg. Why is the universe punishing me? Whywhywhy?

March 14, 2021

I have been vaccinated. Do I go for the second dose in four, eight or 12 weeks? Will my blood clot? Should I have got it done?

A fraction of my locked-up savings has been returned. I eagerly await the rest.

The pandemic finally affected the consulting gig I had. It’s been put on pause for lack of funds and income.

We managed to travel to see family between November and January. When can I go on holiday? “Get vaccinated and come,” says my aunt in Dehradun.

But, wait, cases are on the rise again. The sanitiser no longer greets us at entrances. There isn’t the earlier vigilance about masks, either. There are elections too, in several states. Will there be another lockdown? What’s in store? I don’t know, except what was true of last year — several questions and few answers.

April 13, 2021

It’s Ugadi, the Telugu New Year Day. I had forgotten all about it amidst the stir about the pandemic and the lockdown...

Sravanthi Challapalli is an independent writer and editor based in Chennai

Published on April 13, 2021

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