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Poornima Joshi

The Vajra: Surviving Self-Distancing - Day 1

Poornima Joshi | Updated on March 30, 2020

People maintain social distancing   -  REUTERS

The Buddhists apparently call it the Vajra; an alteration in consciousness that doesn’t just seep in gradually as one is used to but in a flash, as King Ashoka’s sudden adoption of Ahimsa after the battle of Kalinga. One wouldn’t, of course, be an average hack if the higher pursuit of enlightenment was a real life goal. As it happens, it is an entirely unsolicited Vajra that has transformed an ordinary Wednesday afternoon from the usual flurry of driving for appointments, conferences, meeting deadlines into a sudden surreal time-warp of silence broken only by sounds of birds, dogs barking at a distance and the clang of a lonely gas cylinder being offloaded on the street.

It would have been beautiful if it wasn’t for the overwhelming fear and tragedy; of little, plump Gulshan who was chased back by a policeman on the road when she is so anxious to get the 2000 rupees I promised her, of Amrita who calls twice in a day to confirm that she still has a job looking after Amma and even in the suspicious servility and efficiency being on display by young Nilu whose primary preoccupation under normal circumstances is practicing Sapna Chowdhary dance steps.

Gulshan lives six people to one room and shares a toilet with five other families. She does not have a balcony to clang steel or clap. She is fearful and anxious and does not have provisions to last the next 21 days. And she is worried about her husband, who is a security guard, losing his job. Amrita is a single mother with no support system except the job she has with me and she can no longer travel from Noida to Delhi get the extra cash that I had promised her.

In all of this, I worry about newspapers suspending publications because vendors have stopped delivering them. I don’t know and don’t want anything more than being a journalist, an identity and sense of being that I always believed was the transformation I successfully designed from small-town conservatism and enforced domesticity, some of which is suddenly back with the unsolicited Vajra.

This is Amma’s dream – me being home, near her, washing, cooking, cleaning and looking after the house as I should ideally be doing. The only thing missing is the respectability and security of a marriage and a husband but given the proficiency I am currently displaying, there is perhaps still hope.

This has also been my lifelong nightmare – the sheer mundanity and tedium of household work, the messy domesticity and terror of constant cohabitation with another human being. I like the aesthetics and idea of cooking but I would like Swiggy to be at hand. I am efficient but there is only so much patience one can have with washing and ironing. I miss the easy camaraderie with reporters on the beat, my work station and colleagues, having a post-work drink with a friend.

This is my chosen, somewhat isolated, urbanised consciousness that is shocked by the Vajra.

Through the first day of our national lockdown, I talked endlessly with friends and colleagues over whether urbanisation itself is under threat not just as a physical, tangible phenomenon of long commutes, transport, infrastructure but as a state of mind where I don’t know any of my neighbours and have little to do with any community other than the relationships of choice that I have made. I found myself talking to the nosy aunty next door this morning and exchanged greetings with someone I saw from the balcony (I’m fortunate). And I thought about the way it had been in the hill town where I grew up. People still greet each other on the streets and neighbours talk to each other. And time always moves slowly, like it did today.

Published on March 30, 2020

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