Lockdown Experiences of 2020

Tumpa Mukherjee



17th May 2020 – On a lazy afternoon after completing my household chores which left me physically and mentally drained and exhausted, I decided to take a nap. As I lied down and looked at the desk calendar, I realized that more than two months have passed, I had last attended college. Time flies so fast.

My middle class life of a college teacher in South Kolkata needs no documentation. It has always been very simple. Every day I reach college by 9.55 am and by 10 am I am inside the classroom devoting myself in teaching students, answering their unending queries. In between the classes I correct answer scripts, check dissertations of third year students, as well as do work allotted to me by my seniors and college authority. For last two decades, I have never taken a break in my professional life. I have always cherished for my retirement days, when the time-clock will not dictate my regular activities. I will be at ease from the disciplinary surveillance of CCTV cameras installed at my workplace. No biometrics to record my physical presence in the vicinity of my workplace. I look forward for a life when there would be no unnecessary phone calls at odd hours of the day from students with volley/ barge of questions ranging from academic to non-academic issues. I looked forward for a life where I would not struggle for increasing API score for professional progression. I would live and enjoy my retirement life.

Till 14th March 2020, I never ever realized that so soon God Almighty will listen to my prayers. The Government of West Bengal in a bid to control the fast spreading COVID 19 within the community, hurriedly declared holiday for all the educational institutions initially till 15th April 2020, later on extended till 31st July. The Government of India announced nationwide lockdown on 24th March 2020. This nationwide lockdown gave me an opportunity to ‘live’ my cherished unanticipated future. However, there were moments of tension and anxiety too.

From my childhood, I have been taught to ‘confront’ a given situation. Like others, I too was not prepared for such a pandemic, but had to confront this catastrophe by wearing mask, practicing self-confinement, and social distancing. The most immediate thought as I heard the announcement of the nationwide lockdown was for my aged family members at home. How will I be able to manage my mother, an Alzheimer patient; my baromama, an octogenarian, having a cardiac block; and my aunty bedridden with geriatric diseases. I had to rush to the nearest ATM and collect cash for buying essential medicines and vegetables. As transport system came to a halt, I received phone call from the ayah centre, apologizing for being unable to deliver their services any further. I was in complete doldrums. How would my aunt and my mother manage without care givers? I started searching for an alternative. A chance meeting with an attendant of RKM Sarada mission hospital, while buying medicine served my purpose. She took me to her home at Tollygunge Road and introduced me to a middle-aged woman. This woman had to feed a family of four consisting of two children and a paralytic husband. She was struggling to make her both ends meet. She was in need of money andI was in need of care giving services. Our needs united us. For the first one month we paid Rs.36000/- for her service towards my mashi and mother. In this context I would like to mention that I have my full empathy for this section of population who are poor, underprivileged and illiterate. But from my experience, I have reached a conclusion that such people are ‘expert’ in playing their opportunistic card and exploit and take undue advantage of situations.

Meanwhile from our local medicine shop, I got an assurance that essential medicines will be provided to me in short notice. Even now after four months of confinement at home, a perennial tension haunts my mind. If any of my family members suddenly become sick, how will I get an ambulance or any other transport to take them to nearest hospital? How will I contact doctors?

During the initial phase of the lockdown, time would appear to be standstill. Now I have informally chalked a routine for myself. I get up early, by 5.30 am and go for morning walk in and around my area, which is followed by morning meditation, yoga, free-hand exercises and try to. try to complete all the house chores during the day time. Thrice a week, I go to Lake market for buying vegetables and flowers.

In the academic world, work from home had been a utopian concept till March, 2020. However, after the lockdown new norms govern the academic arena. I conduct online classes for undergraduate students on zoom and team link app. Study materials are uploaded at Google classroom, assignments are corrected and returned online. Whatever time is left, I concentrate on reading books, writing articles for web portals, books, and journals. Interaction with friends through video-conference is the new norm, though at times I miss their physical presence. I have finally started balancing my life between the virtual and the real physical world.

20th May 2020
This day will remain etched in my mind forever. It was a day when West Bengal confronted two monstrous disasters simultaneously - COVID 19 pandemic and cyclone Amphan. From the beginning of the week the meteorological department had predicted super cyclone approaching Gangetic Bengal, had predicted that the cyclone will have a landfall in Eastern India before moving to Bangladesh and that West Bengal and Odisha will receive heavy rainfall. Local news channels were showing lakhs of people being evacuated from coastal regions.

A daunting task it was for the administration too, to conduct large scale evacuation drives by maintaining social distancing in such turbulent times.

Canopy of dark clouds engulfed the City of Joy by 12 noon on 20th May 2020. From 2 pm onwards it was raining very heavily. I was tracking the movement of the cyclone at windy.com.
Around 3 pm it was difficult to stand even near the balcony of my house. It appeared that the wind will blow off the entire building. Near my house I could see the trees shaking. Water was flowing in through the balcony and windows of my house. Rooms were getting flooded. My mother and aunt were fast asleep. My uncle and I could feel the intensity of the wind. We felt helpless and were totally at nature's mercy.

Kolkata has witnessed cyclone such as Aila, Bulbul, etc. earlier but Amphan appeared like a giant monster looking for prey, its prey being everything human beings have created. It was scary!
Suddenly the power supply were disconnected.
In the midst of a sea of darkness, I switched on my torch and tried to lit the candles. But it was all in vain, the ghastly wind blew off the candle in seconds. Power supply was resumed after half an hour. Nature's fury was dancing at our doorstep. We had nothing except prayers in our mind and patience to withstand the time. We waited with abated breadth for the cyclone to pass from West Bengal. After five hours of incessant rains and heavy storms, I could feel that the intense nature of the wind and rain was receding. At 11 pm in the night, I came out with a torch to close the main gate of my house. The street lights were switched off. I saw a monster like thing at my gate, it appeared like a tank had fallen. Next morning, I found my apprehension to be correct. The wind was so severe that it had blown a thousand litres tank from my neighbourhood and the tank had landed on my gate. I had to seek help from my neighbours to get the huge tank removed.

The cyclone was over us but the macabre reality was haunting us now. The ghastly wind had tossed trees, lamp posts were uprooted and fallen around like cards, trees had fallen all around, electric and telephone wires scattered all around.
To gauge the scale of destruction I walked from my house to Lake Market. I have lived in this area for more than three decades. It was painful to see the familiar roads, by lanes all bearing the imprint of the ravages caused by Amphan. The boulevard of Southern Avenue was damaged. So many tree were uprooted.

One side of the road from Rashbehari Avenue to Gariahat was blocked. Local people along with police personnel were trying to remove huge uprooted trees and clear the passage. Traffic movement was slow and only a side of the road was being used for two ways movement. A tree had fallen at the entry point of Janak Road near Lake Mall. Glasses from the window panes (perhaps of Lake Mall) were scattered at Parashar Road. My friends whom I could contact living in different areas of Kolkata, Howrah, etc. had no electricity and broad band connection. The mobile phone connection was very weak and calls were dropping frequently. By the time it was evening, social media was flooded with images of ravages caused by the cyclone. Horrible sights of roofs blown off from houses, makeshift houses shattered, homeless people wandering with vacant looks in their faces and all means of livelihood completely wiped off for many.

The helpless image of human beings, their sufferings will continue to haunt us forever. The lived experiences of human pain, fear, loss and helplessness remains the same for one and all, the remotest area of rural Bengal and skyscrapper adorning the city of Kolkata are equally vulnerable.
The COVID 19 pandemic and nature's fury in form of cyclone Amphan for the umpteenth time has shown us how transient and insignificant our mortal lives are.

But then, there is a flipside too. I had actually forgotten to spend time with my family members all this while. This lockdown phase has helped me to ‘reconnect’ with them big time, and after perhaps more than a decade, I have resumed watching television!
Experts’ discussion on COVID 19, the spike in graph charts showing COVID mortality rates are alarming. The ‘live’ pictures of migrant labourers, their body glistening with sweat as they walk miles after miles to reach their destination, pregnant women walking down the national highways, the hapless face of a mother unable to feed a grain of morsel to her child, are all very disturbing.

There is no fair distribution of substantive equality in our society. As a socially responsible conscientious citizen, my heart goes out for this section of the population.

I do contribute to welfare funds, though I don’t know whether my hard earned money is being used for capacity building of underprivileged people.
Amidst the news of deaths of acquaintances, livelihoods of many being crushed infront of our eyes, people losing jobs rampantly, humankind waiting helplessly for the ‘normal’ to return while adapting with the ‘new normal’, I feel that the most certain aspect in the twenty-first century is UNCERTAINTY and we all have to live with this.

Life in 2020, has truly become stranger than fiction.
I feel indebted towards the almighty for being generous and kind to me in such a catastrophic situation. I have a roof above my head, a permanent job with a moderate salary for which I always would forever remain thankful.

Prayers for those who lost their all and an unending wait fills our lives at the moment.


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