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Amit Mukhopadhyay

The pandemic pains

Joy is a little bit down being boxed up. As days pass, he feels the lockdown to be more than a military compulsion. You just can’t avoid it. The apartment has become the world for him. A lot of plans and projects got halted. Some will never take place. And that makes him feel more down in the dumps.

The paralysed mother exists like a furniture and his homemaker wife is worried about the daughter who researches  abroad. When you are forced into confinement, you need to be free and frank among yourselves. But both the women are averse to taking the situation in right spirit and always complain at the slightest pretext. Each time each news about the new virus fuels up the old discontent. And for the rest of the day it continues unabated. Every other aspect of life stepped backwards. A lot of topics became irrelevant, others lost importance. Some of the lesser problems simply vanished.

The new place of posting was a boon for Joy. For the past couple of years he made the most of its grand locale. On almost each holiday he took Monica to new and spectacular spots and narrated the experience to his mother. At the foothills of the eastern Himalayas,  it really offers a plethora of choices. In whichever direction out of the city you proceed and whatever side of the way you swerve to your liking, a corner of satisfaction awaits you. A small line of hills, a passage to a forest or a meandering rivulet. Now the memory of such outings add to his agonies. The vast open land catered to his new plots for fiction, in addition to jotting down pieces of travelogues.

Now that he is devoid of such relief in so many forms, the grumblings at home get more unbearable each day. The predictions went awry. The reopening of his office get deferred repeatedly. Vendors come to the doorsteps as the market is closed. A good few of them are new entrants who lost their regular jobs. Joy enjoys their shyness, the unused fingers groping for vegetables to weigh those. Unlike the haughty shopkeepers, they speak softly, personally discuss the grim situation, allow to bargain a little and even bid goodbye at the end!

There are other nuances to be felt at other apartments, even in the vicinity as a whole. New sounds, quarrels, whispers, hints of impatience, desperate voice singing aloud offer a release for Joy. He discovers new aspects of daily activity around, especially in the office hours when he used to be away during normal days.

Joy joins the household score helping out in several unskilled work. Yet there is a lot to learn and to feel. You even know your room better and feel what more can be done to maintain it properly. In the process you get engaged and other members get pacified at least for the time.

The only meaningful role Joy played during the crisis was to contribute in the relief funds, both local and that organised by his colleagues. And he secretly feels he responds to the unusual days by writing diaries and short stories that reflect the problems and record different sides of the pandemic. Writing diary has now become a new feeling for him as materials are galore in supply and he feels much more is left behind when he finishes. Next day a fresh surge of happenings surface and the same problem of omitting some of them remains.

The lucrative books that waited in the dark now get a chance. Joy laps up pages with pleasure, concern and amazement. It’s a job done and a privilege availed. But at the backdrop the outcry of the pandemic persists, or the news world won’t let you slip from the emergency.

Joy explores some workout to keep fit. With time he starts managing it well, but Monica cannot be lured into the act of perspiration. Discord developed considerably as articles or advices from doctors are given counter argument of more than normal work on her part.

Work from home starts, but does not solve the problem of caging. The routine of Joy suddenly gets difficult considering the extra work that he has started must be continued for peace in the family. Books again get backseat. Now the film society sends him links for its online film festival selections! Joy feels disgusted to manage time as he gets amused as well in the situation, viewing movies late at night. But that can’t be continued, so he misses a lot of good stuff.

Office reopens. Joy notices the low traffic and the closed shops. Only a madman moves like a monarch, refusing all restrictions. The police in masks pretend not to notice. Entering his room in the office Joy feels something grotesque. It is certainly not his own! He is an intruder encroaching stealthily into other’s space! The room seems dangerous, the unknown virus lurking in the table, chair and every other place! The moment he touches any surface it will get into Joy! The sanitised room gets sprayed again. They provide gloves to handle files. And yet he examines the files suspiciously. As he dives into pending work, a strange silence overcomes him.

Next week Joy takes Monica along on the way to a field visit that has a forest nearby. They enjoyed nature from the car. On the way back they stopped in the wood to feel it more. It’s just a little liberty to get down and stand for a few minutes. The bushes came closer to the road and the trees extended their branches. The silent aggression of the green is palpable enough.

The monkeys are given pomegranates by unseen lovers of animals, as absence of tourists mean lack of ready food for them. The mothers teach their babies how to peel those. At a distance a peacock is interested in a piece of watermelon given. Who normally preferred to retreat or simply escaped on arrival of anyone earlier, now don’t feel scared of the onlookers. So taking shots is easier for Joy who captured a lot. Only the procession of clouds seems to protest against the return of the two-legged creatures responsible for all round pollution.

The devised detour proved so refreshing for both of them and also a subject of interest for the mother.The tea session in the evening sees a sea of change. The only topic revolved round the state of change in the nature.How the verdurous valley has turned spectacular and the wildlife moving so freely.

Joy never tends to take credit in any simple way. In order to direct the discussion on how he managed to convert a work tour into a convenient travel, he says, you need to adjust to all kinds of situations. Only then you can explore and exploit an opportunity. Never yield to adversity.

Both the ladies protest promptly. You never know our depth of captivity! We wait desperately for your transfer that the lockdown has deferred! It is double detention here! Hardly anyone knows us here, no one to socialize with.

The mother who is otherwise reticent, smiled, Joy, you are in good flairs these days. Irregular office work, books and movies on the bed at night! And you turned prolific in writing! See, you can also do away with unwelcome jobs like going to market.

Joy withdraws to the facilities. In the small washing he feels the biting. They refuse to feel his painful efforts to adjust to the crisis. So many new things he has to learn only to keep the job, to change his habits!

Later he admits to himself the truth. He now indeed got rid of the mechanical daily compulsions of the so called normal world. Where countless people face destruction and he can’t be of any help to them, this liberty and relaxation can be termed as offence.

The next day Joy makes out a strange isolation at home. Others have cornered him! His real self is revealed.

Joy starts feeling to be declassed now! He is only a lowly entity and nothing more!

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