AVAY SHUKLA | 13 APRIL, 2020
Lockdown Diaries - When Our Pets Talk Back!
Crosswords and the stranger in the house
" Age doth not wither nor custom stale her infinite variety."
This is how Enobarbus described Cleopatra in Shakespeare's classic, but if he had been hanging around with me today in my locked down flat instead of partying with Antony and Cleopatra, I have no doubt at all that this is exactly how he would have described our Prime Minister.
Mr Modi never ceases to surprise, and the only predictable thing about him is that he is unpredictable! These, and a few other home truths, have now dawned on me after 12 days of the intense meditation prescribed under the Epidemic Act. Time to share them with you before I jump out of my second floor window, having exhausted my stock of Wills and Blender's Pride.
The man is a maestro: just look at how he has turned symbols of protest into tokens of support for his leadership: lighting of candles, beating of pots and pans, self imposed janata curfews. He has appropriated this idiom as his own, just as he has taken over the opposition's vote banks, the Congress's historical icons, Gandhi's spectacles, even America's "Howdy"!
There are no modes of protest left for us! He's done his own SWAT analysis, and by converting his Weaknesses into his Strengths, he has swatted the opposition into mumbling incoherence.
The coronavirus is a grave threat to national leaders across the world, but for Mr Modi it's a godsend in the midst of a collapsed economy, Shaheen Bagh, CAA, Kashmir, legal challenges to his government's constitutional overreach, and a feisty Mahua Moitra. Rest assured these will now be brushed under the carpet (well, okay, not her) by the broom of a renewed nationalism.
He is now the Messiah who will save the nation, the Vast Anti Virus, the Moses who will lead his peoples to a safe haven (minus, of course, the millions who have already left on their own, trudging back to their villages). He has us in thrall. Therefore, after much tossing and turning in my unmade bed, I've decided to support whatever symbolic gesture he demands of us next. I have a feeling it will be the bucket next time: everybody line up in the street, one metre apart, and kick the bucket!
We all have to do this some day, so might as well do it now and save the nation.
There is much I have learnt in these last two weeks, and the gaps in my rudimentary education have more or less been filled up, thank you. A three bedroom, 1500 square foot flat, for example, is not a small flat if you have to mop and sweep the floor everyday. I'm now content with my humble lot and thank the Lord I don't have a mansion on Aurangzeb Road.
Domestic violence in a quarantined space is gender neutral and not just a problem for women, as the National Women's Commission seems to think. A human being CAN survive without Food Panda and Swiggy's but he cannot without Netflix.
Sections of the electronic media have sunk to the Mariana Trench levels, piggybacking on the corona virus to spread their communalism. The demand for hand sanitisers (60% alcohol) has gone up because all the "thekas" have closed – expect something similar to happen soon with nailpolish removers and aftershave. Except in Kerala and West Bengal that is, where liquor is now being home delivered as an "essential commodity" to alcoholics. Hang your digital heads in shame Big Basket and Amazon Prime!
Don't get too excited about that other woman in your flat – she is your wife, she just looks different after all those missed visits to the hairdresser and beautician. There's more in my revised syllabus.
Talking to your dog or cat is normal after one week, but you may have a problem if they start answering you. Talk to your pots and pans only after the second week.
One doesn't have to use Harpic in the toilet bowl after four days of lockdown: the soap and disinfectant you use twenty times a day will have worked their way into your pee by then and it will do the job. And here's a revelation: Osama bin Laden was not killed by the US navy seals: he committed suicide after being locked up for five years in a house with five wives.
The physical dynamics of sweeping and mopping are totally different – in the former you move forward, in the latter the movement is backwards. On the 15th of April, all Indian males will belong to one of two categories: cooks or drunks. And here's a warning for all men: if you have some hidden cooking skills, don't show them off because you'll just be cooking your own goose. Remember, there will be a life after the lockdown, and your wife would have noted your talent. In which case you will be wishing that the virus had got you.
I miss my daily newspaper, which has been banned by my Society because it may carry pathogens more dangerous than what is contained in the news itself. However, it's not the news I miss but the daily crossword. I was beginning to get pretty good at figuring out clues like "Fat fish swallowed by a serviceman (9)" and "Sound clock gives correct time (4)". Since I was almost brain dead during the 35 years I spent in government, the crosswords reignited my dormant telomeres and synapses and I could actually feel the ruddy things zapping each other to find the answer to "Roamed the street with ready change (7)."
On a good day I could nail them all, on other days I needed some help, like the Pope on a flight, immersed in a crossword. The cardinals with him noticed that he was stuck on a particular word, licking his pencil, deep in thought, his face turning red. After some time the Pope turned to a Monsignor and asked: "I need some confirmation here: what is a four letter word, pertaining to a woman, of which the last three letters are - UNT?" The holy men squirmed: anyone who supplied the obvious answer would surely lose his job. Finally, the youngest of the cardinals, not yet steeped in sin, replied: "Your Holiness, that's easy – the word is AUNT." The Pope looked surprised, and mumbled in a barely audible voice: "But of course! By the way, do you have an eraser?" Tricky things, these crosswords.
Excuse me now, folks, it's time for me to take the garbage bag out to the gate. It's my only daily outing and I'm really excited! I wonder if Neerja has ironed that suit I'd bought from Marks and Spencer just before they were coronavirused?
[ I'm grateful to my many friends for some of the inputs. It's comforting to know that we're going crazy together.]