March 18 A call from my daughter. Manipal University has suspended the semester and all students have been asked to vacate immediately. She is upset. I tell her that it is a global situation. Then comes the question—to retain the flat or to vacate it? It has been my reading and writing place for the past two years. I love it, but how will I pay the rent? Especially, when there is news that a complete lockdown is round the corner. There is no guarantee that I can go there in the next three or four months. We decide to vacate. It is a busy night, talking to the house owner, coordinating with our daughter. She has to submit an assignment on the 21st. My husband will set out the next day and bring her and our things home.
March 19 I have a deadline to meet. Tension is escalating ahead of the PM’s address. Was he about to announce an Emergency? We are in front of the TV at 7pm to watch Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s press meet. He announces a package of Rs 20,000 crore for Covid-19 relief. The Prime Minister’s address starts at 8pm. He announces a Janata Curfew on the 22nd. I was expecting a comprehensive package and an overview. There is nothing. Only the curfew. We are already unsettled. Now that there is a curfew, the journey has to be advanced. The next two hours are spent cancelling previous plans. Complete exhaustion. Total uncertainty.
March 20 The Nirbhaya rape convicts have been hanged. The newspaper headlines shout: Justice to Nirbhaya. As the author of Hangwoman, I get invited on TV for a discussion. This is interesting. I wrote a novel criticising misogyny and the death sentence and the media decides to invite me for a panel discussion on the death sentence! I refuse politely. But then it is a busy day. Husband sets out by 11 am with masks, bottles of water, sanitiser and packed food to fetch daughter. He reaches late in the night. My mom, meanwhile, says she wants to leave since people above 65 have been advised to stay away from migrants. That means more stress. But her domestic help agrees to stay. In between, I have to do a final edit for my novel that is being serialised. I can’t concentrate.
March 21 There are more birds calling out than before. I wake up to the sound of two drongos. The first phone call of the day is to Manipal. They have finished packing and cooking for the road and are now waiting for the vehicle, which got delayed at a checkpost. Karnataka Police will inspect cars from Kerala and the post will be closed by 2 pm. Which means they have to drive past in an hour-and-a-half. It feels like a suspense movie. What if the checkpost closes before they reach? Will they have to wait till the 23rd? What will they do for food? Daughter calls to say that her friends are stranded. The car crosses the checkpost at 1.30 pm. We are all relieved. Now there is another hurdle. Because of the janata curfew tomorrow, there is heavy traffic on the road. I decide to stay awake and write till they get home.
March 22 They reach at 3 am. We all go to sleep somewhat relaxed. As soon as she wakes up, daughter calls the Direct Intervention System for Health Awareness, and informs them that they have arrived from Mangalore. She is asked to self-quarantine for the next 14 days. She has to be confined to her room. She says her father also travelled. He is also advised to remain so. They sleep all day, waking up when we hear the lone banging of a plate from a nearby house. So it was time to clap and bang the plate. Kerala has 15 more positive cases and is under total lockdown. Funny videos pour in, showing people from other states celebrating the curfew by parading in the streets banging the plates. A superstar says on TV clapping hands has the effect of chanting a mantra that kills the viruses and bacteria. Trolls have a field day.
March 23 A friend calls and asks me how I feel about quarantine. I try to philosophise that each of us observes a sort of internal quarantine in any relationship. She says a relationship is about social and physical proximity. My argument is that a discreet distancing is integral to every relationship. She says she finds it difficult to time out when she is anxious. A friend of hers is locked down in Spain. He writes to her about his loneliness. There is nothing to do. There is news about the Malayalee Covid-19 patient who refuses to reveal where all he travelled. Hospital staff says he is spitting around. I search for workout videos. I watch one. It makes me feel I have burnt a lot of calories.
March 24 I give the workout a shot. It feels good. I feel like a new person. Lockdown ought to help me shed the excess kilos. But then there is work to do. I have to edit my novel. And write a preface for a book. A friend calls to tell me that her brother is critical in the US. He has been in cancer care. She is upset that she can’t go there. The Prime Minister addresses the country again. He announces a complete lockdown for 21 days. I wish there was more testing too. In Kerala, there is severe criticism of the government for not shutting down liquor shops. There are also Facebook discussions on the after-effects of forcing alcoholics into withdrawal. I think about people who love alcohol more than themselves. Is it the poor alone who will be in peril? Suddenly I am reminded of a sentence from the book Jahangir by Parvati Sharma: ‘Salim’s true romance, his lifelong passion, wasn’t Anarkali but alcohol.’ I decide I am going to read it again.
March 25 One more tested positive in Idukki, our neighbouring district. He is a block panchayat member. He has travelled from the north to the south and even visited the Chief Minister’s office. A health worker tests positive in my town. A friend tells me how her brother and his family in Australia drove around to find food. I try to imagine the situation. What will be our plight if the lockdown continues? I am optimistic. There will be a way. Humans have always found a way. So has nature. There are many reports of wild animals on the streets. I enjoy watching a crow pheasant couple flying about our coconut tree. And I have to finish a chapter.
March 26 Publishers call to inform me that PDFs and audio books violating copyright rules are in circulation. They have issued a press release and a video to make readers aware. I am requested to share it. I finish one article.
March 27 My friend’s brother passes away in the US. She is crying. She can’t go, can’t even meet siblings. They have to wait till the lockdown ends to hold a memorial service. It is painful. Then there is the alarming exodus of migrant labourers in Delhi. How is it that only these citizens have to bear the brunt of every crisis in our country?
March 28 I wake up dreaming about my only sister, who lives in the UAE. I wonder when I will see her again. What if no aircraft were ever to fly again? I ask a geneticist friend to test me for the gene of lunacy. She laughs and sends me a link. It is a free personality test. It is not too late to discover who I am, at the age of 50. I sincerely take the test and find that I belong to the personality shared by 4 per cent of the global population. I feel good. They predict I am a mediator. A mediator-type person can lose themselves in their quest for good. They communicate deeply using metaphors. And they want to become authors! My friend also tells me about a course on the Science of Happiness offered by Yale. It seems fascinating. But then, there is more work. The Happiness course will have to wait.
March 29 The day starts with friction. I have a mild temperature and discomfort in the throat. All are worried. I am already drawing my route map for the past three months. In Kottayam, too, migrant labourers are out on the streets demanding conveyance to their home towns. It turns out someone told them that if they protested, they too would get buses to go back. My temperature remains the same. I have to file an article for a newspaper.
March 30 A reporter calls me for lockdown tips. I tell them I am no celebrity. Actually, all my life has been a lockdown. There are many deadlines to meet. A TV channel asks me to participate in their discussion to bring awareness on the situation. I request them to spare me if they are looking for lockdown tips. The girl who calls swears they are not. Once I am in front of the camera, the discussion is on how to spend your lockdown period happily. I am flabbergasted. I have no tips to offer. I try to share my worries, instead. I am worried. What if there is community spread already? What if Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh keep their borders closed and the flow of food items into Kerala does not resume? I tell them that nature is teaching us a lesson. This virus is a socialist virus. It wants to teach us that nobody will survive if they don’t help all others survive.
March 31 I am writing and husband comes in to ask something. I scream at him. He bangs the door and leaves. Daughter tries to find out what’s wrong and he shouts at her. She comes to me to complain. I too shout at her. She says she shouldn’t have left Manipal. The dog kicks opens the door. Daughter leaves angrily but the dog stares at me for a while and then leaves silently. I try to write. I contemplate writing an article exhorting parents to get their children married only after a lockdown test. Lock two people in a box-like room. Open the door only after 21 days. Maybe, the rich can arrange for a lavish ceremony to open the door. In most cases, the two people will run in opposite directions upon release. If they don’t, it would have been the best way to match-make.