“Maybe because I wanted to”

Nothing was familiar outside the house. The sun glared, and scolded me for not seeing him in so long. My eyes ached and squinted. Before they could adjust to the new environment, I heard a new kind of noise- deafening silence. There were barely any vehicles on the road; some of those moving around were the police.

Only they broke the silence every minute or so. I thought I’d get thrashed by the police, and my sister who was walking with me would just have to watch me get beaten up. I was thinking of all the reasonable excuses I would tell them in case they decided to encounter me. Thankfully that didn’t happen. We were silent too, my sister and I, like all the shops around us which would usually be busy around this time.

The masks on our faces weren’t the reason. The afternoon sun made it a little harder to breathe through these makeshift masks my grandmother had stitched for us from old bed linen. We were going to her house. There was something foreboding about the silence. I remember thinking to myself that this is the closest I have ever come to actually experiencing a Hollywood apocalypse. People have been sharing memes, showing the virus causing problems for humans and rejuvenating nature in that way. I saw that truth right in front of me. Maybe because I wanted to.

Man turning into a one way. Someone has already done that and gone a little ahead.

Many areas of Yelahanka New Town are green. The trees form a canopy over your head and it’s like walking through an endless tunnel of green. My grandmother’s house is in one such area. I always take my time to walk through those roads; absorbing all that nature has to offer. Cool shade, a gentle breeze and gifts of the foliage in my hair. It felt better that day. The silence somehow made it better. It made me stop and stand there for a while. My sister feared the virus had finally gotten to me. If not physically, mentally at least.

There were a few strange things that I did notice. A few medical shops were closed. A very aptly named one, especially. I saw traditions kept alive. The few people who were on the roads, policemen and civilians alike, still drove on the wrong side of the road. Humans will never change, I thought to myself (unless we’re forced to of course).

There were no people at the Indira canteen either. Weren’t they giving out free food to the poor? Construction had stopped too. Like everyone had just dropped everything, packed their tools and left.

Footpaths had the same bricks and gravel from the flyover’s construction. It’s been taking so long to complete and now it will be a while before construction resumes, I just hope those workers are all safe and doing well. Even the dogs seemed to have disappeared with the buses and the crowd. The constant noise. Then I saw BBMP Pourakarmikas picking up garbage just left outside gates.

I immediately remembered a tweet of some privileged, savarna person complaining about their garbage not being picked up. All sorts of abuses filled my head in that moment and disturbed the peace the silence had given me.

Inside our houses everything seemed normal. We played Konkani music at our grandmother’s, while cleaning old showcases and rearranging photographs. Once we left her house, the roads seemed normal too. Surprising, that it just took one walk to get used to. They say the more you watch or listen to something, the more things you begin to notice.

So I heard the silence and paid attention. On a tree nearby I could hear a squirrel trying to break open a nut. In the distance, an ambulance or a police van, I don’t know, going somewhere in a rush. Closer home, I could hear the afternoon sun’s heat, the only thing that seemed to violate the social distancing policy.

I opened the gate thinking about the next time I would get an opportunity like this. To be greeted so warmly, yet harshly by someone so recognizable yet unfamiliar. Like an old uncle at some marriage function, whom you last saw at your cousin’s baptism years ago. It’s nice to feel that glow, to hear it hum quietly in your ears. It’s nice to miss something and to be missed by it in return.

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Vineet Correa

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