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Gasping for Time: Do Not Run Out On Us

June 17, 2021 12:39 IST

The pandemic is taking a deep, emotional, scarring toll.
Will we survive, asks Shruti Vyas.
If we do, will we be the same?


Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

This time, there is no panic buying.

No hoarding of Maggi packets, rice or dals, pasta and sauces, scented body wash or even atta and maida.

The dogs on the street are no longer perturbed. They don't crave human presence to feed them, nor are they finding open spaces tempting enough to run and play.

The chirping of the sparrows and the mynas, the cooing of the pigeons, the sounds of nature feel redundant.

In the distance, peacocks can be heard welcoming the rain-laden winds.

I close my eyes to find solace in these lyrical sounds. But no, it is no longer as welcoming, as tempestuous as last year. Or the year before.


"The trees and flowers don't look lively and pleasant anymore," mom is heard lamenting. Her garden, Angkor Wat, has become sullen. The air around it has become sullen as well. That makes her sullen. That makes all of us sullen.

"Why have you become so gloomy?" I question the air.

The slim crowd of morning walkers from 2020 have reduced to one or two now.

The newspaper man, with his feeble bundle, continues to distribute to pocketful of houses.

Unlike last year, maids are coming for work; very few houses are welcoming them though.

"Ek mask pehan kar saas mein problem hota hai, dooh kaise pehan sakte hai? (We find it difficult to breathe through one mask; how can we wear two and work?)." They have a point. How does one breathe with two masks on?

"Tell us how to breathe,," I question the air. Gasping...

In these newer times, the marshals have taken their seats. They are the new addition in our neighbourhood. They 'guard' COVID houses from 7 am till 9 pm.

Yes, even colonies like Vasant Kunj -- with its sensible, posh and learned residents -- have many 'uneducated' who continue to consider the virus as "mere cough and cold". I don't blame them -- they are the prodigies of this 'New India'.

BBC and CNN flicker on the television, from morning to dusk.

Times have changed, news is home. Rising numbers, desperate wails of people at hospitals, mass cremations, failure of a nation... 'Apocalypse', the news presenters shout in pain.

The mood in 'New India' is sombre, gripped with tension, the flat air ripe with propaganda.

Yet, in this din of grim, a plan of action is being designed.

"Must go to the bank, so much work is pending."

"I will step out to shoot today."

"Let's go for a drive. Just."

The usual musings at breakfast...

We design plans; then, we contemplate, weigh the pros against the cons, the importance against the unimportance.

Then, we sigh. The cons dominate. Nothing is important than life.

Days continue to trickle by, with no ebb in the flow, no air to blow.

"Why are you being so annoying?" I question the air.

The sonorous ragas of Pandit Jasraj or the foot-tapping tunes of Ritviz (Ritviz Srivastava is a Pune-based singer-songwriter, electronic musician and record producer) do not uplift the mind anymore.

It's been almost three weeks since the home has breathed in fresh air. Going to the terrace, the balcony or even just popping one's head out of the window has been banned.

Doors and windows have been sealed, literally, so that no whiff of outside air enters.

You see, the neighbours living below us have tested positive. With misconception ripe, worries about the 'virus lingering in the outside air', worries about an unprecedented tenure has gripped our minds.

p class="rbig">"Wear your mask and go out," Ashish annoyingly shouts from inside.

I have just stepped into the balcony to hang the laundry. I struggle with my anger, but feel the fear in his concern.

I no longer know how fresh air smells. I am told the air of the outside is as stale and toxic as it is inside. It is mixed with the raw smell of fear, the sweat of paranoia and the putridity of misery.

"Where are you hiding?" I ask the (sweet) air.

"I might just need to start taking anti-depressants."

"I am already on medicines for anxiety."

"What are the home remedies for treating insomnia?"

New worries. New conversations, born out of new times.

The paranoia has seeped into us.

Anxiety is a side dish, served with every meal.

Despair-soaked, stale, locked air is what we are breathing. Depression walks leisurely within us.

Yes, 2021 has been torment. Who would have thought?!

We accepted a year lost to lockdown, confinement and small pleasures, in the hope that 2021's vaccine would set us free to fly, jump and rejoice, come together and share meals. That hope died at the feet of misgoverning by an apathetic and inept government at the Centre.


Who would have thought, one day, you and I would gasp for air? Pray for air? Worship air? Stock morsels of trapped air for an uncertain tomorrow?

"Do not run out on us," I plead to the air.

Messages of apprehension, questions of concerns, from abroad continue to flood my inbox. What do I tell them?

For days, I ignore, till the questions get deeply worrying.

How do I assure them I am alright when, 500 kilometres from me, the dead are being cremated with tyres and gasoline?

How do I lie that all is okay, that numbers are going down, when hordes of villages are being wiped out, barren, their people dead?

Repeating the same angst, the despair, the words have flattened even in the air.

"Don't worry, it will soon be alright," they send optimism.

When? And how? We are sinking into a whirlpool of horror and death.

"Take care, much love," the message ends.

"How does one take care when all there is to nibble on is the staleness of despair and dread," I question the air.