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the mind in lockdown

This piece was written for the online blog for eShe Magazine as part of their 'Lockdown Diary' series.

How has your life changed during this lockdown?

How have you changed during this lockdown?

Overused, over-asked questions have become the norm. They form the basis of small talk in this time of crisis. This time is unprecedented, but now also normalised?

I turned 20 years old last week; two whole decades of being alive.

Did I think I was going to be here at this time in my life?

To say that my life has been turned upside down in the past few months would be an understatement.

On the 11th of March,  I was sitting in the window seat of a tiny coffee shop in a small seaside Scottish town. It was sunny at first, but all of a sudden it began to hail, and then there was heavy snow. I stepped out almost immediately, and rushed to one of the oldest sites in the town.

I could feel the massive pieces of ice bounce off my head or melt into my hair. It was windy but it was beautiful. Ten minutes after, the hail stopped and it was sunny again. But none of this came as a massive surprise to me; I was used to the temperamental Scottish weather after one and a half years of being here. Or was I? 

Fast forward to 6.00 am the next day. I had two hours to pack my bags and get onto an afternoon flight back to the other side of the world; back home to New Delhi. But even after those crazy 24 hours of travelling across three continents, I had not anticipated what was in store for the next few months. I don’t think any of us had.

Now, over 75 days later, I don’t know what to think about the future, one that is clouded with uncertainty. Yet, I know that I am lucky, extremely privileged to be happy and safe in a time like this.

What do I do with my days?

What plays on a young person’s mind at this time?

I don’t claim to be all-representative. I don’t think I can talk for or encompass a holistic experience of anyone my age.

Because every experience is different.

Everyone is talking about how now is the time to do what you’ve always wanted to do. It’s everywhere; at home, dinnertime conversation, on the news, social media threads. Make use of this time that you’ve been given, you’ll never get it back. Whether it is working on your book, setting up a Goodreads page, getting into shape, building new habits, or trying a new recipe every day. For the privileged lot, who can sit at home without any worries, ‘getting your shit together’ seems like the new fad. 

Don’t get me wrong, I think some of these ideas are great. We do have time, and yes, being productive if you’re in the position to and documenting your hours and time are great propositions. 

But, at times, it can get overwhelming. The constant thought of having to do something. Even when everything around has slowed down, my own mind is constantly racing. It’s a strange dilemma. I’m not talking just about the popular trend of ‘giving yourself some love’ or taking a day off for ‘self care’. I’m thinking about a more sustainable and long-term lifestyle choice. 

How much is enough?

How much can we push ourselves?

How many breaks are we allowed to take?

I know that this isn’t the most pressing issue that clouds the world today, but I do think about it, a lot. On one end there is a lot I want to do; learn new skills, make more art, write more, be healthier. But then there are times when I find myself feeling lost, just wanting to close my brain and not do anything. Just stay. Stay still. Stay still and feel my breath. 

But these are only thoughts of a privileged mind.

What about the stark disparities this pandemic has reinforced?

A lot of people have been talking about how this virus attacks everyone regardless of class, caste, gender or form. I myself have said this before. But truth be told, disparities have never been starker.

Yes, anyone can get this disease, but who is more prone to? We advocate social distancing, stay at home. It’s on TV, it’s what we preach, on our phones, our social-media feeds. But social distancing is, at the end of the day, only possibly for those who have the resources and the space. If 10 people live in the same room, social distancing for them is a distant cry.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the kitchen ever since I’ve been back home. When I was younger, I was not too keen on cooking. Occasionally I baked some cupcakes, but that’s all. I enjoyed eating, even watching the process, but not cooking. My mum, on the other hand, has been a passionate chef all my life, whipping up the most delectable dishes day and night.

Somehow, when I moved away from home I too developed an affinity for the kitchen. It became my happy place where I could think, unwind. I found myself looking up new recipes, and getting excited at the thought of new kitchen appliances. I loved calling friends over and cooking for them. I even had my own ‘specials’.

Now that I’m back, I’m trying to learn more from my mum. We cook something every day. I spend time looking at her archives, searching YouTube videos, and fawning over the multiple cookbooks that crowd our shelves at home, thinking about what I will make next. 

But wait, there is a stark contrast here.

While I attempt to source cream cheese for my cheesecake, or mascarpone for my tiramisu, there is a migrant labourer walking barefoot on the road. He has walked hundreds of kilometres with his little baby boy on his shoulders. He hasn’t eaten a morsel of food for hours, his throat is parched dry. But he walks on, no food, no job, no certainty of life the next day. He is thankful for the one cup of tea and a packet of Parle G he was offered by a stranger.

I talk about this man sometimes, I see him all around me. But at the end of the day, I’m just talking. I condemn the government for their lack of concern for these lives, I write long posts on social media expressing my anger. But, then I go back to my routine.

Am I the only one stuck in this pattern?

Where, though I acknowledge my privilege, I still lead a paradoxical existence. I care about those who are in a trying situation at this time, and I want to help. But, there is a distance.

Are these quarantine thoughts unusual?

I had always been taught to create a ‘disruption’. An idea that will outlive me, work for those who come later. This quarantine, though, is an interruption to that disruption. 

Now, I’m even more uncertain about the purpose of existence. 

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