No One Else I’d Rather be Stuck With

This virus is awful, just awful. Too many people have died, gotten sick, lost their jobs, or had to show up to intense work hours and environments day after day. Just as some parts of the world are finally seeing spikes in the number of cases, others are already inundated by a second wave of infections. We really don’t know how much worse it might get. But right now, the road ahead seems long, winding, and pot-holed.

My heart breaks. But it also feels fuller than it has in a long time. I’m one of the fortunate few. I’m healthy and safe right now. I’m literally stranded on a tiny island, which means minimal opportunities to be in crowds and germy hotspots. I also have the privilege to be able to do a few things. I try to speed up the spread of helpful, accurate information while simultaneously discouraging panic and fake news ⁠— no matter how many fights I get into with the Boomers on my neighbourhood WhatsApp group. I am in a position to seek out and donate to organisations helping the most deeply impacted sections, such as daily-wage labourers in countries like India. (If you have suggestions for people doing good work in this area, please share them!)

Most of all, I’m incredibly grateful to be marooned with my parents and sister. Yes, they’re kind and supportive, and being around family helps in moments like these. But it’s more than that. As individuals, these are the best people to spend a lockdown with. That’s because our collective weirdness has finally found its social value. Among the four of us, we have a host of eccentric personality traits that once seemed unnecessary and overbearing, but somehow feel perfect for what’s going on right now.

For one, our Type-A-ness is finally getting its moment in the sun. We are all very particular about things, sometimes in different ways. Of the four of us, some need to be organised above all else - detailing out every minute of the day and making lists of all the lists we have to make. Others of us prioritise efficiency and speed - even if it means skipping through parts of a fun family movie just to make sure we finish it “in time,” whatever that means. And most of us just hate germs with a vengeance. When we were kids, our mom drilled it into our little brains to wash our hands as soon as we came home from anywhere. She did such a good job that as an adult, I feel weird if I enter any building at all without rushing first to wash my hands. I always felt my deeply-ingrained germophobia sucked too much time and energy out of my day. But it’s sure made adjusting to this pandemic a lot easier.

Take our forays into the big, bad, virus-wrecked world outside our house. When we step out, it’s only after arming ourselves with an aggressive germ-avoidance strategy we’ve all played a part in devising. As we remind each other in a military-grade briefing before leaving home, one person is responsible for wrapping their fingers in tissues for touching the elevator buttons and door handles (but while still economising on tissues, lest their supplies meet the same fate as their toilet paper cousins in other countries). Another carries a tiny bottle of hand sanitiser (which itself will have to be sanitised when we’re done, naturally). To limit exposure to germs, no one can carry a purse, and only one of us will carry their cell phone. If the goal of that particular day’s adventure is to go for a stroll, then it’s relatively easy. All we have to do is huddle closely together while walking, and collectively swerve as far away as possible from any humans we encounter along the way.

When grocery-shopping is on the agenda, things get a little more complicated. The money, carefully counted out so we won’t need to take back any change, travels in a designated ziploc ⁠— not to be confused with the ziploc devoted to the house keys and building fob. At the grocery store, three people scramble around, touching, feeling, and grabbing everything on the shopping list. The fourth person, who will touch nothing and breathe in as little as possible, is tasked with guarding the money ziploc. They cradle it out of reach of germs and use their still-pure fingers to prise out the exact notes needed at the cashier. But of course, this all has to be done quickly as possible; according to our mother, it’s in the air, it’s everywhere!

Once home, by now sweating profusely because of the island weather and the stress test that was this grocery expedition, we remember there’s no rest for the wicked germophobic. The second phase of Operation Fight-The-Virus is Disinfection. I’m not just talking about the groceries (every fruit and vegetable is scrubbed, every box of cheese is wiped until it literally squeaks from cleanliness). We wash our hands, forearms, faces, flip-flops, keys, phones, and the money. Sure, we isolated the money from the other items, but the currency here is plastic, and we’re already washing everything else. We’re in a flow state at this point and because we are us, we’re just going to keep going. I know we sound crazy. And that’s because we are. Right now, when not much is in our control, these little acts of precaution are reassuring. Our logic is pretty reasonable: if we’ve done everything we can, we can’t really worry anymore. In a way, you could say our craziness is keeping us sane. At least, that’s what we tell ourselves.

Aside from being extra-careful about germs, we’re also a very active bunch. Whether we’re working, socialising, or planning, we tend to be constantly buzzing with energy. At its worst, spending too much concentrated time together in a closed space leads to tension, friction, differences of opinion, and explosive arguments. But at a time like right now, we need to be entertained and distracted. Anything that keeps us from boredom and cabin fever is welcome. That’s where we ⁠— we who usually have too many topics to debate and too many items on our to-do lists ⁠— thrive.

With hours on hand and only three other people for company, we do a lot of activities, and we do them together. We start the day with synchronous but separate workouts. Our living room turns into a tapestry of blue and purple as yoga mats, foam rollers, ankle weights, and dumbbells dot the floor. The first one to reach the room, I grab the coveted position on the rug with direct access to the TV, before I proceed to sweat through a YouTube yoga series. Next to me, my sister executes the instructions of a workout video to a (HII)T. My Mom and Dad flow through the pranayama, yoga, and physiotherapy sequence they’ve built for themselves over the years. For years, I haven’t woken up early just to work out. But this is a great way to stay active and kick-start the day. And of course, peer pressure won’t let me skip our simultaneous workout sessions anyway. On days I want to just sleep in, the thought of being roasted by my family ⁠— or worse, ousted from my spot on the rug ⁠— pushes me to get my butt out of bed and into a downward-facing dog instead.

Some of us then hunker down to working from home. The rest potter around, cooking, launching new creative projects, organising (Type-A, remember?), and downloading all the video-conferencing apps possible. On weekends, our agendas are even more packed. Mom shows us how to paint canvases and old glass bottles*. Dad drags us for bike rides from one end of the island to the other and back again, several times; did I mention this is a tiny island? We write. We (watch my sister) ferment kombucha and make sourdough starters. We start collaborative community zines. We binge-watch good and bad television.

Once our day’s work or afternoon nap starts to wrap up, we do a little check-in. Everyone shares their idea for how to spend the evening. Sometimes we go for a walk, hurried only by the decidedly-lovely deadline of catching the sun dip below the horizon at the jetty. Other times, we sit on our terrace, teaching our parents card games they end up mastering and defeating us at in record time. Or we spend a few hours masterminding and creating the drinks and dinner menu for the evening.

I’m not exaggerating here. Ours is a family that takes their F&B very seriously. Being stuck together is made much easier by the fact that we’re all massive foodies and - save for me - excellent cooks. We’ve already had theme nights: Burmese Khao Suey under the night sky, tapas with Spanish music, and Thai, Italian, Moroccan, Middle Eastern, and Keralan spreads. We divide up the tasks: picking the perfect crockery, lighting little candles, curating the music playlist, and mixologising the accompanying cocktails.

We do okay.
We do okay.

It also helps that my parents have always liked to keep a well-stocked pantry, refrigerator, and bar — lockdown or otherwise. You know those ads where the kid gets to eat Maggi because there’s no other snack available? When I was a child, that would never fly at Casa Sudhir. In fact, it would take my mom less than two minutes to point me towards all the fruits, biscuits, nuts, and cereal bars that we had lying around for that express reason. We don’t shop according to a recipe as much as we pick the recipe first and then do some light digging around the kitchen for all its ingredients or suitable substitutes. We also know how to make do with less; using one thing in place for another, trying to use and reuse every scrap of food, and growing our own herbs. In my family, food is a way of life.

When I was growing up, my parents took great pride in having their shelves brimming with the best, most organic fruit, vegetables, leaves, and seeds. I didn’t always get that. I didn’t understand why every weekend grocery trip had to be a whole-family apocalypse haul that took half a day from start to finish. I couldn’t always take my friends’ parents seriously if they’d run out of something; in my home, we always had the next installment of every food item lined up, ready and waiting, behind the first. But it all makes sense now. When I look at our fridge and pantry, I can tell that in the coming days, we won’t be confined to endless permutations and combinations of the same three ingredients, like I probably would if I lived alone. Despite the waning of fresh produce in the shops and our cutting down on grocery trips (mostly because of how stressful they are; see above) we won’t have to scramble for new ingredients to keep things interesting in the kitchen. It’s all there, because it’s always all been there. Whether we realised it or not, we’ve been preparing for a lockdown our whole lives.

Really, from our OCD and germophobia to the need to be constantly busy, to the love for eating and hoarding food, most of what I thought was a silly quirk about us has proven itself to be an incredibly useful survival mechanism for a day like this.

I know I am privileged. I am thankful for the people in my life and the safety net this privilege affords me. And for a safe home and the ability to stay inside it, reflect, and make space for me. For the moments of joy but also the outpouring of sadness. When a mediocre movie or a so-so song makes me bawl, I know it’s because my many feelings from the past few months have finally found the space, time, and support system for catharsis. Every day is not a happy one, and I am thankful for that too.

I wish this virus ended already, and that no one had to get sick, risk their life, or be in quarantine or a lockdown. But if there’s anyone I could be stuck in a house with for weeks on end, I’m glad it’s my family. Thanks to them, I have a lot. I have the best kind of company during these unscripted times. I have a daily schedule packed with things to do. I have a stomach filled with delicious, elaborate meals. And I have a heart that’s brimming over with gratitude.

*I highly recommend this is a way to feel productive, upcycle, and hide the evidence of all your recent drinking all at the same time.

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