15 Days of Pain

Harman Khurana has a question:

Would you trade the feeling of rocking a lehenga with the sadness of staying in your pyjamas the whole year? 

Harman-covid map-1.jpg

Created by Harman Khurana

November 22, 2020 was the most adventurous we had felt. My mother’s colleague had invited our family to be a part of a sangeet-cum-reception. It was the first invitation in the whole year since the Covid-19 pandemic changed our lives. 

The venue was part of a government organization so we thought all the necessary protocols would be followed. In quick cuts, my memory of the event goes as follows: hands being painted with henna, people posing for pictures without masks (even the older generation), celebrations with music and dance. 

We all wanted to recreate the normalcy we were aching for.

On November 26, my mother attended the wedding even after we had a fight over the lack of safety protocols at the sangeet. On December 1, she started developing a mild cold and cough at first, so we asked her to get tested in her office where the health authorities were already conducting voluntary tests. On December 4, we got to know she had contracted the disease but weren’t able to isolate her on time. I started developing a cold soon after we could isolate her on the first floor.  My brother and I were alone on the ground floor of the house, in separate rooms. For the next two days, I had to cook meals for all of us, while making sure I got all the essentials my mother needed. 

So while I was infected, I had been roaming around managing the chores until my brother and I got ourselves tested on December 6.
On the morning of December 7, I was barely able to taste the parathas that I had made for everyone. I doubted if I had put enough salt in it. I confirmed with my mother if my questionable cooking skills were to blame, but she had relished it. It was around the same time my test results arrived. I was Covid-19 positive and before I could isolate myself, my brother turned out positive too. 

The family was in it together. 

I had a severe viral load. My condition worsened from a mild cold and cough to an inability to breathe. As days went by, it got difficult to wake up in the morning. I was the first person in my college to get infected. After initial days of not being able to attend classes, I suddenly had too much time on my hands and practically nothing to do, so I would try and join in the lectures and slowly picked up working on my assignments. 

Amidst the eventful disease came an eventful next week at SCM where we had the second edition of The Week That Was (TWTW - a journalism assignment for Ms Smruti Koppikar where we analyze how certain news on a chosen topic plays on different media), a news coverage plan pitch (added pressure: It would be judged by someone who is an editor at the news site Firstpost) and a research presentation all scheduled for the same week, alongside the photography editing assignments and a five thousand-words long feature on our mothers, which would be marked by Jerry Pinto, our writing professor. (Pressure * 10)

Ironically, the TWTW assignment required my teammate Bruvee Manek and me to analyze the Covid-19 vaccine news coverage on certain news websites. My teammates supported me through my delayed submissions and we managed to give an outstanding presentation. Ms Koppikar’s words of appreciation for the presentation and for my ‘boldness’ in showing up kept my spirits alive.
While we “set high standards for the future TWTW presentations” as Ms Koppikar put it, I was waiting for two of my senses to function properly. My relatives used to send delicious home-cooked food every day but I was unable to enjoy it.

SCM's The Week That Was session, December, 2020

Eating was a thankless task I had to perform to survive. 

Treating this as a poetic experience, I drew my storyboard assignment (as part of my Film Class with Ms Jeroo Mulla) around this theme. Inspired by the frames from the triangular structure in the imagery of the film Rashomon (dir. Akira Kurosawa), I drew things I had tried, like dipping my fingers in the masala box, licking my fingers, trying to differentiate between tastes and textures. 

As we continued to cope with the pandemic, our idea of productivity was shaken to its very core. The same desks we used to eat at became our workspaces. A sudden full stop that our lives came to made us reflect and question the idea of all the “free time” we had on our hands with an uncanny pressure to invest the days in learning. The dissonance arose when we also didn’t want to leave our beds, move an inch and get the work done. 

I had tried to develop an exercise routine to not let the pandemic push me to a sedentary lifestyle. In just 20 days of suffering from the Covid-19, I was unable to climb the stairs of my house without stopping to catch my breath. Whatever standards I had set for myself fell like a house of cards.  
The disease took its mental toll as well. Not being able to feel the sun and wind on my face pushed me towards melancholy. Not being able to go out into the world as I knew it, felt almost like a culture shock. Not being able to see my people in person meant I was losing out on all the moments I could share with them.

My diary entry on December 10:


"I couldn’t taste grief. 

I stand away from my loved one, who stands away from their loved one who just passed away.”

I wasn’t able to be with my partner during the toughest times he and his family were going through. I remembered the title of a film I had watched during the year: the Iranian film Taste of Cherry (dir. Abbas Kiarostami, 1997) in which Mr Badi (Homayoun Ershadi) tries to convince strangers to bury him once he commits suicide. The title of the film comes out in a dialogue in the second half when a museum employee explains to him how when he wanted to kill himself by hanging himself on a mulberry tree, the bounties of nature caught his eye and the taste of succulent mulberries saved his life.

I missed feeling so many feelings.

Since I could only stare at the screens or the walls, my thoughts would often stray. I wondered if my grandparents would have survived the pandemic had they been alive. I couldn’t help but think why people who had been more careless than I could roam the streets without getting infected. I would Google the complications people developed after they recovered from Covid and kept checking on my mother who suffered from hypertension and hyperthyroidism. 

Yet, suffering from the disease was a check on my privilege. I was grateful my family never had to face any complications, any lack of amenities while battling the disease and we had the support of my relatives and friends while we were isolated. 
We were back to our regular lives in no time.  

This year, we had to draw out our Covid map as a part of my Journalism assignment. I couldn’t help but be surprised by how we travelled, strived to create, did practically everything virtually, even saw the loopholes in our rusted public health and management systems laid bare. As we enter the second wave of the pandemic, I wonder how this will end.