Chapter 2: Lull Before Lockdown
Chapter 2: Lull Before Lockdown3 mins 17 3 mins 17
March 2, 2020.
“Why are your eyes red?” I asked as Babaiya sat down at the breakfast table.
“My eyes are itching,” Babaiya replied.
“You should go to a doctor,” I pressed him.
“It’s nothing; don’t bother. Just a dust allergy,” Babaiya answered warily.
I secretly worried about contracting conjunctivitis, not coronavirus infection. India reported just six such cases of coronavirus by this point. The growing global cacophony around the disease did not affect us. It was someone else’s problem. Mamma worried about her petunias; Babaiya worried about his strawberries. We fought like cats and dogs over trivial topics. These were our problems.
March 9, 2020.
Over the next seven days, India saw a jump to 44 coronavirus cases. Italy’s situation was becoming alarming with over 9,000 cases and 463 deaths. At work, U.S. teams started working from home. Social and mainstream media was all about “flattening the curve” and avoiding “community spread” of the disease. Country after country was racing towards a lockdown. It was still their problem.
“It is a Chinese virus,” Mamma proclaimed.
“It is racist to call the virus, Chinese,” I countered.
“It’s a Wuhan Chinese virus,” Babaiya yelled from the background.
“That is the place of origin and cannot be used for naming the virus,” I persisted.
“It is a Chinese virus!” my parents continued.
Conspiracy-doomsday theories, right vs. wrong, and political correctness were debated at home. Mamma was glued to Wion, an international news channel, and Babaiya obsessed over NDTV India. Worry over Babaiya’s eye infection deepened. These were our only problems.
March 10, 2020.
Finally, Babaiya was convinced enough to visit an eye specialist.
“I still think it’s a dust allergy,” Babaiya’s said quietly.
“You have viral conjunctivitis, sir,” the doctor replied.
“Are you serious?” Babaiya asked nervously.
“Yes. It has become an epidemic here. I will prescribe medication for a month. You have to take care of your home. Wash clothes separately; do not sleep in the same bed and so on. Keep distance from your family members,” the doctor instructed.
Mamma was also showing early signs of conjunctivitis. The bottom-line: the family had to be in isolation to avoid spreading it to others. I requested work from home. We stocked up on groceries, vegetables, fish, meat, and eggs. After all, we could not leave the house for shopping. It was a month-long doctor-dictated lockdown for us. Quarantine was now our problem.
March 17, 2020.
At work, Indian teams started working from home due to coronavirus safety concerns. We were ahead of India’s nationwide lockdown by eight days. The looming uncertainty finally hit home. Families started stocking up on essentials as much as they possibly could. It was a race against time.
“Why are you panicking? There is no need to,” Srinivas, our building caretaker, sagely advised Babaiya.
“It is not panicking. It is called planning,” Babaiya said brushing him off.
“Nothing will happen in Hyderabad,” Srinivas tried to reassure Babaiya.
Babaiya did not care. Everyone ridiculed us. This was now the new reality for the three of us.
March 25, 2020.
Beginning at midnight, all of India was on lockdown. People rushed to stock up for the twenty-one-day siege.
“Why are you panicking? There is no need to,” Babaiya now advised Srinivas, the caretaker.
“Essential supplies are in shortage. All the supermarket shelves are empty,” Srinivas replied curtly.
“Nothing will happen in Hyderabad. Panic buying at this stage is pointless,” Babaiya reminded Srinivas.
The die was cast. We ridiculed everyone now. Friends and neighbors milled around to buy essentials, risking the infection. We were cocooned in the safety of our home. This was now the new reality for them.