Spectator by Seema Goswami: The new normal

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The first thing I did once the lifting of the lockdown was announced was to drive to Amrita Shergill Marg. No, I wasn’t visiting family or calling on friends. I just wanted to drive down the road to see the amaltas (or laburnum, if you prefer) flowering in all their glory.

Throughout the lockdown, one thought had persisted in my mind. That I would end up missing the blossoming of the amaltas this year altogether. And given that the sight of those yellow blooms is the only thing that makes suffering the Delhi summer worthwhile, it was a depressing thought.

Much to my surprise, though, as I drove through Amrita Shergill Marg, which is studded with laburnum trees on either side of the road, I realised that the trees were late blooming this year. Some of them were showing flashes of yellow, but most of them still had their green canopy.

Phew. There was still time to catch them in all their glory in the weeks to come. My relief was overwhelming as I drove back home, content in the knowledge that I hadn’t missed out on what has always been the highlight of my summer.

What I did miss out on, though, was the beautiful spectacle that is Lodi Garden in the spring. When the lockdown was first announced, the first spring flowers were just emerging shyly from the earth, inching higher every day. But before they could reach even halfway through their life cycle, life as we knew it was over and we were all imprisoned in our homes.

So, what would one risk leaving home for? Well, doctor’s visits are on top of that list!

Every evening, around the time that I would usually head out for a walk, I would be overwhelmed by a sense of sadness as I thought about the beautiful flowers that I could no longer feast my eyes on. To paraphrase that old saying, do flowers really bloom in a garden if there is no one around to see them?

Silly question. Of course they do. But somehow in the absence of people who can appreciate their beauty, their existence seems far more insubstantial, ephemeral even.

Even after lockdown was relaxed, though, I could not summon up the courage to head out to Lodi Garden. Given that I have certain co-morbidities that make me more at risk of bad outcomes if I contract Covid,

I thought discretion was the better part of valour and continued to exercise in the safety of my own home. And while it would have felt good to get some fresh air after being cooped up for so long, I thought the added pressure of socially distancing from fellow walkers and joggers was not really worth it.

So, even though the lockdown has been eased I still find myself homebound, because of a combination of fear and anxiety. All these weeks, I have been looking forward to hair salons being opened, so that the disaster that is my hair could be fixed by professionals. But now that all I have to do is pick up the phone and make an appointment, I find myself hesitating. How embarrassing would it be to admit to someone that I contracted coronavirus because I couldn’t wait to get a hair cut and colour? How vain would that make me seem? And did I really want to risk paying such a high price for my vanity?

Put your reservations aside and, try and re-enter the world as best you can

Put your reservations aside and, try and re-enter the world as best you can ( Illustration: Aparna Ram )

Yes, yes, I know what all you brave souls out there are thinking. That there is a minuscule chance of contracting the virus when you are walking in the open air while wearing a mask, especially when others in the park are masked as well. That hair salons – and other such establishments – have sanitary protocols in place to make sure that their clients are safe from infections.

At a rational level, I know all that. But there is still a part of my brain – and the predominant one, at that – which keeps telling me to hunker down at home and not risk stepping out unless it is absolutely essential. And while I can use my cross-trainer at home, and apply the home hair dye kit (no matter how ineptly), leaving the house for a walk or a root touch-up seems unnecessary at best and frivolous at worst.

So, what would I risk leaving home for?

Well, doctor’s visits are on top of that list. Though, I must confess, that I was frightened out of my wits on my last visit to see my endocrinologist, Dr Ambrish Mithal. The first shock was seeing the clinic so empty, and being treated like a pariah by the staff at reception (“Please stay behind the barrier, ma’am,” one of them instructed me sternly, as I leaned over to hand him my credit card). Then, there was the dystopian sight of seeing Dr Mithal in full PPE gear, complete with face shield, from a safe distance across the room, from where we shouted at each other to be heard.

But I guess all of this is now part of the new normal, and the sooner I adjust to it, the better it would be for me. So, from this week on, I resolved to put my reservations aside and try and re-enter the world as best I can.

Of course, there was a certain inevitability to the fact that the first thing I did in this endeavour was pay a visit to Khan Market. But those familiar environs calmed me somewhat, and now I am all set for new adventures.

Baby steps, I know. But we all have to start somewhere.

Journalist and author Seema Goswami has been a columnist with HT Brunch since 2004

Spectator appears every fortnight

From HT Brunch, June 14, 2020

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