The pandemic and my purple suitcase

January 2020. The year that started on a high with grand travel plans. I was going home to Chennai to see friends I hadn’t seen since my wedding in 2017. Tickets booked, passport readied, well-thought out gifts carefully wrapped and packed in the huge petti reserved for travels to India. I was going to fly the day after my birthday, in February, when it’s still bearable weather in Chennai — it’s only going to be hot, with hotter and hottest yet to come.

Come February, news about multiple deaths owing to a deadly virus, origins yet unknown, emerge from Wuhan, China. Harried scrolls through all news outlets and Twitter revealed the beginnings of a spread of this newly-named Coronavirus. With panic slowly starting to set in in the East, the West hardly paid any heed to it. Tickets quickly cancelled, calls made to friends and family expecting my arrival, plans frozen in time to be carried out at the next possible visit. I worked for a nonprofit that hosted what would soon be one of the last physical fundraising events of the year. Pandemic.

March 2020 saw me getting one of my first official contract jobs at the very same nonprofit and going to a physical workspace for exactly one day. Work from home wasn’t new to me, I’ve been doing freelance gigs for a while and I quite enjoy the familiarity and freedom of my space, the quiet, and of course PJs. While I adapted to it quickly and well, I could see for the first time how new and unsettling it was for everyone else. Quarantine.

It all settled like dust, quickly and quietly. That discomfort of seeing nothing but the inside of your home, of weeks and months merging into one long day, the neverending cycle of your dayjob, cooking, cleaning, laundry with no real break to differentiate them eating at us slowly. Fast forwarding our way through the festivals and holidays, dressing up and taking a drive to beat the madness, cooking and dropping food off for friends, holding on dearly to any semblance of community, human connection, and normalcy (or the closest available version of it), we are now one year post when all this began. Unprecedented.

The mere thought of the number of lives we have lost over the past year globally, is staggering. I remember with a shudder the times when we watched The Avengers End Game and made dark jokes about there being an actual Thanos snapping his fingers and disintegrating half of humanity. The world came to a screeching halt and kept moving forward all at once somehow. Resilience.

I think it was April when I was added to this WhatsApp group of like-minded folks none of whom I’ve ever met except the friend who introduced me to them. Chatting day and night over three different time zones about everything under the sun, going through all this weirdness together virtually, and silently having each other’s backs. Community.

One year and a big move out, most of the items packed for the India trip that never happened still sit carefully in that big purple trolley in my closet. It reminds me of a time when things like air travel were simple and we just sat for 20 hours in an enclosed flying box without a mask. How. I fear never being able to give my paati the Kindle I got for her, my friends whose weddings I could not attend are now about to have babies and I wonder if I’ll ever be able to bridge that lost time, I wonder if I’m ever going to meet this new bunch of friends I made online during the pandemic, for afterall, I can do nothing but wonder. New normal.

As I write this, we witness the second quarantine Spring. 2020 was a long year that seems to have taken forever to pass but one that we all experienced (and continue to) in slomo like a car crash. It’s been hard keeping afloat, staying sane and motivated, and just survive. If you’re reading this, know that you have survived and you will heal. We all have a lot of healing left from this experience. And know that there’s still hope. Hope in the vaccine, hope in humanity, and hope in that little voice in your head making you do all the right things. Let’s remember those we lost the past year and move forward taking in their strength and courage. Hope.