As we complete 75 days of isolation, four Mumbaikars, who were forced to experience the lockdown alone, share their survival story
Pic/ Bipin Kokate
How to be alone? It's a question of existence—one that drove a Los Angeles-based filmmaker, Sindha Agha, to translate her journal entries and cellphone video logs created during quarantine into a six-minute documentary of the same name. "In a delicious act of self-flagellation, I meticulously documented my failure to thrive in solitude," she wrote in a piece for the New York Times. In the film, Agha takes us through her routine, one that sees her wake up at different times, on different days, and do different things—exercise, write [like Maya Angelou in the morning], meditate, get some sun or text her ex-boyfriend, or sometimes just stare at a humming bird, hanging on the telephone wire outside her window. "I wish I was better at being alone," she shares in the documentary.
Agha found hope in polar psychology—a study of "Antarctic dwellers and how ICE (isolated, confined and extreme) conditions impact them psychologically". Obsessively collecting facts on the experience of those living in cold climes for the film, helped her find solace through the lockdown. "When quarantine is over, I will be a different person," she says, having seen the beauty of a life lived within the confines of her walls.
As the city completes 75 days of isolation, four Mumbaikars, who've made it through the thick and thin of loneliness, share
'Migrants are the only reason I've kept going'
Ritu Dewan says that having a rigid daily routine has been good for her well-being
Developmental economist and vice-president, Indian Society of Labour Economics
Living alone is not difficult. But being lonely is. I am a single woman, and I quite enjoy my own company. I actually don't ever remember getting bored. But this lockdown has made it hard for all of us.
My work involves a lot of travelling; most days of the month, I am either attending conferences or giving lectures somewhere. This brings me in contact with people from all walks of life, and I am constantly communicating, engaging and learning from them. That interaction, and learning has completely stopped. It's also something I miss terribly.
Quite early into the lockdown, I decided that I'd not break away from my schedule. So, I wake up early, and spend the first two hours reading newspapers online, and completing household work. I also take out two mornings in the week to cook, and then freeze it for future meals. By 11 am, I am at my desk; work goes on till about 7 or 8 in the evening. Work includes writing and mainly coordinating relief efforts for the migrants.
I have continued this cycle for over two months. The one time I gave myself a break for four days, I found it a bit tough to function. That's when I realised that having a routine was needed for my well-being and also served as a good coping mechanism.
But, evenings can sometimes get a bit miserable. When I was travelling, I'd spend every evening outside, meeting some friend. When I'd return home, I'd have another set of friends to catch up with. So, almost every evening was busy. I actually used to look forward to some alone time. Now, it's the toughest part of the day.
Migrants are the only reason I have kept going: working for them and thinking of them. Every night before going to sleep, I compare my situation to theirs and reaffirm how fortunate I am to have a home and income.
Self-isolation has taught me a lot about humans and humanity. It has helped me see everything in perspective and made me introspective. The small gestures, like a hug from a friend, or just seeing the face of a loved one, are things one misses. I am feeling a lot of anger, not because of the lockdown and the pandemic, but because of the inhumane way in which the people of this country are being treated.
'At times, I am overwhelmed with rage'
Pic/ Bipin Kokate
MY case is rather strange, in the sense, that a lot of the difficulties I am facing in the lockdown, can frankly be attributed to my own mistakes. Not only did I choose to live alone, I also chose to live without any kind of amenities. For the past 35 years, I have had all my meals outside. I also don't own a fridge, cooking range, television or smartphone. In short, I am technologically challenged, and I prefer it that way. Now, of course, I am beginning to slightly regret it. And when I want to change, there are very little opportunities [to do so], because everywhere you go, all they tell you is: "lockdown".
Like most people, I am disoriented, and have become borderline depressive. I couldn't have imagined this happening… not even in my wildest dreams.
Though I live with over 5,000 books and magazines—and that's my real wealth—for the last two-and-a-half months, I have not felt the urge to read or re-read a single book. I feel what is the use of all this reading, if it has to come to this. It has made me cynical.
A file picture of Rashid Irani and German film director Werner Herzog at the Kerala Film Festival. For the first time in 50 years, the film critic says that he hasn’t gone to the cinema. Pic courtesy/Sooni Taraporevala
I am also someone who lives for cinema. I have been watching films for the last 50 years. But, since the lockdown, I have not been able to see a single film, and strangely, I have no regrets about that. I think it has a lot to do with the quality of films being made today. I am glad, though. Otherwise [without films], I would have gone totally mad.
Earlier, I would go down at least two or three times a day. I'd visit the nearest tea shop in the neighbourhood, have a simple chai and omelette, and come home satisfied. Now, that all restaurants are shut, I go once in the morning for my tea, at a small shack in the nearby lane. Here, I am joined by garbage workers, the underprivileged, and the elderly; [they have been hit the worst due to the lockdown] and yet, I do not see despair in them. That's moving, but it has also made me very angry. At times, I am overwhelmed with rage.
I understand the seriousness of the situation—that yes, it's a worldwide pandemic, and it needs to be approached tactfully. But the government makes all kinds of pronouncements, and a few days later, takes them back for whatever reason. That I think is very frustrating for someone like me. Just say that "you are in lockdown till December". But this is slow torture.
From the balcony of my home, I have seen the police behave appallingly with locals. They go after someone on a cycle, and get him to disembark, and make him do push-ups. According to me, this country has lost all sense of humanity.
A lot of my friends keep telling me stay positive, but I have lost all will. I spend most of my day, lying in bed, thinking at best. I don't sleep well at all. While I live alone, I do not thrive on this loneliness; I need human contact. What this lockdown has done is turn me into an automaton.
'It feels like I am part of a very bad movie'
Piyush Raghani feels an absolute loss of control on what he thought was his life
Ad film director and founder, Like-Minded People production house
I have lived alone for nearly 15 years of my life. But I chose to be alone, and this compulsion [to socially distance oneself] is what's bothering me. Honestly, I am mind f***ed. The last two-and-a-half months have been surreal. It almost feels dystopian, like I am part of a very bad movie. I am constantly overthinking, asking myself, "Where is all this going?" I have lost all sense of time and purpose.
Living in Bandra gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted, and whenever I felt like. I could go out for a stroll at the park, or catch up with friends over a drink in the afternoon at Janata Bar. Now, if I step out, it's only for essentials, and, even then, I never go more than 200 metres.
Isolation can be draining. I used to have a house help, and now, I have to do everything myself. Doing the dishes is the most gruelling task. I absolutely hate it. I actually look for one dish meals. Once the lockdown lifts, I have decided I am going to eat out of paper plates. I can't cook to save my life. So, I either order in, or live on the generosity of close friends or neighbours. I remember after the first 20 days of the lockdown, I was craving good breakfast, which was not Maggi. My sleep schedule has also gone for a toss. While earlier, I would sleep by 11.30 pm, now, I don't hit the sack before 3 am. I don't like watching television anymore. How much can you live vicariously?
I wish I could tell you it [the experience of the lockdown] has been intellectually stimulating and that it has changed my life for the better, but it hasn't. People are telling me "you have so much time on hand, so much can be done", but without stimulus, which for me is human contact, it's hard to get an idea off the ground. We all depend on people to drive our lives.
There is also so much time to think, and that has only made me panicky. I shoot for a living, and I have a company. I need to pay salaries and the rent. This absolute loss of control on what I thought was my life, has driven me to the edge. I just wish I could go out in the evenings, or not do the dishes. I promise you, when this all ends, I won't ever romanticise loneliness.
'I found a new friend in my DSLR'
Zoya Thomas Lobo used to collect alms on the ladies special local before the lockdown. Pic/ Shadab Khan
Zoya Thomas Lobo
The ladies special local is my lifeline. As a transwoman, opportunities for me, have always been few and far between. So, though I have tried switching careers, collecting alms on the local, has been the mainstay, helping me earn my bread and butter. It's also where I made new friends. Those few hours on the train, were enough to make me feel loved and wanted. I enjoyed conversations with the passengers, and it helped me feel less alone, when I came back to my empty home.
That changed in March, when the lockdown was announced. Suddenly, I had lost my livelihood, and also, my friends. For the first few days, I was completely lost and worried about my future. I had to pay my rent, and didn't have money for food. Also, because I am someone who likes being out and about, I could not stand the idea of being inside. But I had invested in a DSLR sometime back, and always aspired to be a photographer. And so, with the help of a few friends, I got myself a press ID and started working as a freelance photographer. I call my camera, my boyfriend, as it is my only companion these days.
When I return home every night, I am busy sifting through the pictures and uploading them on Instagram. I never had the time for social media before and used to find it boring, but loneliness makes you find new friends in unexpected places. My work and photography are keeping me going. Or this loneliness would have made me depressed. Yes, sometimes I do miss the chaos of the local. And when that happens, I make a call to some of my friends. They have also been kind enough to send me money. This time has made me realise how much we all need each other. I wish I had a partner, with whom I could fight, laugh, cry.
But, I have made my peace with this for now.
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