"I draw stories that my daughter narrates"

Updated: May 24, 2020, 14:46 IST | Anju Maskeri | Mumbai

Families separated by the lockdown are pulling all stops to experience emotional togetherness while miles apart

Alexx O'Nell and his mother Louisa meet daily but from a distance
Alexx O'Nell and his mother Louisa meet daily but from a distance

The conversations double up as online food tutorials

The Mahajans get on a video call every morning
The Mahajans get on a video call every morning 

Graphic designer Preeti Mahajan's mornings start with watching her parents do yoga. Over a video call. While her mother, Indu, is in Mumbai, her father, Adarsh, is in Odisha's capital, Bhubaneshwar. "My sister delivered a baby and my mother flew down to stay with us. They couldn't leave together because we have a pet and a huge aquarium at home. He was supposed to join us soon, but the lockdown threw our plans out of gear," says Mahajan, co-founder of graphic design studio, Project 1.6. With the househelp absent and no previous experience in cooking, Sr Mahajan survived the initial days on instant noodles. Over time, he has learnt the ropes from his wife. "From how to slice a muskmelon to gauging if the dal is cooked, their conversations double up as online food tutorials," she laughs. Although her mother tried booking flights twice in March, when select airlines opened operations, she couldn't get hold of tickets. "Dad asked her to stay put and take care of my sister and the newborn, and that he would manage." Mahajan admits she is pleasantly surprised by how well he has adapted to the sudden changes. "He could have easily whined about the situation. Instead, he decided to take it on the chin and get on with life."

We are separated by a window

O’Nell with his family last Easter in Holland
O'Nell with his family last Easter in Holland

Every Easter, American actor and musician Alexx O'Nell, who lives in Versova, flies to the Netherlands to celebrate the day with his 75-year-old mother, Louisa. His sister, Klara, and nephews join them from Ireland. It's a family tradition. This year was supposed to be no different. "Neither my sister nor I could make it due to the lockdown. But recently, the Dutch government opened flight registrations for expats. Although the tickets were priced at astronomical rates, I hopped on. This was my chance to see my mother," says the actor, who has featured in Main Aur Charles, Cheeni Kum, and Chittagong. Although O'Nell is now in Holland, the much-waited reunion has been put off to a later date as he is in quarantine. "Being a foreign returnee, I have been asked to self isolate for another two weeks, so, I have rented an apartment a mile from my mother's home. She visits me every day, along with her helper. They bring me groceries since I can't step out." Not allowed to enter his apartment, his mother sits on the patio, separated by a French window, and they talk over the phone. "In India, everybody is forced to recognise the seriousness of the situation due to the mandatory lockdown. Here, several businesses are running, and people aren't wearing masks, which is why my mother is baffled why I haven't given her a hug yet, or why we haven't gone out for ice cream," he says. He's not complaining, though. The fact that he's only at a short distance from her is comforting. "Despite my busy social and professional life in a different country, I feel myself bending over backwards to do everything for her as she grows older. If not now, when?"

We are happy texting

While Zelda Pande is in Colaba with her daughter and cat, her husband is in Alibaug with their dogs
While Zelda Pande is in Colaba with her daughter and cat, her husband is in Alibaug with their dogs

In December, journalist Zelda Pande and her husband, Danny, rented a small apartment in Alibaug. Little did they imagine that three months later, one of them would be quarantined in their vacation home. "The lockdown was announced soon after my husband and three dogs landed in Alibaug. My mother-in-law joined them from Pune." While she did have the option of going, Pande decided against it because, as a journalist, she felt it would be difficult to work given the erratic Internet connectivity in the beachside town. In retrospect, she thinks it was a wise call. "Walking dogs in Mumbai has become a nightmare. There, it's relatively relaxed and he's able to take them out," says Pande, who lives in Colaba with their daughter and cat.

Unlike most families separated by the lockdown, the Pandes haven't resorted to video calls yet. "We are happy texting," she says.

It feels like we are in the same room

Ramakrishnan Laxman, senior vice president (marketing) at Eros Now, has created 10 comics during the lockdown
Ramakrishnan Laxman, senior vice president (marketing) at Eros Now, has created 5 comics during the lockdown

Ramakrishnan Laxman, senior vice president (marketing) at Eros Now, has created a series of five comics over the course of the lockdown. While he is in Mumbai with his mother, his wife and daughter are in Noida. "In March, I moved to Mumbai to take up a new job. They were supposed to join later, but the lockdown got in the way," he says. To keep in touch with his daughter, Tara, he would make video calls, where the highlight would be Once Upon A Time, a storytelling card game that encourages creativity and collaborative play. In fact, the idea for the comics, Tara and the Coronavirus, Tara and the Magic Eagle, among others, came from these exchanges.

Laxman’s mother and daughter play a game of Tambola over video call
Laxman's mother and daughter play a game of Tambola over video call


 "We kept adding elements like a dog, an eagle to the mix, and, because I love doodling, Tara suggested I illustrate these stories," says Laxman, who dedicates the weekends to drawings. Back in Noida, Tara's partner in creativity was her grandmother. Together, they would create charming paper mache objects and practise needlework. That role has now been taken on by Laxman. "Initially, the video calls would go on hours, with us eating lunch and dinner on the side. We started with playing Tambola, a popular version of Bingo and Housie, before moving on to Once Upon A Time." The calls have helped bridge the distance. "Sometimes, I feel like we're in the same room."

To view the comics, log on to www.medium.com/@tarascomics

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