View from the other side

Updated: Jun 26, 2020, 04:18 IST | Rosalyn D'mello | Mumbai

As the world tries to find its bearings in a post-pandemic world, I think of those dealing with stressed or violent domestic lives and separate truth from fiction in the news coming from back home

Safoora Zargar, a pregnant woman and a student of Jamia Millia University, was arrested in April in relation to the riots in Delhi in February. FILE PIC
Safoora Zargar, a pregnant woman and a student of Jamia Millia University, was arrested in April in relation to the riots in Delhi in February. FILE PIC

picIt was disorienting to re-emerge after having been in self-isolation for 14 days, during the span of which our horizon was limited to the vineyard-sprawled hill in our backyard atop which lies the little church dedicated to Sankt Jakob. Except for one afternoon when we had wandered through the wines and perched ourselves at a point from where we could glimpse the town of Tramin and the neighbouring Kalterer See, we had responsibly confined ourselves indoors until the very end.

The day we were slated to leave our tiny but cosy rented apartment at the Ferienhof Franzelin farmhouse, I saw for the first time this summer, a patch of Lavender in full bloom. I looked out into the valley like a virgin visitor to the Alps. There was a newness to the experience of guiltlessly inhabiting the outdoors that was disorienting. We took our time loading the car and marvelled at every little thing we saw on our three-minute drive home. It was exhilarating. We had finally arrived where we were meant to be.

We spent the rest of the day unpacking our suitcases, readying ourselves to settle in. After dinner, we went for a long walk. We were clearly lucky to be back at a time when things were returning to what they were before the country was the first in Europe to go into complete lockdown. We walked through vineyards and apple fields and realised, along the way, this was the longest stretch we'd walked in months. In Delhi, our movements rarely ever extended beyond our apartment and the local market, where we'd go to fill our bottles at the milk dispenser. The next day, after lunch, we set out to eat ice cream and go swimming and hiking. We had our first restaurant dining experience since February. Who would have thought we'd ever have the opportunity to experience eating out as a novelty. It definitely felt like one.

Ask anyone about the last three months, which is referred to here as "Coronavirus-time", and you are greeted with the same traumatised look. But of course, all over the world, women were hit the hardest, irrespective of the developed or third-world status of the country.

In Südtirol there was a clear spike in incidents of domestic abuse, as it was back home in India. When I hear mothers, whether coupled or single, speak about the level of multi-tasking they had to engage in, I feel relief at being child-free. Between taking care of an infant to homeschooling the more grown-up child to managing one's own workload and trying to maintain one's sanity through it all, it's easy to slip into despair. So many have held it together.

I wondered if any of their accounts will ever be articulated; if, one day, we might be able to access a compendium of all the tribulations of domesticity? The media was quick to pick up on trends about people comfort-baking bread or obsessively making Dalgona coffee, but I've yet to read about the immense impact the lockdown had within the realm of the home. How did couples in hetero-normative relationships find equilibrium? And those non-hetero-normatively coupled, what was life like for them? Or for those who are single?

Many of my friends who have been coping with depression for years found this time to be more stabilising, because it wasn't infested with the usual humdrum of societal expectations. Some of them are, in fact, apprehensive about the return to normalcy. I wonder about all of these small details that are not considered matters of national importance. What fundamental truths might they reveal about how we functioned as a society during the Pandemic, as well as the unprecedented psychological nature of its impact.

Among the hardest aspects of my 'new' life is relating to the alarming nature of the news that I receive from back home. When I was there in Delhi, it was easier to ascertain truth from fiction. Now that I'm away and more heavily dependent on newspapers to inform me about present conditions, it's harder to tell the difference. Some headlines feel shockingly absurd. The news about activists being held by the state on trumped-up charges while actual criminals go scot-free remains distressing.

The lack of any kind of informed leadership capable of steering the country through the humanitarian crisis is enraging. Never before in my lived memory has the oppressiveness of patriarchal governance been more vaingloriously on display. The collective blindness towards the deep connections between right-wing fundamentalism and patriarchy is something I'm unable to fathom.

Never before has it been more crucially imperative of citizens to demand better. It feels like our democracy is crying for life-support but is unable to find a bed with a ventilator. We still have the power to prevent its total collapse into a comatose state. Every act of resistance restores the oxygen levels within its blood. We have a moral duty to keep it alive.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
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