Essentials of Living: Snigdha Agrawal

Snigdha Agrawal
ESSENTIALS OF LIVING: A SURVIVAL GUIDE IN THE PANDEMIC - STALKED TIMES

Into the woods and out of it and the feeling is that of being drained of every ounce of desire to live again.  Will life be the same again?  Will we live under the constant threat that tomorrow we may not awake? That, in a nutshell, is what this virus has sent in a terse message; pay heed or don’t, the choice remains with covid victims, who made it. It was a journey like no other; to hell and back best describes the experience, And I’m not one bit exaggerating.  If that stint in hell was so horrifying, I’m not even going into the Biblical description of hell, the Hindu description of ‘Narak’.  This alone was a blood-curdling occurrence.

Many never made it out, so why am sniveling instead of dropping on my knees in all humility for having made it without major damages?  I’ll not even go into that unknown damaged terrain.  Only the future will tell.  But it sure gave enough heebie-jeebies for a lifetime; for whatever little of life is left for a septuagenarian couple, living independently in a gated community.

Having survived 2020/2021 the cavalier attitude projected into 2022.  No, it cannot touch us, or so we thought, confident that being double vaccinated, the monster would not be able to penetrate the vaccine armor.  Weren’t we following all the protocols?  From wearing double-layered N95 masks to spraying the air around us, sanitizing our clothes, smelling like hospital ward staff, yet the stalker caught up with us, waiting for that one little slip on our part.  A slip that cost a major health downturn and shattered all resolve that whatever precautions one may take, some things escape the attention of even the most fastidious person.  Like the time, the mask was down to take a sip of the pinot noir wine the waiter brought to the table for sampling.  C’mon, it’s New Year’s Eve, time to celebrate the end of one virus-loaded year, and look forward to a virus-free year.  Aha! Like a pro you swirl it around, taking small sips of the vintage, allowing it to pass down the gullet. “Perfect!” you exclaim and the waiter deftly tilts the bottle at a practiced angle, pouring the ruby red liquid.  It never crosses your mind that the invisible virus could be sitting pretty on the rim of the long-stemmed wine glass, dressed in white gossamer dress, your confidence unshaken that all due diligence would have been completed before service began.  That too, in one of the most uppity Club lounges in the city.  

 So, when well-meaning friends ask, ‘can you trace back to where you may have picked up the infection?’ The answer is an emphatic “NO”. How does one account for food deliveries changing hands before reaching your doorstep? Are they vaccinated?  Amazon, Swiggy, Dunzo, Zomato, and the whole Jing bang of job seekers resorting to delivery as the only means of survival.  How does one count for the visits to the supermarket to pick up groceries, handpicking fruits and vegetables that have been liberally fingerprinted by other shoppers as yourself or articles shifted from the shelves to read labels, price tags, expiry dates…bottles, cans, tetra packs…multiple surfaces touched by recalcitrant unvaccinated shoppers unmasked?  You move six feet away.  They don’t. To extend this further, how does one identify that one person or persons you met in a Carol singing event belting out festive songs, unmasked, uncaring, about spreading the virus.  And civility restrains you from asking him to comply.  After all, the choice to attend was yours.  So, no blame game.  I would rather put it as shortsightedness.  Shouldn’t we have been more prudent and declined.  Nothing could be truer than the saying “Knowledge without wisdom is double folly”.  Were we wizened after this turn of events? No!  It can’t touch us!

For seniors living by themselves, both getting felled together is the worst nightmare one can imagine.  Even before the monster decides to settle down as an uninvited guest, it takes complete control over your mind, body, and spirit, with a crippling effect. The onset of that first cough and a scratchy feeling, makes you drive like a maniac to the nearest clinic just in time to catch the doctor who is on her way out after a tiring nine-hour work schedule.  She lends half an ear to your complaints, lists out a battery of blood tests, CT scans, etc. that takes up the better part of a nail-biting evening at the diagnostic center.  Then two sleepless nights waiting for the reports to come in.  For once, the word ‘positive’ is dreaded and fails to conjure pleasant images.  It’s like the noose is slipped down over your neck, however much you put up resistance.  The monster wins hands down.  It’s up to you to keep the noose loose as possible.

In the first few days, limbs seem detached from the body.  A woolly-headed mind doesn’t respond to questions.  The oximeter, thermometer, portable oxygen tank, become your ‘favorite bedfellows’.  The accompanying chills, fever, and overall apathy turn you zombie-like, eating, sleeping, eating sleeping a never-ending daily routine. The will to shake yourself from this super drunken stupor is a war one wages, knowing very well the outcome.

Your near and dear ones drop everything and rush to help, risking themselves, their families, just to keep the two old hearts ticking for a while longer.  Your pleas ‘don’t come, we will manage on our own’ goes unheard.  She sets up camp in the second bedroom leaving her six-year-old son, a needy pet and husband, to take care of her parents, staying awake for three nights, in case of a situation requiring hospitalization.  Putting all her culinary skills to use, she prepares meals to soothe the rebellious tummy.  And those first few days, there is a hairline difference between daylight and nightfall.  All that textbook knowledge of being bitten by the tsetse fly and suffering from sleeping sickness seems ten times magnified with the punches hitting harder and in quick succession, all over the joints and muscles.  Yes, the feeling is like being treated like a punching bag by your opponent.  Sleep is a welcome relief under such painful circumstances.

If you’re lucky with an only mild infection, as happened to us, then you begin to feel hunger pangs from day five onwards. Still, nothing tastes as it should…spaghetti cooked in a tangy sauce tastes like paper that has gone through the shredder? Who ate my cheese? Who ate the meat? Eat you must, so says the doctor and it goes down a little at a time before it decides to reverse direction.  The mantra is ‘drink…drink…drink plenty of liquids’…prolyte ORS, tender coconut water, rasam, buttermilk…the list goes on and you give it your best shot, ending up sitting on the potty half the day expelling the water.  And in all this swallow the prescribed antibiotics, down the cough syrup, take steam inhalation, and create music with saltwater gargle, as many times as recommended.

Day eight, you notice the sun shining brightly.  Not that the sun did not on other days.  It’s just that living has started to kick in; you notice the new hibiscus blossoms in the balcony garden, making you want to offer them to the Gods and Goddesses in thanksgiving. The nachos and lasagne for once taste as they should.  Presto! You are back to the world of the living. And perhaps the most significant signs of hitting the road to recovery is when your North Indian better half is up and about foraging in the pantry cupboard for a fistful of “Agra Dalmooth” and the Bong me craving for “Nolen Gurer” Sandesh and some hot buttered toast generously sprinkled with sugar grains. Then for sure, you are on the right recovery track.

Reflections: -
# If it has to happen, it will happen, however much you keep washing hands like Lady Macbeth…this colorless virus is stubborn, and out to beat your every effort to ward it off.
#So, let’s accept that this monster is here to stay and will keep on stalking us in different avatars, every step of the way. The trick is to not slip up even by mistake. “Life is so fragile, handle with care”. Do take care.
#Living in a gated community what touched us was the feeling of being looked after by our neighbors, the apartment association office, the Covid task force team, working round the clock attending to each and every query, reaching out to Covid homes offering help with food, medicines, arranging for doctor visits, and even cheering you up chatting on WhatsApp, suggesting movies to watch on Netflix to stay distracted.

In conclusion, what emerged from this experience was ‘Don’t give up on living.  Live as though the enemy is right behind you trying to overtake.  Maintain the distance and just like a Brahmin never parts with his sacred thread, adopt the policy of never parting with the mask on your face…the sacred adornment for entire humanity today sans any caste, colour, religious leanings.’

Disclaimer:
Not intended to criticize or offer any advice to Covid victims.  Entirely personal experience narrated by the author.
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BIO:
Snigdha Agrawal (nee Banerjee) is Bengali-born, raised in a cosmopolitan environment with exposure to the eastern and western cultures, imbibing the best of both worlds.  Educated in Loreto Institutions (BA Honours, Calcutta University) with an MBA from IGNOU, her writings go beyond pedantic writings. With over two decades of work experience in the corporate sector, her outlook on life is balanced which reflects in her writings.   She enjoys writing all genres of poetry, prose, short stories, travel diaries. She is a published author of three books 1. "MINDS UNPLUGGED Lockdown stories and Rhymes for the six to sixteen" (Nov.2021) 
Available on Amazon. in, Amazon.com, Flipkart
2."EVOCATIVE RENDERINGS" (June 2017)
Available on Amazon 
3." TALES OF THE TWINS unsung melodies"(2018), apart from contributions to several published international anthologies.
An intrepid traveller, her travel diaries are accessible in her WordPress blog randomramblings.52. She lives with her husband in Bangalore (Karnataka) India. She is a regular reviewer on TripAdvisor and participates on Miraquill platform with a sizable following.

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