Marine Drive. Sunday evening. 6pm. The car stops at the traffic light… and hundreds of pedestrians from the Churchgate side rush to the over-crowded parapet to click sunset selfies before the sun disappears behind Malabar Hill. I blink and blink again! What? Is Covid officially over? No social distancing. Few masks. Everyone laughing and chatting just like the old days. Then I notice a few, laid back cops, indulgently surveying the surging crowds. Marine Drive is gleaming and glowing and beaming! Hurrah!
There are more than the usual number of cars speeding towards Chowpatty and heading out. Mumbai has got its groove back! At a splashy, super glam party I attended, the mwah-mwaahs are back! I smile to myself, recalling the depressing sight of deserted roads, the eerie stillness, the unnerving silence, frequent nakabandis, overall joylessness of the hideous year that was. By far the worst year in memory for mankind. Suddenly — it’s over! We’re done with Covid! Yes? A new life beckons! But… does it, really? Or are we just a bit too despo to reclaim what we once loved? Think about it — we want to cling on to our ‘old’ selves, our ‘old’ lives, our all too familiar comfort zones?
The sight of Marine Drive abuzz with activity made me forget for a minute that Covid-19 is still around. It is not over — get it? And our old selves can never be the same again. We have to discover our new, post-Covid selves, and that vital process must begin as we ready ourselves to face fresh ground realities. A young fashion designer I ran into made a pertinent observation when she said her regular clients had either gained a lot of weight during the lockdown or lost far too much. “So many of them are sending clothes for alterations — I am busy opening up seams or taking clothes in.” Interesting to note how differently we all responded to the Covid monster. The imposed isolation threw up far too many emotional/ physical challenges. Initial panic (“What if I get Covid and drop dead?”) turned into resignation (“If Covid happens, I will deal it with it the best I can…”), then transformed into acceptance (“I am okay with the new normal — really!”), and now we are experiencing an exaggerated sense of euphoria (“Yayyy — we are alive! Let’s paaarddday!”). Every response is valid!
We have rediscovered ourselves. We have discovered our own specific strengths and weaknesses. We have discovered adaptability! One of the spin-offs of the extended lockdown with strict travel restrictions, has been our Discovery of India . Domestic tourism is poised to grow and grow with further relaxations coming up, as the vaccination drive progresses, and we feel ready to move out of our bubbles to explore the magnificence of our own country before heading mindlessly to Dubai/London/Paris/NYC — that too, to land up there and meet other Bharatwaasis and go in search of shopping malls and palak paneer. So stupid, na? Given that every conceivable foreign brand sells online these days — why go abroad just to shop? Our wonderful hotels offer the best hospitality at far more competitive prices — it’s full paisa vasool. I have made up my mind to visit all the wonderful destinations in India that I had foolishly kept on hold for so many years, saying, “Oh… I can always visit Jaisalmer… but this is my chance to go to Saint Petersburg.” Shamefully, I must confess, much as I adore Rajasthan and have been to Jaipur, Udaipur and Jodhpur multiple times, Jaisalmer has escaped me! What a big loss! Nor have I seen the Meenakshi temple in Madurai, even though it has been on top of my bucket list for decades. Shantiniketan? Not been! I want to go back to Shimla and… and make it to Panchgani! Even Mahabaleshwar! Both nearby hill stations which have eluded me. Paradoxically enough, getting to Iceland was less daunting!
For those of us who love to travel, for far too long our mindsets have associated holidays with international jaunts. Covid has dramatically changed perspectives, and let’s be thankful. We now invest hours pouring over desi options and sharing info about the newest boutique hotel in Indore. This is a marvellous development, as a lot of young people are also admitting. There is something for every budget, taste and special interest in our vast land… the diversity of India has been taken for granted by us. The lockdown has in many ways unlocked our imagination, hearts and minds. I am ready to go wherever it is possible, affordable and enjoyable within our shores. Fiji can wait.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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