Reflections in a tired eye

It’s been a hectic week. Unscrambling shooting dates. Shutting down the office in Nariman Point and worrying over how we can fulfil all the countless regulatory obligations that companies, particularly listed companies, perforce have to live with—even in the midst of a raging pandemic.

Evenings are spent staring at scary Covid numbers on the TV screen. Numbers that keep climbing every day and I, suddenly, figured last Sunday that we are, by far, the most afflicted nation in the world. And yes, that my city is currently the most dangerous place on earth.

This is further compounded by the fact that people I know, people who were around me, people who work with me or have worked with me, are now sick and dying. And there is this awful realization that there’s nothing I can do about it, apart from commiserating with those left behind. I have never felt so helpless.

Sometimes things around you change so swiftly that you are caught by surprise. It was last January, I think, when I saw the first few people with masks on, at the airport. I may have got the month wrong. Certitude is a thing of the past. Now we live with unnerving uncertainty. But, as you may have discovered by now, we get used to it easily over time. Now, like others, I wear a mask when I step out, and I am dreading the day when I may have to wear one at home. I had never realized how important breathing was. Yes, I will do my pranayams more often now. Shiv, my old yoga teacher, will be happy.

Trickiest of all, this is the time to close the annual numbers and calculate what taxes each family member has yet to pay after paying quarterly advance taxes. This means I have to finally face the fact that I have earned very little this year. Was I lazy? No. Did I work less? Possibly. Perhaps not less but different. We have all learnt to work differently. It appears as if I have seen more faces on Zoom than I have in real life. I have worked out less this year, and eaten more than I ever have. Yet everyone keeps warning me about immunity. Rina says I must take Vitamin C. Rangita insists it’s Vitamin D that I need. Ishita says Zinc is the answer, which till now I had always thought was a metal. My friend Kartar from London, a brilliant biochemist who makes vitamins, tells me that half anaspirin a day is more likely to keep the doctors at bay.

My doctor friend Shaukat passed away just before the pandemic. For years he had looked after our family. His great love was Scandinavian crime thrillers and I picked them up for him wherever I went. In airport bookstalls. On Amazon. At the local Crossword, now that my favourite bookshop, the Strand, has closed. Strand’s owner Shanbag was also a friend and I remember how he gave me a 40% discount on every book. I bought Amartya Sen’s book on the day of its New York launch in a beautiful hardcover edition and got my 40%off. When Shanbagh passed away, the Strand stumbled along for a few months, rudderless, and then one day quietly Bombay’s best bookshop shut down.

I have not had the nerves to visit Shaukat’s clinic ever since he’s gone. Though I know his wife Zeenat, also a doctor, sits in the adjoining clinic. Passing on is the new game in town. And I am losing friends faster than I have lost money to one-armed bandits in Trump’s Taj Mahal, which too has not only shut down but was razed to the ground this year with 3000 sticks of dynamite.

All of a sudden, pharma companies are the new rage. I knew healing people was a noble calling. It still is. Frontline workers have demonstrated that as our pandemic numbers climbed, fell and have climbed again. But I never thought that the art of healing was such a profitable business. This may not be an apt time to discuss that and the huge profits that pharma companies are currently making but my bank informs me that even the struggling ones are now repaying all their old debts and booking fixed deposits. At least, some people are happy! Some are prospering in these difficult times.

The old bhelpuri-wala outside my gate stands lonely. A street food addict, like all Mumbaikars, I miss the hawkers. When I first came to this city—it was Bombay then, not Mumbai—Anil was one of my first friends. He introduced me to the city’s incredible menu of street food. We would step out from office some evenings, as the sun set on Marine Drive, and go on a street food adventure to some remote, unfamiliar cornersof the maximum city. He was not married then. Nor did he have these tall strapping sons either.

Like many others, Anil too has vanished from my life. Life is like this crowded railway station where people keep coming and going at will. Shaukat; Kamal, with whom I would share a cup of milk-less, sugarless tea every afternoon (his office was just above mine); Udayan and Nobby; my old school friend George, a retired air force pilot; now Dharker. They have all moved on.

Anil is much younger. He has time to make a great comeback. Like this city will, eventually. Like our shows, our movies will. Like you will and, hopefully, we all will. But there is so much grief in the air today, so much fear, that it could take time. It could take time to heal, to return where we once were. A great nation seeking its own destiny in its own fumbling ways. Sometimes right. Sometimes horribly wrong.

Meanwhile the feverish election pitch continues outside. I hear the noise. I hear the shouting, screaming; I watch huge, unmasked crowds on TV, jostling, arguing, fighting at times, huddled together in a strange, inexplicable dance of death, and hope there will be sense at the end of it all. There will be peace.

India needs peace and healing today more than it has ever done. I hope those who win these elections (as well as those who lose) can help us bring that about. Or at least try to.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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