Covit-19 Chronicle 2


On the 21st, the borders to Himachal Pradesh’s borders closed. There were no declared cases as of yet, so I basked in the idea of isolation… within our beautiful state. I was holding a little class of five, with Norzin, and her friends Sangmo, Kunga and Rignam, whose schools had closed. It was a first for Norzin, who has been homeschooled all her life save for a short stint in the village school, to have more than two pupils in a class, and she loved it.  We read books in English, played vocabulary games and talked about geography and Early Man. It was soon apparent that the regional border closure was a serious matter; parents going to neighboring Uttar Ranchal to pick up their children were turned back and no one was getting through. We spent the week shopping for more essentials and continued to stock on jam and coffee.

On Friday night, we heard two people in our district were confirmed positive one just down the hill, a Kotwali bazaar shop owner’s mother returning from Dubai. We decided to go into lockdown from the next day, and canceled all the usual visitors; nannies, cleaning woman, nurse, and the children coming for classes. That first day was strange, suddenly, it was just us, the extended family of twelve in two adjacent houses, and we readjusted with a feeling of duty, convinced this was the best we could do, and that we were lucky to live as we did. I began calling around, first my sisters in France and the UK and reconnected with elder cousins in various countries, then people around us. Tenor was deputed for the purchase of all perishable goods shopping and we made a run for the local general store to stock up on yogurt and dal. Sunday was to be a nationwide lockdown, from 6am to 9pm, interrupted by a mandatory cacophony of banging of pots and pans at 5 Pm, a show of solidarity to the medical workers. No one banged pots in our area, or we are too far from each other to hear it, but sarcastic remarks abounded, mixed with social media calls for providing them with protective equipment instead. Some rumors had it that this was a one time, 24-hour attempt at stopping the virus. We were relieved when it grew into a lockdown, and by the next morning we knew what we were in for; police on the roads, the hill we live on divided into sections, transportation to a standstill.

Within a day or two, we had turned inward, dividing all the house duties and keeping the children positively occupied. I realized that even after having greatly reduced my travel, how disconnected I was with my own environment and how much my mind had fixated on the outside, on matters that now gradually receded and appeared increasingly irrelevant. We organized ourselves for cooking and cleaning the house and dealing with waste. Baby D has her online school, Norzin classes with me and Yiga spent the first few days exploding in tantrums taking solace cuddling with Dechen or licking to bowl with the chocolate cake mix. We figured she was getting homesick, asking about her father, and enchanted by the cow that wandered into our garden. She must be missing the walks on the pasture with her nanny and her dzomo (yak/cow hybrid) that delivered milk from the source.

Three days ago, an elder Tibetan man coming from the US died of the virus in a Kangra hospital. The police complained that no one respected the norms and imposed a curfew. Now there will be lines for food during the few hours during which it is lifted, which defeats the purpose. In a way, I appreciate the precautions taken and hope they will stop the virus and avoid a possible disaster. The world stopping gives me a soothing feeling. We are lucky to be where we are, for the moment, though I think of all those who remain cramped in small spaces. We took it all from granted and this running everywhere finally is going nowhere and ruining the planet. Even here, the sweeping view from our terrace is clear again, just like it was twenty years ago.

Covit-19 Chronicle 1


On Friday the 13th, India’s borders closed. We imagined the pandemonium that must have created, but we were glad that something was being done. Monday came and reality hit. Early in the morning, Dechen prepared to leave for Delhi for her dentist appointment. Yiga was screaming upstairs, Tenor in the living room, car keys in hand. She felt uneasy, and messages from Noryang in Seattle began to come in, furiously telling her to stay put. After a few minutes, she relented, and by 11, the dentist called and announced they were closing that day. As the day rolled on, I spoke to Noryang who said things were chaotic in Seattle, the medical community in total confusion, no protective suits or leadership, the Health department bouncing off contradictory messages and tests largely unavailable. That same day, she had seen a patient with suspicious symptoms and sent her off to the one clinic that conducted testing. A few hours later, she learned that the patient had been sent home untested, as her Medicare Insurance did not cover the cost of the test and she didn’t have the means to pay for it. “They still only think about money” she said, feeling confused and disheartened.

By noon, the Indian decree used during epidemics was rolled out. All temples and places of worship, schools, and learning institutions were ordered closed, all gatherings canceled. It was forbidden for more than four people to stand together in public places. I began to wonder how these would apply to stores and restaurants since these didn’t appear to be closed…yet. Apparently, there was also a measure put in place against hoarding hand sanitizer. Toilet paper should remain plentiful as the population has other means, much more sanitary actually, for dealing with the matter.

We discussed stocking up. One never knows, if Himachal is cut off, they may block everything and since this state imports most of its foodstuffs from Punjab and beyond, better be safe. We discussed getting plenty of jam, marmite, cheese and beer, (I got scoffed at when I mentioned chocolate) then decided to get more serious and stock on essentials; rice, dal, flour, butter and milk, all items that keep for a long time if stocked properly. It may sound alarming to put butter in that category but this is Amul butter, the Indian national butter that doesn’t need refrigeration and that, though having the look of butter, behaves differently when forcibly melted. We decided to leave the heavy stuff for the next day and Tenor, Dechen, Baby D and I went to the petrol pump, which boasts the busiest mini mart-like store in town. I noticed the liquor had all been raided, but there was beer. We wandered around feeling lost, losing our focus. I didn’t find the jam I liked, the coffee was the wrong brand, but there was yogurt, and body wash. We couldn’t resist ice cream, with Baby D ate with relish, smearing her face with chocolate. We proceeded to Kotwali Bazaar, where we bought a roll of toilet paper to clean her face from a vendor near the parking lot. There seemed to be an ample supply. Most of the stores were closed, but it was Monday, after all, closing day. It was normal, calm, with people going about their business as they have since the first day I came 41 years ago. The fruit vendor conned us into buying mangos past their prime, probably in a hurry to get rid of them. It felt like the calm before the storm, with war declared and the enemy yet to arrive. In the meantime, people were still living and we decided to do the same and treat ourselves to a midafternoon snack in the busy little restaurant that boasts the best bazaar food. We ordered samosas to eat and take home, puri baji, lassi and delicious masala tea served in those little glasses. Our shopping expedition was rather poor, but the outing rich in appreciation of what a normal day can be not knowing what is coming next.