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.