(When phase 1 of the COVID-19 lockdown was announced on the evening of March 24, 2020, I decided to write my daily experiences for all the 21 days of the lockdown. But my interest waned only after writing for three consecutive nights. This piece is all I managed to write.)
March 24, 2020, 11:53 PM
Exactly 7 minutes from now, as I start writing, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 21-day country-wide lockdown will take effect. It will be stricter than ‘Janta Curfew’ (civil curfew) as he said in his televised address to the nation.
I don’t know and, I guess, nobody knows what these days hold for us. I live with four other boys in a flat in Delhi’s Johri Farm locality in lane 4. My flat number is 15 and the building is 185-A. I only know one of these boys. He used to be my batch mate for a 2-year degree course at the Central University of Kashmir. Rest are his friends and neighbours, one of whom just shifted today from lane 7. He probably was alone there as his other roommate had booked an emergency ticket to Kashmir that cost him, according to him, some 24,000 INR.
Today, when he was moving his belonging to my flat, one particular thing he carried attracted a neighbour’s attention. In the evening, I got a call from my landlord saying that some neighbour had seen the newcomer with the luggage that had the airline baggage tags attached to it. They suspected that he must have arrived from abroad. I clarified everything and he was convinced about what I said. But before I started writing, I received another call from him telling that the neighbours were still worried and suspicious about the boy’s arrival and that they had started panicking more after an ambulance was spotted outside our apartment building which actually had come to take some patient for dialysis. I told him to allow me to speak to the neighbours but seeking reassurance from me again, he said he will tell the neighbours himself.
Soon after PM Modi announced the country-wide lockdown, I along with other two flat mates, including the one who arrived only today, went for shopping to a nearby grocery store, not a big one though. Its aisles were already choked with people when we entered but we still managed to get our hands on a 21.8 kg sack of rice, few packets of biscuits, a bottle of cooking oil, a couple of types of pulses and few other items that we thought couldbbe used. There were some people who didn’t wear masks and it seemed they were more worried, like all of us I suppose, about food than the coronavirus. Reports of panic buying were coming from other places also which made the PM tweet and clarify that essential services like food will not be affected by the lockdown. That remains to be seen, and I will insha Allah write whatever I come across during the day.
March 25, 11:57 PM
I had decided not to continue writing here in this space but just about an hour ago I received a phone call from my elder sister from Kashmir. Her voice was trembling and she seemed terrified as she was speaking. She told me that the mosques’ loudspeakers in the neighbourhood were blaring with Azan (call to prayer) which is unusual for this time of the night and that our uncle had told her that stars and the sky have come down a bit. I started reassuring her that nothing of that sort was possible and that it was some preacher from Pakistan who had told people to give azan from their homes at 10 PM tonight to ward off coronavirus, which she and my entire family didn’t know about.
It took a lot of convincing to make my family members act normal. They were petrified, especially my elder sister who cried on the phone. My father even wished me luck should anything untoward take place in that moment.
Later, I came across reports that entire Kashmir was abuzz with azans and many shared on Facebook some big shining object in the sky, which couldn’t be verified. But a journalist friend shared a report by CNN that said, “Venus is expected to reach its maximum elongation for the year in the east of the evening sky by March 24, 2020, according to Earth Sky. On this night, Venus will stay out for a maximum amount of time after sunset”.
One wonders how, in the absence of information or access to it, people believe everything. I pray its repercussions are not that serious there.
March 26, 12:28AM
I spoke to my sister and dad in the afternoon. They were not as scared as they were the previous night. But the news of the first death related to the coronavirus had got them worried a bit.
I didn’t do much today. I was in my room for the entire day and only left it in the evening to buy some grocery from the market. Most of the shops were closed. Fruit and vegetable vendors and some grocery shops here and there were open. Most of the people who I passed or saw wore masks.
I am planning to go out on Saturday and take my friend’s digital camera with me. Although the move looks dangerous, but I still plan to go and shoot some pictures or do a story on what is happening around. Such plans mostly never materialise because for me it is very tough as I fall between two tools: lack of enthusiasm and excuse of staying in the comfort of my flat which feels like home — to some extent only, though.
—Younis Ahmad Kaloo is a journalist and short story writer.