2020 has been a year that has gripped humankind by its claws. We do not know when we would be able to break free. We do not know what more is in store for us. The pandemic has hit us so hard that the impact of the blow is perpetual. As people grapple with physical health, mental well-being and economic slump, there is this disquieting feeling of helplessness within me. It has been heartening to see how the common people have risen up to the catastrophe to help and support those in need. We all have tried to do our bit but none of us can really undo the loss or turnaround the situation. I think I have become even more cognizant of my privilege and I count my blessings every moment of the day. With two senior citizens and a 5-year-old at home, I have been quite vigilant from the time the lockdown was initially announced. This means that even though the world has started unlocking gradually, we are sticking to maintaining our self-imposed lockdown. We head out only when it is a ‘have-to’ and not a ‘would-like-to’ scenario. We have learnt to embrace the mundane within the confines of our comfortable abode.
During this period, I have been amazed at how my little one, like most other kids, has adapted to the situation she was thrown into all of a sudden. While adults have been giving more than their two cents on everything ‘COVID’, children have silently weathered it all with a smile and spunk. Because I work closely with kids as a creative writing mentor, I have been privy to the way their lives have transformed irrespective of age or location. The virtual birthday parties or video calls with loved ones seem like a stopgap solution but can never replace the vibes of personal human interactions. But we got to do what we got to do. My daughter had been home-bound for almost five months when I finally decided to take her out for cycling taking all the precautionary measures. It was no more like before when we could just spontaneously step out of our home. Masks, sanitizer and most of all, clear instructions on what not to touch led to us finally feeling prepared for the eagerly anticipated outing.
The delight in her eyes was evident as she soaked in the surroundings and remarked, “It all looks so different and beautiful, Mumma”. As she pedaled away blissfully with me plodding along, I spotted familiar faces from my community at a distance. I flashed a smile. But I did not get a smile in return. I was perplexed and smiled again only to get no reaction from them. It took a few seconds for me to figure that we were wearing masks, hence either they did not realize I am smiling at them or I was not able to view their smiles from behind the masks. It made my heart sink. I looked around and it hit me how the masks were masking the smiles that have many stories to tell. I could not witness the naughty smiles of the teenagers. I missed the excited smiles of the tiny tots. I searched for the content smiles on the faces of women as they were ambling around to wind down after a hard day’s work. In all this, I was seeking my own smile which had tacitly, slowly died down on my lips.
The ‘new normal’ seemed anything but normal. While the masks are like our armours in the fight against this lethal virus, they have taken away from the warmth that completes the equation of meeting or greeting another human. I looked at the brighter side and submitted myself to nature’s glory which was in full bloom as a result of minimal human intervention in the last few months. It was almost as if nature was performing a balancing act, to make up for what we all are being deprived of in our day to day lives. My daughter stopped by the park and longingly stared at it. The barren park would once brim with innocent and gleeful smiles. We sighed and moved on, and I did what I usually do to keep myself pepped up in moments like these – I counted my blessings again! As the world continues to succumb to the idiosyncrasies of 2020, I know that the smiles behind the masks will have to wait.