” Smiles – Love in the Times of Corona” by Meera Kumar Menon
Care Consciously! # DEFEAT CORONA

Smiles

“I shall be the one to do shopping this time”, I declared and ventured out in the morning, rather excited at an opportunity to so much as see a few new faces. Man is after all a social animal, I have recently begun to understand, being way too comfortable in my claustrophobic spaces for extended periods of time. Armed with a mask and sanitiser, a mental map of all the places I need to visit; the bank, the medical shop, the grocery store and so forth, my usual accomplice Asru ettan is summoned. A pleasant man in his late forties, he is our quintessential all round help. Need a thing or two from the market?, put a word with him. Need to pay a bill?, just let him know. Need to make a quick trip?, summon the saaradhi, not to mention the occasional delicacies his wife would send home, for my sweet cravings.

“Long time!”, I call out as I see him waiting at the gate, dusting the autorickshaw. Each time, he is made to wait for a passenger, I have noticed him pick up a piece of cloth from under the driver’s seat and vehemently clean his beloved rikshaw. “I have no children, this one is as good as”, I’ve heard him say, just once, a deep longing, most carelessly dusted off, towel in hand.

On our way, Indira chechi, one among the first who taught me to dream, waves from the field along with her MGNREGA colleagues, on their cleaning mission. Two minutes from home, the auto makes a momentary stop, and a woman in her thirties, in her carelessly draped saree and tired eyes, get in, accepting our lift.
I smile at her, only to be a little taken aback by her disinterest in returning the courtesy. The least one could do is smile, I think to myself, slightly annoyed.

“Must be to the bank?” Asru ettan enquires casually.
“How would you know?” She snaps.
“All of us daily wage workers are trying to save up aren’t we?”, he remarks casually, and I feel a spontaneous camaraderie surface between the two of them, one of compounding fears and scarce resources, the kind we might miss out on uber premium rides.

A few chores after, moving to the bank and waiting outside (one needs to wait for the token numbers, to even enter the bank now) to cash a cheque, I see our lady scurrying near the ATM counter. She looks at me for an extra second, a little embarrassed to seek help. Pulling out her ATM card and handing it over to me, she is about to whisper the pin. “Don’t tell me, you can punch it,” I tell her, feigning another unreturned smile. “I didn’t come to deposit, there has been no work since the last two months you know” she
breathes in a quick hushed undertone. I nod, and hand over three five hundred rupee notes. “Your available balance is 82 rupees” the machine flickers for a second.
“This is it”, she says, a little too matter of-fact-ly, her eyes fixed on the three notes, and turning away, leaving me with a dry throat and little left to say.

As I return to the auto, we cross paths again. Asru ettan, our good samaritan asks her if she needs a lift back. “I will walk to the BSNL office. Appu needs internet for classes. My boy is in tenth standard”, she breaks into a brisk stride, avoiding my eye.
Good thing, I tell myself, realising that at times, it could get way too hard to return a smile.

Reaching home, ettan helps me carry the grocery bags to the door. How much for the trip? I ask. “Eighty rupees”.
I hand him some notes and an extra two rupee coin. “Whats this for?”, he wonders, confused. “Just like that”, I tell him, returning his goodbye and smile.

Two rupees for Poetic Justice.

I slowly seat myself to read through my daily share, but fail to keep a steady eye, the travel, heat, and pollution, even though at lower levels than usual, took it’s toll. The cost for completing the process of daily life, costing a bribe. I return to my pillows, a dishevelled body and mind. How callously do we maintain our thoughts and ego, the basic courtesies lost in it’s wind. How we forget to ask, if another is doing well. How we in our fatigue stay averse to another’s. How we forget to ask someone even something basic as their name. Social distancing, the art to keep others safe with physical borders, must be a novel term of the hour, and a yet a lil too familiar on a subtle level within?
Maybe Indra chechi, Asru ettan, and the woman whose name I didn’t ask were all too unaware of their fatigue. Our lives depending on the ability to make it through the day and keeping our wits about, keeping the world at arms length, and enduring on with our lives with whatever little it provides.

The post lockdown spectacle of recuperation and re-assimilation would be the next challenge after corona.

Times are tough, perhaps each day survived, is a moment to be grateful, one to count our blessings. Maybe for now it is enough to survive and not be too keen on expectations of merriment.

Stay tuned for more about “Love in the times of Corona” 😊 
With Conscious Care, Together we shall overcome!

Care Consciously! #DefeatCorona !

Disclaimer: The opinions endorsed by the speaker is solely the author’s and not in any way endorsed by the Institute/Programme.