“Do you need anything from More?” my wife asked, leaving for grocery shopping to the hypermarket that may have taken its name from a Charles Dickens novel, Oliver Twist.
(If you recall in the book about bleak and dreary London, a hungry, orphaned boy asks his caretaker in an orphanage for more food, and gets a tongue lashing and more).
“Can you get me a ‘thali’ [plate made of stainless steel]?,” I said. “The prime minister [Narendra Modi] has asked me to clap my hands and bang on the plate on our balcony, to salute the medical workers who are on the forefront of the fight against the deadly coronavirus, and we only have melamine plates.”
“I’ll try and also get hand sanitisers, ‘toor dal’ [split pigeon peas] and toilet paper,” she said. “Please be quiet when I come back, I have online classes on Zoom.”
“Coronavirus kills the elderly. And you are no spring chicken, who does not eat any fruits and vegetables.
After she left with the driver, who seemed zonked out of his skull over this virus thing, I went to the balcony for a trial run with two empty cans.
As I banged them together, I saw a jet-black cat on the community wall, and it seemed to have got a shock of its life. It immediately froze, one leg still up in the air and looked up at me on the third floor with its emerald green eyes, as if to say, “What’s wrong with you?”
This gated community in Bengaluru has great landscaping, nice big flats, but they do not face East and that is why the rooms seem dark as dungeons, and the balconies are teeny, just enough for midgets to hang out their clean laundry and dirty mops, to dry.
(When I first landed in Dubai, which incidentally has a population of 2.6 million Indians, the municipality had sent an urgent note to all residents not to hang their laundry on the balconies as it was ruining the posh atmosphere).
As I turned to go back inside, my feet got stuck as the balcony width was so small and I had to take off my shoes to free myself. I was thinking of setting up my Bose system on the balcony and blasting it full throttle like some Spaniard did in Spain, to try and scare the virus, but then gave up the idea as my balcony might collapse under the weight.
My wife came back with bottles of pills of “amla” (Indian gooseberry). “Coronavirus kills the elderly,” she said. “And you are no spring chicken, who does not eat any fruits and vegetables,” she said.
Amla is a very bitter tasting fruit that has Vitamin C and is supposed to be a super food and provides immunity from colds and flu.
‘Chawanaprash’ is another herbal supplement made from amla and nutrient-rich herbs and minerals. When scooped out of the bottle it looks deadly and creepy black, and when air travel was popular once upon a time, airport security forbid anyone from carrying Chawanaprash on board, the reason for which I could never find out.
My wife said eggs were flying off the shelves as if people were expecting chickens to stop laying them.
“People were fighting for ‘thalis’,” she said. “One woman had a dozen thalis in her trolley. You will have to use the cover from our pot at 5pm.”
“It’s not the same thing,” I said sullenly, then I ran inside as mosquitoes were dive bombing me. Coronavirus or COVID-19 (it keeps mutating its name), is deadly enough and I did not wish to go hopping from hospital to hospital seeking scarce doctors and medical workers for another potpourri of diseases.
Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi.