A story on how women have battled Covid woes, first published on Women’s Web in March 2022.
A POSITIVE PROPOSAL
The steam vaporizer let out its customary glug glug in an unaltering rhythm for an entire five minutes. The dense steam billowing out of the nozzle seemed to hover around aimlessly for a while before deciding to waft off somewhere above, in a train of curly wisps.
For the past five days, this had become de rigeur for Myra – regular Betadyne gargles (God knows how much she hated that pungent taste stinging her pharynx!) followed by steam inhalation. A cache of tablets and syrups that would put any well-stocked chemist to shame, completed her clinical regimen. The third wave of Corona was raging through the country and Myra had been one of the thousands to fall prey to this seemingly invincible virus. Her symptoms had been mild. But the fact that she had contracted it for the second time in eight months, somewhat raised her hackles!
“You know Leena, I feel really amused when I look at my medical history,” Myra chuckled to her friend over the phone that morning, “Malaria as a child, twice; C-section, twice: and now this darn virus, twice? Anuj says he’s pretty sure if I look around carefully, I would find a twin sibling tucked away somewhere!” Both women shared a hearty laugh at the final conjecture! Call it coincidence, but both had been afflicted by the virus almost around the same time. For Leena, it was a first. After chatting for some more time, they hung up.
Leena’s husband Hemant, and Anuj were colleagues at work. All four of them belonged to the same age bracket and hence, shared a good rapport. Combined vacations and monthly picnics further cemented their bond. From being complete foodies, to being nature lovers and retro music aficionados, the two families shared several common passions and always had each other’s back, in times of need.
Myra’s day invariably ended with her feeling like she had just been hit by a tornado, courtesy a demanding job and her two young children. On the other hand, Leena, a qualified high school teacher, had taken a two-year sabbatical after the birth of her son. She had wanted to devote herself entirely to the infant during his initial years. Unfortunately, as her self-imposed break neared its end, she found herself getting buried under a mounting pile of domestic responsibilities. And finally, a time came when she herself forwarded her resignation to the school management board.
At 39, Myra was an attractive lady with an oval face and dark brown hair trimmed into a smart blunt. Her expressive almond eyes radiated affable vibes to all those who looked at them. Myra was not what one would call a stunning beauty, but she took good care of herself and ensured that she appeared well turned out at all times. As the Brand Consultant of an advertising and marketing giant, her job entailed meeting clients regularly . And she never failed to impress them with her incisive business acumen, strong professional approach, and a very infectious positivity (not virus-induced, though). If her company’s sales were headed north, Myra, undoubtedly had a meaty contribution in it. And fortunately for her, both her superiors and her colleagues understood and acknowledged that.
“Mumma, can I show you the drawing I just made?” An excited, child-like voice trilled on the other side of the bedroom door, followed by some impatient knocking. “Ma’am asked us to draw a garden…Mumma, can I just come in once?”
“No, no sweetheart, please don’t come in here… the wicked virus will get you,” Myra almost jumped up in alarm. “You will have a nasty khich-khich in your throat…and then your favourite badam milk will taste so bland. Do you want that, baby?”
The voice on the other side fell quiet. As the prancing footsteps receded, Myra grinned. Badam milk had never let her down when it came to convincing her 4-year-old princess! She knew the little girl would soon cuddle up with her older brother to watch their favourite cartoon show. Or better still, gleefully dirty their hands on the pretext of tending their plants!
Two Days later
The spacious bedroom lay dappled in the sun’s first golden beams that sneaked their way in through the cream and peach floral curtains.
9 a.m? Can’t imagine I’m still in bed! Feels so good, waking up to birdsong, simply lying back and doing nothing. No meetings to attend, no deadlines to meet, no mails to answer…gosh, can’t remember when last, I had felt so free!
Bath and breakfast done, Myra went to the open balcony adjoining her bedroom and plonked herself on one of the well-padded cane chairs. The bright embroidered cushions immediately brightened her mood – she allowed herself to be cocooned in their warm, cottony embrace. Living in the suburbs of Bangalore had its advantages – they enjoyed all the luxuries of a metropolitan city sans the attending ills of crowds and cacophony. Besides, their sixteenth-storey balcony accorded them a view of the verdant hills at a distance flanked by miles of lush, green, agricultural land.
Myra closed her eyes and inhaled deeply – the air, redolent with the spicy scent of the foliage inside their gated township, soused her very being. She was indisposed, without a doubt, but on second thoughts, was it a boon? In disguise?
She instantly fluttered her eyes open – how could she even think along these lines, she chastised herself. Thousands had lost their lives and jobs to the deadly pandemic. The economy was heading south. And here she was celebrating her forced isolation?!
But why not? By God’s grace, I’m recovering well. The organisation has granted me paid sick leave. All these years, life, for me, had become a mundane chronicle of relentless tasks, both at home and at work…no rest, no hobbies. When the kids came along, did I extend my maternity leave beyond six months each? No. Expenses were mounting and our car and house loan EMIs had to be paid.
Over time, things improved. And now that we are comfortable, why can’t I indulge in some self-love, some TLC?
Myra’s head seemed to dispute what her heart felt. She had no qualms admitting that she had thoroughly enjoyed these long, lazy days and nights. Bingeing on books and Netflix, being served readymade meals, not having to supervise the home and house help, the grocery or the gas cylinder refill, and most significantly, scrolling down the mobile or catching up with old friends –had it not been for this illness, would she ever get a chance to enjoy these perks without toppling the apple cart? Agreed, Anuj was an understanding husband. But was he ready to bend over backwards to accommodate Myra’s need for a break? She had her doubts!
Why am I trying to push this thought into the dark recesses of my mind? Even after so many years, why do I feel guilty about doing something for myself? During weekends, Anuj is free to go cycling or meet his college buddies over beer. But my Sundays are earmarked for extra laundry, special dinners and decluttering sessions. Add to that, the kids’ perpetual gripe that I don’t spend enough time with them. These past few days, how much I enjoyed being on long video calls with them…little joys of life that come with a price!
Besides, Myra got a chance to delve deep within herself and introspect on various aspects of her life. Her present job, her future plans, the monetary back-up required to secure the children’s future – was she on the right track? Did her or Anuj’s trajectory need a rejig? She had lengthy discussions with her tax consultant over the phone and mail, and she reviewed a few decisions. She would later discuss them with Anuj. And flaunt her financial savvy!
Her reverie was broken by a blip on her phone.
Hey, ending my isolation tomorrow –can’t wait to get back to routine. Hemant’s so terribly loaded! Hope you, too, come out soon.
The pithy message from Leena somehow bothered her.
Just a week and she was ready to plunge headlong into the same banal chores? Was she fit enough to resume work? Didn’t she mention a nagging leg pain and persisting weakness?
Myra reached for her phone. Basic pleasantries over, she spoke upfront.
“Leena, don’t you think you should stay in isolation for some more days? It’s barely been a week, and you’ve not even regained your strength. The house seems to be running fine, so what’s the rush?”
“No Myra, Hemant’s work is suffering. He has to do all the chores himself. Plus, the office work and looking after Vihaan. I’m getting better each day…I’ll manage.”
“Vihaan is nine, going to be ten…older than my son! I’ve seen him at play –smart fellow! In fact, he’ll be happy to have you out of his hair for some more time!” Myra laughed as she said this. Images of her own children, making the most of their mom’s absence, danced before her eyes.
“Listen Leena,” Myra tried her best to keep the decibels, and her impatience levels, at their lowest. “The world’s not going to end if you stay inside a bit longer! Remember when Hemant had a nasty fracture in his foot? You had taken care of him for six whole weeks. And Vihaan was just a baby …what a tireless caregiver you had been! Now Vihaan is older. Plus, there are umpteen online outsourcing options available – please rest for a few more days, Leena,” she was now almost imploring her friend.
“Hemant is a little different – he is very sweet, but…not as worldly wise or efficient as Anuj,” Leena replied in a small voice. “He was so delighted when we decided to end my quarantine tomorrow! How can I back out now?”
“Anuj? Worldly wise and smart? You should listen to his tales of horror then!” Myra recalled how once the kitchen sink got badly clogged – the putrid smell coupled with fragments of vegetable peel and leftover lentil, had almost made him retch. His takeaway — never empty food vessels into the sink without passing them through a colander! Thus, the virus and this unordinary phase had taught him several lasting life lessons. As it had done, to countless other Indian men! It was difficult, no doubt, and the teething troubles were many. But a bit of prior planning and juggling ensured that the wrinkles were ironed out.
“Let your body recoup, Leena – they have managed this far, they will manage some more. This is the one mistake we all make,” Myra explained in a voice laced with common sense and reason, “we refuse to listen to our body. We refuse to pause…slow down…heal. Stop feeling guilty, either for your illness, or for your isolation. You need to spend some relaxed time with your best friend – your inner self!”
There was a short pregnant pause on the other side. After a while, Leena spoke – her tone reflecting a newfound clarity and calm.
“Thanks for the push, my dear Myra. To be honest, I had secretly come to enjoy my precious rendezvous with solitude. And the perks of uninterrupted rest. In fact, I feel so rejuvenated every morning. And how I rebuked myself for this epiphany! But I’m so glad, your thoughts resonated with mine. I shall speak to Hemant right away…I know he’ll understand.”
A knock on the door indicated that Myra’s mid-morning coffee had arrived. As she took a sip of her favourite poison, an idea clicked.
How about turning life coach as a standby career plan? I’ll strike gold, I wager!
Myra smiled, happy in the knowledge that she had been able to make a positive difference in someone’s life today.
First published on Women’s Web in March 2022.
P.C. Zohre Nemati on Unsplash