2019 was a bad year for me—personally and professionally. As it drew to a close, I gleefully posted hate messages for 2019, celebrating its departure and enthusiastically cheering the arrival of 2020. Ironically, 2020 began with crushing heartbreak on the personal front, which then became something of a theme for the year. The peaceful CAA-NRC protests came to a faltering end with the eruption of the Delhi riots, and then the simmering pandemic blew up. Before we knew it, the nation was in lockdown and we were all homebound and screen-stuck to our laptops and smartphones. A majority of us had never lived through an epidemic, leave alone a pandemic. It took some weeks to fully grasp this crisis that was effectively going to change our world, but was registering its presence in the form of mundane domestic chores.
It seemed like Covid 19 was an invisible evil force reminding us that we die alone, by ensuring we spend our lives in isolation. Even as we masked up, and sanitised our hands with obsessive regularity, the virus seeped into our subconscious and flourished in our fear.
In fact, fear became the dominant emotion in 2020. Suddenly we became wary of our loved ones—what if I gave my elderly parents the virus? What if I caught the virus off my boyfriend or husband who works in essential services? Suddenly those most comforting of human gestures—hugs and handshakes—became poisoned. And we shrank into our solitary safety clutching our digital devices. Even as those less privileged and more urgently desperate than us began long cruel treks to their villages.
We sympathised with them and began to cook. And bake. And garden. And make videos of our pets. And share them on social media. We formed WhatsApp groups and downloaded community meeting apps and began to compare notes. We began to see a pattern. People, across the world, were making cakes, sharing recipes and reaching out to strangers—singing from balconies to cheer each other up (Italy), spontaneously clapping for health workers as they left their hospitals when shifts changed (New York) and helping migrants go back to their villages (Mumbai, Delhi). Perhaps, without realising even, the human race was searching for new ways to renew old connections. We were reminding ourselves of our own humanity by following our most primal instinct—the need for community. Perhaps, without knowing it, we were healing already.
I, too, had picked up the pieces of my broken heart and assigned them to other worthy candidates, like my dog. I made a road trip to Delhi with my five animals. After a decade of leading an independent, busy working-life in the city of dreams, I was living with my mom and dad again, basking in parental affection and indulgence.
The lockdown was lifted and the country, the world, and its bewildered citizens, limped cautiously back to familiar routines that now felt unfamiliar. I, too, learnt to adapt to a ‘new normal’, where I was taking Covid tests before shoot, promoting my releases on Zoom, doing interviews on video calls, making new friends, almost-boyfriends and finally amicably parting ways with those could-not-become-boyfriends. And attending funerals and weddings on Zoom!
And, now, as we step out of 2020, having survived it (alive), and I prepare to bid adios to this blemished year, composing mean tweets in its honour, I ask myself: What is the one thing I carry with me from 2020? Is it fear, responsibility, hope, sadness, relief, anticipation, resolve, determination… or what? And I realise that my one big take-away from 2020 is gratitude.
Gratitude for my family, my friends, for being well off and privileged, for having enough savings to survive 8-9 months without earning, gratitude for being healthy. Gratitude for being alive! And gratitude that time never stops, and in the immortal words of the Beatles, ‘Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da. Life goes on…’
Welcome 2021. We will survive you, too.