(Published in Khaleej Times dated 1 March, 2022)
Last week, for the first time in two years, I stepped out and gingerly crossed the frontiers, into a world outside that probably had taken many cartwheels since the last time I took a flight. Normalcy on the exterior had probably started returning to human lives many months ago, and the pandemic had receded into the shadows for the most part. Trips and tours had once again become routine for people, but we in the family waited for 24 months before venturing into the virus-ripped world once again.
A lot has changed in the inner prescincts in this interim, and a lot, I reckon, has remained intact. Life outside might also have altered much. Yet a lot might be the same as I had known and seen before 18 March 2020 when the shutters closed behind us, right after an hour we landed in Dubai.
In the months when everything around us reeled in inexorable chaos, and life had become a synonym for death, we were ensconced in a cocoon, spending half the time in paranoia and half in prayer. It was hard to put a date to when the air will clear and when we would flap our wings once again. But life always leads us out of the dark alleys whenever it deems right and my trip to the mother land and to an aged mother came to pass recently.
Pre-travel jitters, of which I am an eternal victim, found new levels this time as I prepared for the outing. Flying suddenly felt like a new experience. Almost like a fledgling first-timer, I struggled with things at the airport - getting bag zippers stuck, fumbling and dropping documents, forgetting how to get past the smart gate, wishing I had an extra pair of hands to hold the bags, the jacket and the rest that I had lugged along. I suddenly remembered the adage, 'less luggage more comfort' once again. I will never learn, alas!
As I filed past the formalities, feeling the dull ache behind my ears, I vaguely sensed that the familiarity of travel had left me, and it might take a bit to get back to it. Inertia and lethargy had set in firmly in two years and it might take some time to shake them off. The spirit of travel has gathered mildew and it will need all the native sunshine to get rid of it from the bone marrows. The boundaries of my comfort zones will have to be redrawn and I must learn to breathe freely once again, albeit through the impeding layer of the mask. A pitstop in New Delhi, a nostalgic trip home and a big fat wedding are what I have been banking on to reinstate a semblance of 'all is well' to our rattled, dislocated lives again.
As I strolled aimlessly through the lanes of New Delhi soaking in the nascent summer, and boring through the incessant car horns, I realized with a sense of dread that some months ago, this very atmosphere was heavy with the smell of corpses. These very streets had echoed with the sound of sirens and wheezes from strained lungs. All the dystopian scenes I had seen on TV screens had indeed occurred here, in these lanes that now bear little signs of what had happened. If anything, the masks were the only reminders of a past catastrophe, apart from alternating tales of surviving and succumbing to a wicked virus. Tragedies are such sneaky, self-effacing brutes, I thought.
In the next few weeks, I will be out and about, testing the muddied waters that are now beginning to settle. After a freeze of two long seasons, I am now warming up to live the new-born moments of an open world, seeking inspiration in every little experience. Among them are some instants so glorious that they deserve to become eternities. But moments are mortal and they have to pass. Death is in their destiny. But then again, moments are noble. When they depart, they give us parting gifts to embellish our remaining days. They leave indelible memories. It is in our memories that the legacy of our moments lives. We put them in small crucibles and carry them with us as keepsakes wherever we go, to stand us in good stead when the things around us begin to look bleary and boring.
As I prepare for my outings in a post-covid world to collect memories and craft stories, I know that a lot has changed, but a lot still remains the same. Like the Air India’s Maharaja with whom I flew again, for instance.