Lockdown, Isolation, Distancing

I haven’t written a post here for three months, and what a strange three months it’s been. After the last entry, when the second operation was postponed due to a test that told me I was pregnant, but after more tests showed I am actually in menopause (how the same result leads to opposite outcomes), I’ve been back at work, and preparing for my trip to India, due to fly there tomorrow for two weeks for a research project. And then after coming back, the operation is rescheduled for 28th April. All planned well and sorted.

Or so I thought.

Now, I’m in isolation in my house, looking at a quiet, frightened world outside. The trip to India is cancelled, and the operation postponed, until… whenever. The university has closed, the students have left, and we’re teaching and meeting through screens, substituting two-dimensional flickering for three=dimensional feeling. As I have asthma, I’m trying to avoid going out as much as possible, grateful for my garden, but also wondering about the nature of contact, and how to live without it.

Perhaps because all my travel plans are on hold, and I’m living within a series of walls with only the views of front and back outside to sustain me, I’ve been thinking about travel, journeying to other countries, the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, the things I’ve done elsewhere than this house and city. I wrote two poems a couple of nights ago. This first one is about Bombay, where I was due to be in a week’s time after working in Bangalore. I was remembering the first time I went there when I was three years old. I have a very vivid memory of watching the colours of the sunset over the sea – it’s one of the clearest memories that’s stayed with me throughout all these years since. Maybe the colours, sounds, smells were so different to my three year-old self’s experience up to then, that this moment imprinted itself in my mind and continued with me. Whenever I go back to Bombay now I need to sit by the sea to watch the sunset, to relive that moment, to connect with the story of my life and family. I usually stay in the south of the city, in Colaba. When travelling from the airport through the traffic-filled streets, there’s one particular moment when turning left onto the seafront at Chowpatty beach and going along Marine Drive. When I sea that view opening up in front of me, I think ‘I’m home’. My other home. So here’s a poem thinking about that, with a photograph I took in 2012 of the sunset over the sea from Marine Drive.

The first time, I was three years old.
My oldest memory.
Colour, colour, colour like I’d never seen before,
And wouldn’t again for nine years.
Many memories still linger from that time,
The otherness of the world imprinting my
Three year-old mind forever to today.
An elderly aunt seating me on her lap
And showing me how to play the keys of a piano.
The horrors of the flight over –
My ears suffering, as they still do now.
People who were family and yet not known.
Smells, sounds, tastes, all overwhelming,
Senses pushed overboard.
A foreign world that over visits, through the years,
Became my other home.
I know I’m home when
Driving from the airport I turn the corner
And head down the wide road with the
Queen’s Necklace of lights,
The art deco verandas,
And the sea filling the bay.
And whenever I go back
I need to sit there again
To see the colours,
To reconnect with the earliest memory.
Marine Drive. Sunset. Home.
 

One of my other favourite moments on Marine Drive is that as the sun goes down, the promenade fills with people come to watch the sunset, as well as go jogging, eat snacks, chat with friends, and walk. I think of this as the Indian passiagata, the tradition of walking through the city in the evening that also happens in Italy, France, and Spain, as well as other places. It’s one of my favourite way of walking in the city, feeling the difference in the way of being at these times compared to the day. Above all, the passiagata for me is a time of being sociable, of being in contact with people through walking, talking, drinking, watching. Strange to think that all those places are now also in lockdown, empty, quiet. In this time of ‘social distancing’, the yearning to be anything other than socially distant is very strong, so the memory of passiagata is in my mind and body as I sit in my house, surrounded by unseen others also in solitude, sharing yet separate, waiting and hoping.

Photos below of passiagata in different cities that I’ve taken, followed by a poem.

Passiagata on Marine Drive, Bombay, 2014
Lecce, 2011
Nice, 2009
Passiagata, passiagata!
My favourite kind of walk.
In Italy, Spain, France, India,
(Lecce, Madrid, Nice, Bombay)
Walking through dusk- to dark- covered skies
With the brightest of lights in
Shops, cafes, bars.
Strolling along by joggers, talkers, drinkers, lovers,
And sellers of balloons, ice-cream, toys, snacks.
Andante meanderings through the changed city landscape,
Sipping cerveza, licking gelato, munching olives, drooling over mangoes,
Sharing evening air and gossip
Accompanied by musics of many sorts.
Crowded yet spacious, occupying time and place
With many others also pacing away the few hours,
Promenading through a liminal life in measured breaths.