The family that occupies the house next door has all four members currently in residence, but none of its staff. It has caused our cook no little mirth that jharoo-pocha from her kitchen window. Her belly rolls as she tells me this. Never have I been more grateful for our resident staff, even though they are away from their families during this emotionally-draining crisis.
Our children don’t know how to cook (unless you count dissolving packets of Maggi in hot water), I’m not great at running the washing machine, I can’t see my daughter-in-law doing the bartans, and as for sweeping and swabbing, the less said the better. Having help has left us free to work from home and offered the freedom to catch up with long-pending tasks, even though we talk more about the things we ought to be doing than doing them. I’m supposed to organise the library, but suffer from book-dust allergy (at least that’s what I’ve told the family); my son is supposed to inventory our collection of antiques and art, but hasn’t got around to it because he’s used to a phalanx of assistants. At office, he grumbles, he would not have to do such menial tasks as entering data. That’s one chore that won’t get started, leave alone finished.
Our friends, on the other hand, are showing remarkable zeal. Some are organising food kitchens for the poor; others for strays and other animals. They’re setting up collecting points for medicines and clothes; organising deliveries or cooked food for elderly neighbours; and generally being sanctimonious to a fault. Some have managed to catch up with filing photographs chronologically. Others are shooting videos on how to do yoga, stay fit, stitch, knit or cook, sharing them liberally over social platforms. It’s enough to make you sick and unlike them.
My wife has decided to devote her waking hours to growing houseplants. She pots, prunes, repots, trims, binds; roots are cleaned, leaves washed, seeds planted, soil fertilised; there’s a constant transferring from small pot to medium pot to large pot; alongside the compost are bottles full of enzyme that we’re in fear of mistaking for a soft drink and draining at our peril. It wouldn’t matter if she confined her activity to the part of the house where you’re supposed to keep plants, but there are allegedly edible stems and leaves occupying pots and pans in the kitchen, flowers in various stages of decay in the living room, microgreens in the dining room, and oxygen-producing plants in the bedrooms. You can’t walk around without tripping over gardening paraphernalia on the floor. It’s spring, so everything is in leaf and flower, making it impossible to impose a lockdown
and throw it all away.
When this is past, everyone says, we must remember the cleaner air, the bluer sky, the birdsong, the empty roads on which we take the dog for walks without fear of being run over. Yet, when the cook summoned me to the kitchen to point to the sahib next door scrubbing floors, I took vicarious pleasure in creating my own memories. The surreptitiously shot video will go a long way in easing the inevitable, eventual strain of traffic jams.