Moving Cities in COVID Times
Series of 9 Micro Stories from Nov 2019-June 2020
“We have to move”
. . . . are four ominous-sounding words. These 4-word sentences have a way about them that makes them sound like bad news, like “ we need to talk”. Right?
The ‘finalness’ of the sentence and yet the uncertainty regarding future circumstances is like a dark cloud hanging over the sentiment. The brain just throws a volley of questions like- “What??” “Where??” “Why??” “Is it going to be better than this?” It’s the same, whether it is a few seats down in a flight or changing of offices or moving cities or migrating across countries.
Even while I’m writing this- it puts me to shame when I think of millions and millions of men, women, and children who have moved cities on foot during this lock-down surviving on Parle-G biscuits and water. My writing and experience may appear vain and ‘first-world-problem’ like as compared to their courageous, and heart-wrenching stories. However, I’m still going ahead with it. Because my so-called adventures could be a bit funny to some people and the world needs a few laughs right now.
Here is a series of stories that range from November last year to June this year.
#1. Drum-Roll Please!
(November to January)
The story starts in November when my husband got offered a job in a new city. We knew this would warrant a move. Being part of the family that has moved every 2–3 years as a kid, this was something that didn’t cause any immediate trepidation.
I somehow thought I could use this amazing opportunity to eat my cake and keep it too. Time and again, it has proven that this sort of thing does not happen. But some people live to challenge the teachings of time. Some people like to invite complexities to their lives just to make it interesting. Some people are stupid. Yours truly could be one of those people.
The plan was simple. Send the husband to his new shiny job and use this time to party with the gals, wine a-flowing. To say good-bye to Mumbai in the way that one breaks up from a loving relationship.
Also- one would think that 4 months should be enough time for a responsible parent to find a new school for your only daughter or at least to do enough research. Well, we and our lofty selves certainly found the most preferred school and that’s it. As if there’s going to be some red carpet inviting our precious daughter right into the warm cozy temple of learning. Lazy people are very happy, self-satisfied. That explains how we were very happy with our bare minimum “research”.
Happy with everything important taken care of, we took a lovely holiday to Bangkok and Krabi. This is just about when COVID news had started trickling in. This is probably the only thing that worked for us this year. May be because we didn’t plan this one at all.
Holiday glow waning, husband was off for his new adventure in on 31st January. New city. No house.
It was when he reached there that he informed that all other schools have closed admissions. And our back up school didn’t hold good anymore since we were not going to live in that neighborhood. After a frantic frantic search and reach out, we found more schools that were still taking some admissions. What finally happened with the school is explained a little later in the stories below. You may have to read through.
Yes. That’s the kind of dirty trickster I am.
#2. Break-a-leg but don’t break your leg.
Well, as planned, my husband made his journey across to the land of Murugan Idly Shop and Besant Nagar Beach.
He finally found the house. But it was not working out so great for him alone in a big empty house and a new city. So when he visited Mumbai on our anniversary, I decided to throw a party for him to make him feel better. Translation-invite both our parents, friends, extended family. I thought the more the merrier, isn’t that how it goes? Well, that certainly went as per the plan, if the plan was to overwhelm him and piss him off. He spent the rest of our special day like a bloated raft, floating aimlessly.
So, to make amends, I invited him to play a spiriting game of badminton in the cement court on our premises. In the same spirit, I didn’t see a huge puddle of water next to where my feet were.
With my eyes on the ambitious shuttlecock, ready to strike, I slipped and did a full Kung-Fu style split. Master Chi-Fu would be proud. Also twisted my knee and hip and ruptured the AC ligament in my knee.
I thought maybe an injured co-player could dilute his mood, but that wasn’t to be. If anything he now was split between pissed off and depressed.
And that’s how dear ladies and gentlemen- we break a leg without breaking it. Proudly limping ever since. Argh!
#3. Be-Car (read as bekaar) at RTO
With the hubby back to Chennai after the disastrous weekend, I decided to undertake the mountainous task of procuring NOC (No Objection Certificate) from the local RTO(regional transport office) for our car as an over-compensation. Because I wasn’t done doing that.
The most frustrating aspect of getting your work done in an office like the RTO is the total and absolute power that resides with the person sitting behind the counter. And the most frustrating manner in which the said person wields it. They can flick a finger and your work can get done instantly and flick another one to destroy your life and time. Usually it’s the latter. Basically, it’s that simple.
If there is a scope in the school syllabus,one project should include a trip to the local government office with an actual task. Anyone who gets the job done will get 100 marks. No test. All the goodness within you has already been tested by the good person behind the counter.
Here’s another fun fact: If you think you are someone special because you are prepared, you are mistaken. Just because you downloaded and printed all the appropriate forms, made a checklist and got all the correct documents, placed all the said documents and their copies in separate labelled folders, included a few other “important” just-in-case document, found out about the working hours and days and planned everything to the minute, you cannot assume your work will be done. Chances are that your work will definitely not be done on the same day. Or the Next day. Or until they choose. Or in my case- until COVID happens and all govt offices are shut for months.
Well. I gave up. Nothing’s happened since in that department.
#4. Locked Down.
After I decided to give up on the RTO, my soul became light and free ! The joy of food and happiness returned to my life. My husband too, decided to join us and work from Mumbai since HR at his office directed everyone to work from home. The plan was to pack everything by the end of March and then all of us would fly back to Chennai. He could continue to work from home there. Obviously there was not going to be any party-time with the gals and no wine was a-flowing. I focused my already depleted will towards how can I make the move happen fast and smooth.
I decided to start with the kitchen. Idea was to systematically consume or donate unused edible stuff so that we can clean all the Tupperware. It would be easier to start afresh and we could always fill groceries in the new city. By mid march, it appeared that the plan is working out okay, because we were down to one cup rice by last week of March. Just when we heard about a 21 day lock-down.
A mad dash to the nearest grocery store later we realized how futile the activity was, as we weighed the risk of getting sick by getting into cramped queues. Deciding that it wasn’t worth getting exposed, I remember taking a measure of all the edible items in the house. It was finally derived that dinner was a privilege that will be extended only to the singular youngest one for 21 days or more.
Oh. Did the PM forget to mention that essential supply shall continue? Hah! Good one.
#5. The love affair with Dunzo
Traumatized by how empty my kitchen was, the survival instinct went on rampage. As a result I may have spent more time on #Dunzo, #Bigbasket, #Amazonpantry, and #NaturesBasket Apps than on sleep in the following days.
While the world struggled with larger problems, I struggled with maintaining different shopping lists with different grocery shopping apps. Technology saved the day (many days for me). Maybe one of these days I plan to write an open letter to Dunzo guys for saving me right from 24 March all the way to now.
We went through our own emotional cycle fairly fast- of shock over the severity of the lock-down, anger at the invisible virus and at an extremely elaborate grocery sanitizing routine, sadness due to loss of house-help, negotiation on meal plans and finally acceptance of the new life.
Whatever effort was put in packing and wrapping up so judiciously got undone within a couple of days. New winds of life blew anew into the kitchen pantry. The kitchen itself thrived on constant presence of people and much attention. Instagram-worthy dishes got conjured within. New routine kicked in. Months went by. Until June was upon us- and Maharashtra government started the #BeginAgain1.0 program.
T’was time for us to #beginpacking again too.
#6. Unlocked but not so much
#BeginAgain kicked in, domestic flights started plying in limited numbers by May end. At the same time number of COVID cases were at an all-time high in Mumbai. Mumbai was hitting all the prime-time news on all the channels, everyday.
All the buildings around our Co-op Housing Society already had a case or two and were sealed by the Municipal Corporation.
Government was changing rules and policies like a fickle-minded teenager. Cannot blame anyone because it has been a unique one to crack. However, for us as people it meant more uncertainty on what is allowed and what can cause trouble.
We decided that if we ever have to leave- this would be the time. We had to make a move before a case developed within our building and we’d get sealed in too.
That was a key moment- when this decision was made. Everything else was brought into place because of this decision. A lot of important decisions in life are not made based on how much you prepared for it. It’s mostly sheer want and will. That is one of the more critical catalyst in getting other things to work out.
We carefully read through all the requirements laid down by Maharashtra government as well as Tamil Nadu government. At this time, we were not even sure if the best thing would be to drive down or take a flight. All options were weighed in and compared.
Finally, on 27 May we booked our flight ticket for 2nd of June.
That gave us 5 days to move it move it !
#7. Truck or Treat
The booked flight ticket really set the ball rolling.
However, we still didn’t have the confirmation from the Packers and Movers on whether they have enough people to come and take our contract. We would know that only by 30th May (also known as ‘too late’ date).
To make their job faster and easier, we decided to start the initial packing ourselves. As our eyes swept across the half consumed Namkeen packets to work-in-progress paintings, A4 size papers with pre-school drawings strewn all across the house, clothes still drying on the lines, vegetables and grocery still waiting to be ‘sanitized’. The impact of work ahead of us hit us square in the face.
There was literally no time to do the Trash/Keep/Donate sorting. Everything comes was the new rule. All the sorting that I had already done was still stacked because no NGOs were doing the pick-ups yet.
(Btw, if you are doing a little spring cleaning of your closet- this is the Link that can be helpful).
Because we had given up on the idea of leaving anytime soon and the brain wave of moving had just hit us last minute, we were caught mid-stride. Our stuff was everywhere, in all states and we had 3 effective days to pack it all in.
In addition to waiting for the Packers and Movers to confirm, we also spoke to the Co-op chairman and president, informing them of our move as well as to ensure there are no issues on the D-day. A lot of people were not sure what is a containment zone/red zone rules and where do we fall in, therefore which rules apply to us and which do not. I think the lack of clarity in the whole situation was especially taxing.
Finally on 31st May, we got confirmation about the Packers and Movers that would show up on the next day itself.
The truck and the staff finally showed up at 11:00 AM on 1st June! Then started one of the busiest, most tiring days ever.
Armed with masks, gloves and caps once would think it took 6men and me(the hobbler), about 8 hours to finally lock and load the truck. They were finally done packing, wrapping, moving, loading everything by 7:30 PM. The house was finally empty. As we got it 3 years back.
That’s when I checked my phone after what seems like hours to see a message from Indigo airlines- “Your flight 6E (number), scheduled to take off tomorrow at 2:00Pm has been cancelled. Apologies for the inconvenience caused”.
#8. Nisarg- Mad at everyone, except Mumbai
Oh. That’s why they cancelled our flight. The fact that it had something to do with other than COVID was a relief. On the flipside, the fact that there was a cyclone heading towards Mumbai, I had a “Really? Really? Is that you think we need?” moment with the Almighty.
There was a little old testament moment about locusts as well.
For once we were prepared with candles et all, batteries, sleeping behind the kitchen where we will be safe if the glass breaks and rain pours in. Waiting for our first ever Cyclone experience. Mumbai doesn’t get those.
The cyclone was supposed to hit Mumbai at 9.00AM, then at 11.00AM, then later at 3.00PM. We the expectant citizens, were tracking every move of the cyclone, as if it is the Uber of an older aunt getting lost on her way home.
At 5.00PM, we knew the cyclone has ditched us. Some of us were relieved. Some of us were thinking about how to use the 35 skinny birthday candles they bought in desperation and at last minute.
Our flight got scheduled to 6th June 2020 at 1030hrs.
#9. Fly Away from here! But with Mangoes.
You might think how long is this saga going to last. We thought the same. And it was happening TO us. In first person.
In all of this madness, my husband who does not bother to go down to the grocery store for essentials, finds an organic farm and orders 2 dozen Hapus(Alphanso) mangoes. For us to take along with us. In middle of all this.
Updated Argoya Setu App, e-Passes, Boarding passes and home printed baggage tags- we were prepared. We had a friend who had agreed to drop us to the airport as well. And a back up friend too. Because now we are those kind of people who arrange for back ups of the back ups too.
Everyone at Mumbai airport gave us looks of understanding on seeing our Hapus Mango laden carton.
Having to reach the airport 2.5 hours before the take off time, we estimated it will make sense to reach before 8.
On the day of the flight, we woke up to howling winds and rain at 6:00 AM.
I thought- this is it. We are never going to be able to leave Mumbai. Remember how I said leaving Mumbai is would be like breaking up from a loving relationship? Well, this one felt like the guy went manic by the time the break-up speech ended.
However, everything fell in it’s place as the day progressed. Our friends did not get freaked out by the weather ( we wouldn’t have blamed them!). All checks got cleared. The weather quieted down by the time our flight decided to leave. With transparent face shields and N95 masks, gloves, embalmed in sanitizer- we boarded our flight.
By that time, if you remember the movie Argo Final Take Off scene. Well that’s pretty much what I felt.
Finally after a 4 hour layover at Bangalore(this story will never get over if I go into all the details), we reached Chennai at 5:30 PM. But I have to tell you that every one at Bangalore and Chennai airport looked at the Mango carton, perplexed as to why we would want to lug such a heavy crate. In cabin.
Landed. Reached our new home.
Stayed in home quarantine for 14 days. Breathed ‘chain ki saas’ (relief) in Chennai.
The move was made.(the Mangoes live in the freezer now).