Surviving lockdown in sticky situations — urban Indians share their awkward experiences
When your life becomes an episode of Splitsvilla meets Survivor
Would you rather be stuck for the 21-day lockdown in a tiny city apartment with A) the boyfriend you were about to break up with or B) your partner… and his parents who think you’re both lunatics.
Like an episode of Splitsvilla meets Survivor, the sudden lockdown announcement left urban Indians across the country with difficult choices. (While the poor were left with no choice)
A number of those who live alone were forced to stay put, far from their families and loved ones. Some singles packed up their belongings and moved in with friends, to have a quarantine buddy to get by with.
Others got stuck in situations (and homes) that made surviving social distancing just a little harder — like being under house arrest with a partner you just started dating, or one you want to break up with. No one’s ideal plan included 21 days in their partner’s family’s home. Or 3 weeks in jail, with their ‘bigoted’ parents.
Here’s how young Indians across the country are surviving lockdown and the awkward situations it’s thrown at them.
Surviving lockdown with a quarantine buddy
Watching the news of the impending quarantine together, friends and co-workers Tristan* and Sana* realised 21 days is a long time. There’s safety in numbers, so she moved into his house.
The key to a happy lockdown with a partner in crime, says Tristan, is doing it with a like-minded person. “We’re both loners in our own lives, now we’re just loners together.”
They stick to their own daily routines and split ghar ka kaam. Tristan wakes up, exercises, does jhaadu. Sana wakes up, does the pocha and cleans the dishes after he cooks. “It’s all been organic, no pressure to do anything, so that’s been good,” he adds.
A healthy, respectful friendship has allowed things to flow smoothly.
Arjun* finds himself at the other end of the spectrum, in lockdown with an unexpected and temperamental roommate.
A friend, Karan was moving homes, and his new apartment was being painted. Arjun suggested Karan move in with him, in the interim. The lockdown ensured this arrangement became more long-term than planned.
“We’re similar, but I’m an introvert, he’s an extrovert. He likes going out, having company and needs people around him (his words, not mine). I would have been fine for a few days, as planned, but now it’s a recipe for disaster,” he adds.
Arjun and Karan* aren’t adjusting to social distancing the same way. “I’ve lived alone before, so I can manage cooking and clean up after myself. But this is his first time away from his parent’s house, so there’s a lot of friction already and we’re not even halfway through this,” he sighs.
While there are perks of having company‚ like splitting grocery duty, chores and more, in their case, this hasn’t worked out. “I have to hold my tongue, our friendship is definitely going to take a hit after this. I’m just praying this lockdown is lifted, even briefly, so we can go back to being friends from the distance of our own homes.”
House arrest with difficult parents
Meghna Narayana’s friends tell her to shut up every time she complains about being stuck at home with her parents. “People think surviving lockdown is so much easier for me because everything is taken care of — but my parents are close-minded bigots who are very difficult to reason with,” she scoffs.
Meghna back home when the janta curfew took place. “They’re both in their 50s-60s and used to having a lot of house help. I wanted to ease that situation for them and help out around the house.”
Now, their living room regularly turns into a war zone as they clash over patriarchal values and political ideologies.
“I don’t mind taking on the responsibility of caring for them, it’s the constant taunts about my life choices, political and social beliefs that cause friction,” she says.
“My father likes to argue, especially when someone doesn’t agree with what he’s saying and after a point, I have to just get up and go into the other room to maintain some peace.”
Meghna struggles to get few moments of privacy in their 1BHK Delhi flat, valuing her time in the bathroom as ‘me time’.
“I love my parents, but we haven’t had the easiest relationship. It’s frustrating reasoning with them but I have to respect that we’re from two different generations. I keep hoping that they will too.”
Accidentally entering a live-in relationship
After dating for two years, Nikhita Arora and Rohan Jhaveri are now in an accidental live-in relationship – with Rohan’s parents. Nikhita went to spend the day at her partner’s house and the lockdown announcement left her to be the Jhaveri ghar ki bahu.
“I feel very guilty about being here. I keep offering to help, which starts annoying his parents after a point. Their home is very white, neat and clean, which is stressful for a klutz like me,” says Arora.
Having a good equation with Jhaveri’s parents beforehand made things easier. “We divide work – I fold sheets, he fills the water bottles. We help out as much as we can.”
It’s also changed their relationship dynamics.
Living and working in different parts of the city, they’d usually meet up on weekends. Now they’re together 24/7. “Both of us have learnt to ask for space, and give the other person space without being hurt or offended,” says Arora.
Fights have to be resolved in person, as opposed to dramatically cutting the call. They have to communicate without technology allowing an easy way out or letting it devolve into a screaming match. “It happens on occasion in front of his parents, but they don’t care, they think we’re both lunatics anyway,” she laughs.
They see their relationship coming out stronger from this experience. “We’ve had to resort to behaving like adults to survive lockdown.”
Pretending it’s not weird when you wanted to break up
Deciding to end a relationship was difficult for Sneha* but it was time. She’d prepared what she was going to say to her partner, after ruminating over it for weeks.
She had moved in with her partner four months ago but cohabitation was not working for them. “We were seeing each other in a new light and it took us some time, but we were realising just how incompatible we are.” Cue Coronavirus lockdown.
Sneha considered moving out that night itself but the anxiety of breaking up, packing up and finding someone else’s place to stay at for 21 days was too much. She stayed put.
It’s been messy, there have been fights but more than that she feels guilty. “I feel like I’m using him, I don’t think he had any inclination that I was planning on ending things,” she says. “I was so awkward around him initially, he picked up on that but just thought I was struggling to deal with Coronavirus anxiety.”
Surviving lockdown has put some things in perspective for the couple, but she doesn’t know if it’s going to last. They’ve been better at communicating with each other, but their problems haven’t vanished. There are still arguments and dishes left unwashed in the sink.
“Trying to get men to talk is difficult as it is. In this situation, there’s added work stress and thinking if we’re going to get groceries that day or not. We’re trying to support each other to survive lockdown, but whether this will be only a temporary thing or extend beyond lockdown, I don’t know.”
A wolf without a pack
“I’ve never felt more single or alone in my life,” says Nayantara Suresh Sharma. “Other than just being stuck in a flat by myself, which I can still deal with, what if I fall sick? My anxiety has been skyrocketing.”
Sharma left home to work in Bengaluru last year. Living on her own didn’t seem like a big deal, until now. “I realised how much I depended on my house help,” she says.
For the first time, she’s cooking and cleaning for herself. She tried surviving lockdown on instant food as long as she could. Finally, her mother had to teach her how to make dal and chai over Facetime.
“It’s lonely. I’m not an idle person, I can barely sit still for more than 15 minutes,” she sighs.
There’s only so many times a day she can call her friends and parents. “After a point, you run out of things to talk about and I feel like I’m getting on their nerves.”
She describes herself someone that loves socialising. The sudden halt and restrictions have been taking a toll on her mental health.
She’s surviving lockdown by doing group watch parties online, trying new exercise routines from YouTube and reading the books she’d been stockpiling. “I started doing video sessions with a therapist. There was all this nervous energy and I didn’t know how to handle it. I even tried listening to podcasts, and I’m not a podcast person,” she laughs.
Speaking to a mental health professional has eased her worries a bit. So has this mantra, “I’m not stuck at home, I’m safe at home. I think we all need to keep telling ourselves to stay sane and check our privilege.”