2020 / 2021 – Part One

2020 was of beginnings and endings.

I won’t delve into details of the first three months of 2020. We all know that. For everyone, it was pre-apocalypse. The before times. The good times.

I spent half of 2020 cooped up inside a 3 BHK with three other roommates and a cat. The other half was spent at home, with, well three other roommates: Mom, Dad, and Brother.

Like many, many other people who had to abruptly shift cities, I did too. Making art, writing, was just not possible. Every word a curse, every sentence an execution.

This fella judged all my writing.

Leaving Mumbai to go back to Delhi felt like an odd sort of goodbye. My life felt truncated, snipped like a just-blooming flower from a branch. My last days in Mumbai were hectic. My other two flatmates had left for their homes early on in the pandemic, leaving me and my other roommate to clean-up, close the rent-lease, and finish other formalities. Selling off our furniture in a raging pandemic was a task the size of a despot’s ego, but we managed. Tired, we sat down to have our last meal. I asked my roommate, “Do you plan to come back?”

“Not likely,” he responded.

I replied with silence. Grim times loomed ahead. He had been let go from his job, but fortunately, I still had mine. He planned to do freelance. I didn’t, at the moment, have any such plans. The cushion of a paying job in a pandemic is one of the best and most privileged things anyone could have.

We said our goodbyes, to each other, and the city, not knowing if we’ll come back. Mumbai was a home away from home. I seemed cruel and unfair, this farewell. Strange and alienating. This could very well be the last goodbye.

But home was warm and comforting. I still missed Mumbai, but slowly, as work-from-home became more of a betaal-like ghost which sat perennially on my shoulder, that feeling faded. I wrote new things, but most of them dark, gruesome stuff, dealing with grief, body horror, the works. But the important thing was that I felt more in control of my craft than ever before. The change was almost sudden.

My newfound voice was starkly different from what I had written before. I plunged myself deep into creating new short fiction and was pleased with what I wrote. I also found a community of like minded writers on the same career paths as me, a community I had dearly missed while I banged my head at story drafts after story drafts, rejections after rejections.

During that time, I also did a thing which I hadn’t ever done before — narrate short fiction. Although I have it, from many sources, that I am a good narrator — screenwriting and pitching to studios in Mumbai sort of gives you that quality. But I had never done it professionally. Really, this was something else I could do, be good at, and I only found out about it in my 30s? Funny how things work out like that.

(You can listen to my narration of Sid Jain’s short story “Mist Songs of Delhi” on Podcastle.)

I wrote. I cooked. I baked. I read some excellent stuff, including Susannah Clarke’s mesmerising, often haunting, but ultimately hopeful “Piranesi”. I might write about that book soon.

The first month, my home was in shambles. It was being renovated, completely. Which meant paint. Which meant drills and dust. Which meant noise and frustration. But it passed, too.

Here’s a random Paneer Butter Masala I made.

Soon, I settled into a rhythm.

Three and a half months passed. I was happy and safe at home but I also missed Mumbai. Soon enough, it seemed, work from home would be truly a thing of the past. Offices were opening up, safely, responsibly. Moving back felt like the right thing to do. But finding a flat, in a pandemic, in Mumbai? I was kidding myself seven ways to Sunday.

“Stay here,” said Mom. “Why spend on rent when everything is WFH right now?”

She had a valid point. But someday, sometime in the future, things might just be normal again. I was holding on to that hope. And so I kept searching for a house.

My saviour came in the form of none other than my old landlord. He had an unoccupied 1BHK just waiting to be rented out. I called him up, negotiated the terms, and next thing you know, my flights were booked.

At the fag end of 2020, I was back in Mumbai. But leaving Delhi also felt cruel. My life felt like a jumble of hasty decisions, blank promises, some of which I made to myself, some of which I broke.

But Mumbai welcomed me like an old friend. Mumbai always does.

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