Lockdown diary: Even ‘potty’ humour and stress busters may fail to save some marriages

Coping with Covid with games, memes and banging bartans

Lockdown diary: Even ‘potty’ humour and stress busters may fail to save some marriages

Shuma Raha

When all this is over and the coronavirus is officially declared a spent force, I am going to write a book called Cooking in the Time of Corona. Actually, most people I know could write a book like that, because almost everyone, irrespective of whether or not they have ever cooked in their lives, is turning up in the kitchen to try their hand at making a meal. YouTube cooking videos are probably raking up their highest viewership now.

The USP of cooking at a time like this? Radical improvisations are the order of the day. On a group video call the other day, a friend boasted that he had made Hungarian goulash for dinner. The rest of us shrieked in envy — ‘You had meat for the stock?’

The friend cackled and said it was Hungarian goulash made with non-meat stock. We cackled back crazily.

The 21-day lockdown to slacken the spread of Covid-19 has put us in an unprecedented situation, one where your home has become office, school, prison, gym and entertainment centre, all rolled into one. It has also become an edifying model of a Gandhian state of self-help. And the coddled middle and upper middle class Indians, used to having paid staff to do their domestic chores, are finding this particularly hard to digest. The civilised, orderly division of labour between family members undertaken on Day 1 of the lockdown is showing signs of falling apart by Day 3.

But wait, there are ways to cope with the stress. And here you have to appreciate the far-sightedness of our dear Prime Minister. When he requested the citizenry to bang bartans for five minutes at five o clock on March 22 to honour our health workers, you might have snootily turned up your nose at such an exercise. Not because you didn't honour the efforts of our health workers, but because you thought that making a godawful racket for five minutes was a pretty silly way of showing it.

The thing is, the idea has taken root. (Not the part about paying respect to health workers — there are now reports of some being beaten up because their neighbours fear that they might be carriers of the dread disease.) And Indians are discovering its manifold benefits.

Banging bartans is a huge stress buster, a relative confided in me. When she feels overwhelmed with all the housework that she has to do while her husband does a video conference dressed in a shirt and tie (and pyjamas), she picks up a sturdy steel plate and spoon and bangs away to glory. Needless to say, this is one marriage which may not survive Covid-19.

Friends are a great support in these difficult times. There is a kind of comfort to be had in flooding each other with WhatsApp forwards bristling with conspiracy theories, detailed analyses of the way the coronavirus spreads, statistical forecasts on the numbers that may eventually be affected, the ways to dodge the germ and so on and on and on. You read each one of them with horrid fascination, and successfully maintain your current state of perpetual anxiety.

But let’s be fair, not all forwards are stressful. A neighbour sent me a game where you have to trap an animated chicken into a hole before the video runs out. He claimed to have acquired this skill after hours of practice. I spent several minutes trying to skill myself likewise. I failed, but it did take my mind off the existential question of whether or not to wash with soap and water the packet of moong dal that I’d procured a little while back.

We are all agreed on one thing, though. The humour in the time of coronavirus is top class. The meme factory, the parody songs about hand washing and staying inside — hit covers such as Stayin’ Alive or I’ll Survive were begging to be adapted to the current mood — are doing an outstanding job of bringing a smile to our lips.

There’s humour from other quarters, too. And hefty doses of laugh-out-loud theatre of the absurd. Such as when a senior anchor of a television channel requested actor Saif Ali Khan to bring his son Taimur in front of the camera so the little boy could blow a flying kiss to the viewers. It would lift our spirits, the anchor said, grinning ingratiatingly.

Really? At a time when the country has been shut down, we are shut in, the food supply chains are shot, lakhs of people have lost their livelihoods and likely face starvation and untold hardships, this 'journalist' was offering a panacea for all our troubles — a flying kiss from a cute Bollywood child. Of course, Saif administered a royal snub to the anchor and told her that little Taimur was on the potty and hence couldn't oblige with said kiss.

But let’s not carp, please. These days we need every bit of comic relief that we can get. Even if it’s of the potty variety.

(Shuma Raha is a journalist and author)

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