COVID 19 has stopped the world in its tracks. It has also transformed Jaipur into a city of clear blue skies, pink walls and a place where time stood still.

My mother has a very annoying habit. She loves to buy everything extra. If she needs six kilos of potatoes, she will buy eight kilos and this has been a norm since eternity. Strangely enough, she could never give any reason as to why she liked to buy extra. On our part, no amount of reason or arguments have any effect on this habit. With time, my father and I have also accepted this anomaly and our store room was always stacked with extra vegetables, dals etc.

One day, after the lockdown, while cutting the vegetables, I asked my mother if she needed anything from the market since I was planning to walk down to the store to buy some groceries. My mother smiled and said, ‘No my dear, I don’t need anything and nor do you. You people used to berate this habit of mine, but now because of this habit you don’t have to run around for supplies.’ I looked at her and she nodded. ‘As children when we used to visit our village Aloda (near Khatu Shyamji Temple), my grandmother used to tell us about the epidemic of 1918. She used to tell us about how her mother and my great grandmother kept stocks of grains, pulses and vegetables in their godowns because no one could step out at the time of the pandemic. They had to spend months holed up in their houses. They had huge families at that time and they had to ensure that they had enough to eat. I had grown up listening to those stories. If you remember, your grandmother and my mother also had this tendency to stock up. So, I also have this habit of stocking up extra so that in case of an emergency, we have enough to eat.’

A Different Perspective

 I looked at her and a question came into my mind. We say that in the last century science has taken a great leap and made many advances. However, nothing seems to have changed since we are still dealing with the epidemic in the same way as we did a hundred years ago- a complete lockdown.

It is strange how an epidemic can help you understand a totally different perspective about the people you’ve always been living with. Stories from our elders can affect our entire life and outlook.

As a child, most of my summer holidays were spent in Jaipur since my maternal grandparents had a house here. In those days, when mobiles and computers were unheard of and colour television had just appeared on the horizon, life was more about spending time outdoors rather than indoors. It was mandatory for me to accompany my maternal grandfather for a morning walk. My grandfather was a stickler for punctuality and discipline and hence there was no chance that I could get some chocolate or goodies that most grandparents would happily agree to. However, during those walks, I would often stop at the little pyaoos (little huts in which people would sit and dispense water to anyone who was thirsty) and love drinking water from the little copper Ram Lota. The water was always cold and had that earthy scent. My curiosity always got the better of me and I would always peep and try to see the face of the person who was sitting inside the hut. Those were the days when RO and mineral water were unheard of. 

During our long walks, I could see the peacocks walking on the road as if they owned it. Squirrels used to cross the roads without any trepidation of being run over by a speeding vehicle. We would occasionally spy a rambling bullock cart or a camel cart on the road. Fast forward some decades and today for most millennials, roads have become a fashion ramp where they cannot help but flaunt their favourite toys-the cars. A month ago, I saw a guy with driving a jeep with loud blaring music. He looked very serious as he looked around and saw the common folk and their vehicles. I wondered if he was upset about something but then I realized he is one of those ‘bannas’ who love flaunting their wealth as they go about the city. With many of the opulent mansions turned into flats, they have no other way to showcase their wealth and privileged status in the society.

 In the time before MP3 players or i-pods saw the light of the day, the only music we enjoyed was the chirping of the birds on the trees. With time, Jaipur changed, pyaoos were replaced by shops selling mineral water and soft drinks like Gold Spot and Limca (a very different version from what you see today).

Evolved Humanism

People no longer wanted to hear the birds sing, instead they were entranced by the Walkman, which could play the music right into your ear. One of my cousins was so hooked on to the Walkman that in most get-togethers, he would dance by himself in a corner while we would be busy chit chatting. Some older relatives would stop occasionally stop and stare at hithe lone figure singing and laughing by himself and wonder if he had gone mad. However, today no one would call a person glued to the music of MP3 and I-pod mad. In fact, he would be considered cool. Today, when you go to a party or a get together, you are considered to be a much in demand person if you are talking or more on the phone than to the person sitting next to you.

 The once relaxed town of Jaipur had started resembling a restless metro city with incessant horns blaring and the traffic which never seemed to stop. Everyone was busy running but no one had any clue about what they were looking for. And then the lockdown happened!

After the lockdown, when I stepped out for a walk, I saw a glimpse of the Jaipur of the yore. Quiet streets, birds chirping and squirrels going on an adventure without the fear of being trampled by a vehicle. Somehow the leaves on the trees looked greener and fresher as if someone had dusted them. The peacocks were out on the roads again and were talking loudly amongst themselves. The Aravalli hills which were hidden by the haze of pollution and smoke were visible again. I wondered why do we even have traffic jams despite such big and broad roads which seem to go on forever. The human beings on the roads which were manned by policemen were not many. People were no longer making a beeline for the temples or other places of worship. Now, there was no need of shouting to make yourself heard above the din of the traffic. These days in the evening if you stand outside your house, you will probably be treated to some mouth-watering aromas of home cooked meals wafting out of the kitchens of your neighbours. People are now realizing the importance of home makers, housework and helpers.

The pink city which had turned brown is now actually looking pink. The streets are quiet and perhaps people have become quieter too. But, for how long? Will we ever understand what this epidemic of COVID is trying to tell us or will we still become the same old pesky humans that we’ve evolved into?

This article was published on 24 April 2020 in Rashtradoot newspaper’s Arbit Section.

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