Gratitude in the times of Covid-19

The world does not know how much it owes to the common kindness which so abound everywhere.

J.R.Miller, The Beauty of Kindness

So we too, like almost everyone, went over to our terrace at 5 pm yesterday, the day of the Janta curfew. It felt almost as if people got a task to do, finally, after spending that long Sunday trapped in their homes. 

To me, it felt funny and strange because I spend most of my Sundays like that. However, yesterday, I could sense the restlessness all day long. My father-in-law looked sombre as compared to the busyness he adorns on most Sundays. Week after week, and on his only free day in the week, he usually has a workforce marching behind him, obediently, fixing the leaky faucets, creaking doors, dusting ceiling fans that have collected a layer of dust in only one week, getting rid of spider webs, much to the dislike and silent protests of the hardworking arachnids who had spent one whole week knitting their masterpieces from scratch, or even dismantling a piece of furniture created last Sunday to give it a new avatar. 

And my mother-in-law, who is usually literally arm-deep in work every single day and night of the week, for she is a baker, floundered about, yesterday until about 4.45 pm. 

My son was the happiest though, for he got the undivided attention of his dadu and dadi and managed to play several games of cards with them. Amidst the game, I caught the senior players stealing glancing towards their phone clocks to check how long it was until 5 pm. 

The day was passing slowly and dreamily when suddenly, everyone jolted from their forced mundane tasks towards a purposeful activity.  At about 4.45 pm, there was a message from my mother to get ready for the 5 pm activity of clapping and making some noise. This message was followed by a bustle in the house. Noise making paraphernalia was gathered just when, a few eager members of the Janta, started making noise much before time. This led to additional fuel for the fire,  as everyone in the house rushed to the terrace with whatever props they had, to see who started the party. 

I, of course, had the biggest noise-making equipment in my arms, my 16-month-old daughter, who was delighted to hear the commotion. She too started clapping her hands like everyone else. As I walked around on the terrace, I noticed faces I had never seen before. The elderly couple in the house just opposite ours came out with a conch and a plate and spoon. While the husband used all the air in his lungs to blow the conch, his wife, tucked the plate and spoon beneath her arm and waved gleefully at everyone, including me. I too, reluctantly, and most awkwardly, lifted my hand to reciprocate. 

It broke my heart, though, to see the anxious birds fleeting in droves in the sky for the sudden noise had broken their too good to be true reverie. The stray dogs, too, barked ominously and fled. Just then, we heard crackers too. That’s when my son asked me why this was happening and for how long it will go on. Before I could answer, someone answered his question, partially, to express our gratitude to people who are working, even now, putting their lives at risk. We are doing this to say thank you to them. 

‘How long will this go on for?’ He asked. When no one answered he said, ‘Ma, it’s getting too noisy now. I am going downstairs,’ and bounded off. 

I chose to keep mum at that point but thought deeply about the word, gratitude. When was the last time, I had noticed the garbage collector of my society, or the person who sweeps the roads, or for that matter, my own toilet cleaning lady. When had I, actually, looked at her face, into her eyes, and said, thank you?  

I then looked at everyone around me, trying to beat each other with the loudest sounds they could produce. I wondered, if they really felt grateful for being within the safe confines of their homes, today? Did they really feel thankful to the nurse and her family, who had to manage on their own today, for their mum was overworked at the hospital, and had to report to work, no matter what? Or the traffic policeman, who relentlessly, runs around on the road, waves his hands, even if they ache, and does his job, no matter what the weather. 

I saw innumerable Instagram stories, and Facebook updates on how everyone expressed gratitude and how proud they were of it.

It had unique energy to it, this whole exercise. It felt good, it nudged me to silently nod at everyone who affects my life positively in their own quiet way. 

That’s when it occurred to me, that it means everyone. Yes, everyone affects my life positively, silently and continuously. People I know and I don’t. People I can see and not. People around me, in my city, or not. It was more like an epiphany, a spiritual answer to my question, what is gratitude. 

At that moment, the sound of the bells had gone down. Most people had done their bit and had headed back to their safe havens. I stood there on the terrace. Took a deep breath, closed my eyes and said thank you. I didn’t add a name and a face to it. I simply said thank you, and I am sure as a prayer, it was carried to the one who needed to hear it. 

When I went back inside, the house had become busy again. We all enjoyed a cup of tea with freshly baked cake and then later a film in the basement of our home. I couldn’t remember the last time we had done that as a family. This certainly called for a toast. 

As I slowly lifted my glasses and clinked it, I had received yet another answer from the universe. The answer to my son’s unanswered question of how long this will go on for. At least, for myself. As I took a small sip of my drink, I said slowly to myself, I will express my gratitude to no one and everyone forever. And you? 

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