Once upon a time the suburbs of Mumbai where I live were dotted with quaint cottages surrounded by tall trees, gardens and pretty flowers. The residents had time for themselves, their families, friends and neighbours as commuting was not the nightmare. It was quite okay to drop in unannounced at a neighbour’s place for a cup of tea and for the latest gossip. Cars were few and residents preferred to walk or cycle for their shopping of daily necessities. They breathed in the fresh air of the pollution-free suburbs. Their cottages were ‘Home, sweet home!’
But then the so-called ‘development’ wormed itself insidiously into our lives. Cottages were replaced by three and six storey apartments occupied by residents who kept to themselves. They had time only to exchange a hurried “Good morning” to the neighbours as they charged off to their schools, colleges and workplaces. The favoured modes of transport were now the car to work, or the rickshaw to the nearest station to catch a fast train.
Then the scene changed again. The lovely suburbs now sported multi-storey apartments rising skywards. Parents went off to work while their children went to schools and colleges during the day and for tuitions in the evenings. The residents were insulated in their own cocoons. Communication at home and between neighbours became a rarity. People became lonely non-entities. The home became just a place to sleep in. Walking was for old folks.
Consumerism enticingly beckoned everyone to buy, buy and buy! Disposal income increased and so did shops and hawkers. Eateries mushroomed and as quickly vanished due to intense competition. Stress levels increased. Once we reached home, as relaxation we put on the TV. More sounds signifying nothing.
Home was no longer a haven of peace, a refuge from tension. Gone were the days when parents had time to teach their children, to play and pray with them. We returned home to the same old story of running around in circles. A stage had come when we lived like strangers in our own families. Home was no longer ‘Home, sweet home!’
And then suddenly the “lockdown” was announced by the government due to the dreaded Covid-19 terrorizing the entire world. A microscopic virus forced the family to be at home together. The part-timers who cleaned the homes and the flying cooks who flitted from one house to the other were unable to report to work. Children pitched in to help their parents to cook, sweep, swab the house, do the laundry and wash the dishes. Parents were forced to brush up their knowledge and assist their children with their homework, once again.
Fear of this unseen danger lurked whenever someone went out to buy necessities, or deliveries were made to the house. Anxiety compelled Mom and Dad to shout out to their children, “Hey! Wash your hands, wash your hands!” Fear got the family also to pray, once a thing of the past! Buying superfluous things which we barely used was out of question as these would not be delivered.
Someone sent me a meaningful message the other day, stating, “We are not stuck at home. Finally, we are blessed to have a home!” There were times we didn’t count this blessing. Being confined to the home resulted in irritation, because each one of us wanted our own space. However, gradually the rapport within the family began to increase. Jokes began to fly about Dad’s lack of expertise in the kitchen and his burnt dinner offering when it was his turn to cook. The family began to play games like Scrabble together.
Mom and Dad had time to listen to their teenager’s problems and the latter began to feel loved. The children now understood their parents’ point of view. When parents imposed a time to return after a party, they realized it was for their own safety as parents have now time to explain whereas earlier they were giving peremptory orders. Home once again became Home, Sweet Home, and hopefully will remain this way even after Covid-19 becomes a bad dream of the past.