By Adhirath Sethi Apr. 18, 2020
Covid-19 has turned me into a “house-husband”. In the early days, I decided to clean the apartment, which was starting to feel like Juhu beach. But my real nemesis is cooking – all recipes call for pressure cookers, and I’m terrified of them.
It all started on March 24, as I’m sure you know already.
Up until this point, I must clarify, I had done everything in my power to prevent the spread of this infernal Covid-19. I had coughed and sneezed into my elbow, I had learnt the extra verse of “Happy Birthday” so that I could spice up my hand washing routine, and I had vowed only to high-five someone if the joke was unquestionably top-shelf stuff. I will confess that I did keep touching my face, however. If in doing so, I inadvertently and single-handedly caused this lockdown to extend by three weeks, I do apologise.
But then came March 24, and our Prime Minister appeared on my TV. My world was starting to feel like a really off-brand, desi version of The Hunger Games. As though Micromax or Patanjali had decided to re-create the movies from memory.
The moment the lockdown was announced, my wife and I gazed at each other. This was only partly out of love. One must show solidarity with one’s life partner during such trying times. But mostly it was an unspoken agreement between us for the three weeks that lay ahead. She has a corporate job that allows her to work from home; I run a factory and am as non-essential as they come. Clearly, one of us was going to have to run the house, and with her now wearing the family pants, there was nothing for me to do but hitch up my imaginary saree and get to work.
Now, I understand many of you might be thinking of your parents during this time. Covid-19 has taken a particular dislike to the elderly so of course we worry. I applaud you for your genuine concern. I, however, have decided to devote a lion’s share of my anxiety to Indu, my househelp. Ah! How I miss that woman. As quiet as a house-elf, as ineffective as a maida raincoat. But she showed up each day. She swept, she swabbed. And now she is gone.
In the earliest days of my house-husbandry, I decided to clean the apartment. Someone had to do it because walking through my hall was starting to feel like Juhu beach. Sweeping was easy enough. I went to an “alternative” boarding school, so muscle memory kicked in at some point and soon I was going at it like a pro. Or so I thought.
My first interaction with local grocer is humiliating.
After sweeping every speck of dust I could see, I turned around to find a tidy little pile building up in the corner all over again. It appears my room is at one end of some inter-dimensional vortex that constantly pulls muck from other universes and brings them to my bedroom floor. Indu tried explaining this to me once, but I thought she was fibbing and had given her short shrift. Now I feel terrible.
The mop was another matter altogether. I was used to those old mops – the ones you sit down and scrape the floor with; the ones that made you do the duckwalk backwards, so you cleaned and got a quad workout at the same time. Now we have these contraptions that look like anorexic supermodels when propped against my bathroom wall. I had no idea what to do with it. Indu would just say “up” and the mop would come flying into her hand like she was a seeker on the Gryffindor Quidditch team; I struggled like Hermione.
Having cleaned my house on the fourth attempt, it was now time to put some food on the table. Of course, the apps are always handy for this. Those folks at BigBasket are calling me all the time, asking how my experience was. They obviously love me. After tapping furiously at my phone for one hour, I am finally given a slot for my next delivery, which I am told will happen roughly one week after the Covid-19 vaccine has been successfully administered to all our nation’s citizens. Wary that our five Maggi packets will not last this long, I trudge out, mask on and brave the elements. On my way down on the elevator, I encounter a mosquito. We become friends, because dengue doesn’t frighten me anymore.
I am thankful that my local grocer – a man I should humbly accept is immeasurably more essential than I am – is open and well stocked. My first interaction with him is humiliating. This is a man whose shop I have actively shunned, because I like it when strangers bring things right to my doorstep. Now he looks at me the way my best friend looked at me that one time I thought I would rather hang with the cool kids, but finally came crawling back. We acknowledge that he is the winner and I go about buying my groceries.
Back at home, I pace nervously about my kitchen. I’m no stranger to cooking, but turns out there is a massive difference between a Sunday barbecue and regular, daily home food. I scour the internet for recipes for dal, but I’m stopped in my tracks.
All these recipes call for a pressure cooker.
I gain deep culinary insight into the idea that with enough ghee, anything is possible.
I’m terrified of pressure cookers. It baffles me how every Indian mother just stands around her stove while those wailing, whistling kitchen bombs shoot steam off at regular intervals. I call my own mother (whom I do worry about, you know) and gain assurances that the cooker will not explode. I hide in the corner of my kitchen until the first whistle goes off, and then I feel like a real man. My dal is almost ready.
The rest of the meal preparation goes off without a hitch. I gain deep culinary insight into the idea that with enough ghee, anything is possible.
I stand around my dinner table and wait for my wife to be seated. She’s a workaholic; and she’s in HR. I have estimated that she accounts for 85 per cent of all HR work done in the country, because everyone else I meet says their HR folks don’t do anything. She surveys my offering and nods approvingly; I sigh with the giddy delight of an appreciated 1950s housewife and we sit down to dinner.
We finish eating; I load the dishwasher, wipe down the kitchen counter, and sit down in front of the television to end my day. My foot touches the floor and I can feel the dust under it. My shoulders droop in resignation as I scream a silent scream for Indu. When all this ends, I’m giving her a proper raise.
Adhirath Sethi is a novelist based in Bangalore. When he is not writing satire, he dabbles in darkness. His latest book, Where the Hills Hide their Secrets, is a product of such dabbles..