Coming home, I’m greeted by the harsh sun and the promise of Indian monsoons. A mango tree leans deep into the grass, bent time and again by peacocks, I’m told. Once a deep polished chestnut, the wooden swing stands decaying on the grass on the front lawn. The black iron gate still needs a fresh coat of paint, and moves as it did years ago, dragging itself across the driveway. Bougainvillaea dresses the walls, and a borrowed creeper has wrapped itself over most of the driveway ceiling.
It feels surreal to return to India after two and a half years finally, the longest break from home I’ve ever had. But like thousands still living under Covid restrictions, including partially closed borders, travelling has been impossible and, when possible, tedious.
Skirted with neem, mango, papaya, bamboo and silver fir trees, the skyline around my parent’s home boasts boldly of green foliage. Waking up daily to this intense lush fabric, the sound of mynahs and peacocks, who are early risers, has disadvantages and advantages. My averseness towards being a morning person didn’t matter – I became one whether or not I wanted to. The early start to the day proved to be fruitful since I had a long to-do list: places to go, people to meet, and things to buy. The first week flew by fast with a few photographs to record time spent with family. On the second Sunday, I was woken up at 2 am by my ten-year-old, who, upon waking up, proceeded to vomit out the entire contents of his dinner.
Barely into our ‘vacation’, I found myself driving with my son to the nearest hospital at 3 am. He was diagnosed with a severe throat and chest infection, which eventually caught up with my daughter as well. The kids and I were quarantined in our room for the first three days until our Covid results came out. Thankfully we tested negative, and I could at least walk around the house and spend some time with my parents.
The kids took ten days to recover, and I found myself back on my parent’s terrace during this time. Summer in Delhi isn’t kind, making it nearly impossible to sit outside. The delayed monsoon rains meant no respite from the heat. The animals, too, were scarce, except for early morning and late evening. I soaked in enough vitamin D to last a year and found myself with a new tan as I braved the temperatures with my camera in my hand. ‘Locked up’ in Hong Kong for over two years, restricted to our homes for many months, and finally being in Delhi only to be confined to my room was not in my plans. Despite not being able to meet my extended family and having to look after two sick kids, I had to remind myself that I was home and that was all that mattered.
So I sweated it out and stepped out on the terrace for an hour or so while the kids recovered. It took me a day to realise I had to drench myself with mosquito repellent unless I wanted to be on the menu for the pesky things. I waited patiently for the animals and birds to gather and was rewarded as the terrace filled up with peahens and peacocks each day. The pigeons claimed a monopoly over the grain on most days. The squirrels didn’t come out for food too often. I suspect the stray cat that had made itself home in ours had something to do with it. The monkeys came in hoards and are not delightful in any way. In fact, they are quite destructive and bold but still good for photos.
The entourage of creatures that visit our home daily do more than entertain. They keep us company, and more importantly, on even the most mundane of days, they serve as a constant reminder that we are never completely isolated. That thought alone kept my parents smiling and their spirits up during the extended India lockdown.
I learned a few things along the way, as I always do, looking through my lens. My dad is happiest in the mornings when he steps out to give ‘dana’, bajra and corn to the birds. When the day has just started and hasn’t caught up with him. I loved watching him sit there having his tea, and occasionally I would catch him watching me sneak behind pillars to capture the birds. The squirrels know him well enough to eat from his hands, and the stray cat, without hesitation, comes and sits under his chair in his room. The peacocks are at ease even as he strolls around them, waiting, sometimes impatiently, to put the food out. I was not friend enough and had to sneak about silently.
We’ve all missed out on time with our families in these last 3 years. And during the pandemic, many of us have, if not faced, at least witnessed unthinkable tragedies. Some of my friends came home after years to a home without a parent. Many came home to a family where a member or two had succumbed to Covid. Some of us returned home with immense gratitude to find our families intact, even if visibly aged and exhausted by the ongoing pandemic.
On my last day at my parents’ home, camera in hand for the last time, I went to the terrace to click a photo or two. My dad, all smiles, showed me a couple of peacock feathers he was holding and pointed to the singular peacock eating a few feet away from us. “He knows you are leaving, so he’s giving you gifts to remember them by.” I left the feathers back home. I had already been gifted so much by my feathered friends. Apart from the experience of observing them up close and sharing space with them, they gave me company when my plans fell through and a trip I was looking forward to for over two years didn’t turn out the way I needed it to. Most of all, I am thankful they are companions to my parents, making their days a little less lonely. That is a comfort for any child living far away from home.