May 29, 2020

The Golden Week that turned to brass

The first time I experienced emergency was when I was a mere babe in my mother’s arms. Indira Gandhi had declared an emergency in India to deal with political disturbances.
Now so many decades later, I face a different kind of emergency in a different country. In April, Prime Minister Abe declared an emergency in Japan to deal not with his political opponents but with the Corona Virus.

The thing is, Abe is no Indira Gandhi, and coming down with force is something that the Japanese are not good at anyway. So, this was a sort of pseudo emergency. Transport was still running and almost all businesses were open.There was no enforcement, the government just politely requested people to stay at home and avoid crowds. Surprisingly even without any strict enforcement, people actually followed instructions from their government. For an Indian like me, this in itself was something new and baffling.

Most offices declared work from home in March and I have been at home ever since. The past few months have been an interesting study on how to spend a lockdown alone.
The first few days were fun. There was no pressure to get up very early, quickly cook breakfast and lunch, and then leave for work. I could simply roll out of bed and switch on my work Laptop. All I had to was make sure my hair was neatly combed and I had a good shirt on whenever we had video calls. This fun period lasted only a few days until I started feeling like a sloth and a sense of lethargy set in. Also staying in my pajamas the whole day was not liberating. It was just depressing. Eventually from lolling about in my pajamas, I moved to the other extreme of dressing smartly every day even though I knew I was not going anywhere. I even started putting on a bit of perfume and makeup. Surprisingly it all helped.

Until now, I had loved my compact and easy to manage apartment but suddenly it started feeling highly claustrophobic and inconvenient. Earlier I just used it for sleeping and putting together quick meals but now that I was spending all my time in it, its shortcomings became all too evident. The kitchen was just too small to cook regular meals and I kept banging into my few pieces of furniture while trying to move about. There is not much you can do in a small space and pacing up and down inside the apartment didn’t help relieve boredom at all except that I now know that I can take exactly 32.5 steps in my apartment.
Soon, I was so bored that I started looking at myself in the mirror and asking aaj khaane mein kya banayun. And in response I snarled at myself because roz roz same question!
I am not a very social person and don’t always need company but after a few days with just myself, I could barely tolerate my own idiocentricities.

Japan is not like India or Spain or Italy, where neighbors will stand in their balconies and talk or cheer each other with a glass of wine and hold musical concerts. My neighbors would have found it very strange had I suddenly started talking to them after ignoring them for a better part of the year. So, I thought this is the perfect time to call my friends and family back home in India. But that was no fun at all. Half of them were in a constant hurry and a terrible mood because they were busy juggling work, family and missing their maids more than they would miss a limb. The other half were busy turning the lockdown into a productivity contest and churning up every dish from jalebis to banana cakes, doing weird fitness things like climbing their living room wall or turning into gardeners by growing everything from dhaniya patta to exotic flowers.

Busy or not, they all did have one thing to say to me -How lucky I was to be alone at this time. I had all the personal space I wanted without the entire family breathing down my neck and I just had to cook and clean for myself. Ah well, the grass being greener on the other side and all that!

The worst thing about the emergency was that it ruined the Golden week for me. Golden week is a period of five glorious continuous holidays in Japan at the end of April. I spend my entire year in anticipation of these holidays. This is a time when Japan has the perfect travel weather. Not too cold and not too hot. What numerous plans I had for the golden week and not one included staying indoors. But now I was faced with almost an entire week cooped up inside the house with nothing to do but fret and worry.

Strangely enough, it was the park near my house that eventually saved me from death from boredom or worry. Wearing a mask and armed with a sanitizer I started going for daily walks. The park not only became my place of daily exercise and rejuvenation but, now that I had more time on my hands, a delightful study of nature. I had a chance to observe the cherry trees right from when the first few buds started appearing till the trees were covered in a pink and white cloud of flowers. This experience turned out to be more enjoyable and personalized than going to a crowded tourist spot to see the cherry blossoms as I had originally planned. After the cherry blossoms came the delightful wisterias, irises, and azaleas. Every day had some new flower, some new shade of green on the leaves to look forward to and marvel at.

I used to see a lot of Japanese sitting in the park reading and some even working on the laptop. Houses are usually small in Japan and almost everyone was feeling the lack of personal space. With all cafes closed, sitting on a park bench and working seemed like a good option.

After I had moped around enough I realized what a golden opportunity this time was to just relax. For the past year, since I had moved to Japan, my life had been a frenzy of continuous activity and at times rather stressful. Here was a chance to slow down and do what I wanted, the way I wanted.
Eventually, I settled down to a quiet routine of office work through the weekdays and working on writing and reviving my long-forgotten blog over the weekends. Writing has always made me happy and it was just the perfect thing to do at this time. I also finally started going through the 100 unread books on my kindle. The most unexpected thing I did was to decide to learn how to cook some basic Japanese food. I am not too fond of cooking and this decision came as a surprise even to me. But Japanese recipes are quick and easy to cook and I could finally learn how to use those interesting looking local vegetables and herbs I saw at my grocery store.

The downtime gave me time to unwind, relax and take stock of a lot of things.
And you know what, I am not the slightest bit guilty about not learning any new skill or utilizing every moment of my time productively. I got through this emergency living on my own and with my sanity Intact. For me, that’s about enough!

Japan goes back to normal life starting Monday. Now that I am so used to my own company and solitude, I think I might just miss it!


  1. The initial euphoria followed by immense distress and then finally acceptance and doing lockdown right.
    I’m so glad you figured it out, Ruch!

  2. This is an inspiring read; how to ‘find’ oneself in the most trying of circumstances. Love and lots of it.

  3. This period has certainly done its share of good to nature and each human being too. I, for one, am considering permanently living without the extra limb - my maid :) Its a lot easier to do your own work than instructing and expecting it from someone else and I am so relieved for not having to deal with her moody presence!
    Loved the mental images of people sitting and reading/working in a park. And yes, going back to normal is certainly going to be harder after the bliss of solitude!

    1. Most people are desperate to have their maids back. You must be a minority. Thank you for reading!

  4. "The other half were busy turning the lockdown into a productivity contest and churning up every dish from jalebis to banana cakes, doing weird fitness things like climbing their living room wall or turning into gardeners by growing everything from dhaniya patta to exotic flowers".loved every bit of it ������

  5. Very beautiful. It is easy to say that person staying alone has own space and time but no one looks from that person's view point. Great you came out of stress and started doing what you like. ��

  6. Yes staying alone is not as easy as it sounds! Thanks so much for reading!



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