The Covid-19 pandemic with the subsequent lockdown has been unprecedented, unexpected and unimaginable. It shattered comfort zones of daily living incubating a ‘new normal’ in every aspect of our lives. Lifestyles, routine, priorities and temperaments changed.
In spite of the horror that 2020 was, there were some positives too. These included a realization of gratitude, joy in nature, appreciation of simple delights, discovering Me Time, connecting with family more frequently, catching up on reading, more empathy for the less served, no excuses for procrastination, guilt free Netflix and tripled admiration for the brave and gritty warriors – health workers, soldiers, the farmers and students.
In all this, I had to keep rediscovering and re-anchoring myself. This process led me to new boundaries, one of which was “the Joys of Dusting”.
Does it ever end? Not really. In most of our homes in India, even with glazed windows et al, a respectable amount of dust is swept out every day. The daily question, “Where does it come from?” doesn’t change anything. In the process fine particles settle down on furniture, curios, books, actually everything. Technically, on no day can one say that there is nothing to do; the dust challenge looms large.
Then there are the glass cabinets which can be ignored for a month or two. Well, the other day I decided to surrender to one as it couldn’t be ignored any longer. As I brought out each piece gently and put it aside till the whole shelf was empty, I was flooded with memories. The small “Lilliput Lane” quaint English cottages, which I would look for every year when we visited our son in UK, set off the memory trail. When our son saw my interest, he presented me one every year till they stopped making them. The year is written below with many a message. My thoughts were transformed to all those holidays and good times we spent together.
As I traversed down the shelves, I travelled in time and space. The miniature Swarovski golf bag which our daughter had presented my husband on his retirement and the Feng Shui figurines which she and her husband had lovingly brought for our well-being from Thailand and Singapore; the Wedgewood robin for Karwa Chauth from daughter in law amongst so many gems brought a smile of gratitude for the blessing of our children.
Our exclusive Holmegaard hand blown glass pieces presented by our Danish friends can never be dusted without vivid memories of our friendship while we were together in the US and to this day. On the same shelf I have a set of horses presented by a special Aunt, my dear friend’s mother. Aunty was like a mother to me after Mama and loved us both. A mental salutation to her as I move on.
This dusting spree reminded me how much I had loved doing this at my parents’ home when I came for holidays from boarding school and college. I must confess it was selective dusting-mama’s dressing table with the lovely French perfumes and the drawing room. My parents had a smart and slick Phillips Radiogram which they had brought back when they returned from Ethiopia in 1960. It remained new forever. I would put on an LP, either one of their Waltzes or my Beatles and spend the next hour happily dusting their beautiful curios. I am blessed to have a few of them with me now. One piece, a Humle is a porcelain girl and boy carrying a basket. It is called, “To Market”. My parents called it “Mohini, Pammi” for my brother and I. It may have a tiny chip in the paint now, but it occupies a place of pride in my cupboard. Daddy bought it from Germany while on Battle Tour from the Staff College, Camberly, UK in 1956. “I love you Mama and Daddy, wherever you are”, is the sentiment as I dust it gently. I do only this today as I am overwhelmed with emotion.
Around me I see the diversity that is our home. We have a little or more from everywhere our wonderful life travels took us to-from Nagar to Nagaland. There are glimpses of everyplace and the amazing people associated with them. I have heard sometimes said that army homes are cluttered. Maybe, but they have character; they represent us. I remember where every gift, souvenir, memento came from. Each brings to me another memory.
Could there be a more joyful form of meditation than dusting?
The pandemic has snapped us out of our taken for granted attitude to life and relationships. We know it was happening out there – to people all over the world; but when fatality hit old friends, we realised the absolute fragility of life. Relationships took on a new depth. Very early when the pandemic was announced, one of my husband’s old drivers, Bhagwan Singh, long retired from the army rang up out of the blues to ask how we were managing the lockdown. I was moved to tears when he insisted that we join him and his family in a remote village in Rajasthan where the fresh air and open desert sands would keep the corona virus away. He assured my husband that he had modern facilities to keep us secure and comfortable. How caring and loyal is that! This is after almost 35 years since he had been with us. He was one of the several soldiers from service years who called to enquire about our welfare.
The army family is such that the people you have served with remain an integral part of your life. My husband had two very efficient and loyal soldiers from the north east on his personal staff at different times. We have often remembered them fondly. During Covid Times of focus without unnecessary distraction, we managed to track an officer from their battalion to get their contact details. What a joy it has been to catch up and find that one of the boys is now a junior commissioned officer with a beautiful wife and two smart teenage children. He immediately recognized my voice when I called and said they often wondered where and how we were. The other has retired and lives in far away Arunachal Pradesh and has two angelic daughters. This is a reminder that in the noisy humdrum of our normal lives, we often forget those who really matter.
Nature has been a great anchor in these days of stormy waters. I was always fond of plants and flowers, but never before have I followed with such fervent passion the unfolding of each leaf, the increase in every millimeter of stalk or the appearance of buds. They have brought me immense joy and hope.
I think the Universe has a message for us. Did we lose ourselves somewhere? I am reminded of the words by WH Davies in his poem,” Leisure”,
“What is this life, if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?”
We did not realise where we were going in the mad rush to achieve and compete. Covid-19 virus brought all that activity to a crashing halt. However we have learnt the hard way and now we are healing by taking solace and strength from the smallest of joys. It is back to basics and that is the place to be grounded at.
Mohini Daljeet Singh is the former of President Regional AWWA Western Command, Founder of CEO Max India Foundation and presently a Trustee with the Foundation.