When I sit in the balcony of our house, I see one older woman in the building diagonally opposite to us. She is going on about her daily work , her details visible only when she comes near the window. Folding plastic bags neatly into a small rectangle and keeping it under the bed so it flattens out, watering the single but splendidly fresh plant in the window, sorting through sprouted pulses looking for a stone or an un-sprouted grain, folding and storing newspapers in the corner of the window, storing some more documents in plastic bags , neatly compressed to save space in a Mumbai apartment. Her rhythmic movements and her quiet, self assured way is a great accompaniment to my morning cup of chai. And the pair of sparrows who seem to have adopted me as their guardian. They are okay with me sitting in the balcony while they go on picking seeds from the bird feeder, removing the outer cover and chewing on the seed. My two companions before the world around me gets active and starts buzzing around.
Since the coronavirus threat started in our country, we asked Akshay’s 84 year old grandmother Tara ajji, to come and live with us till this all clears away. She wakes up much before anyone else does and sleeps much later. As you grow older, you tend to need very little sleep she tells us when we are amazed at finding her awake all the time. She is always busy around the house. Making tea, making chapatis, cleaning and sorting the vegetables, cleaning bottles and jars with such intense care , they must be feeling rather loved. In our super fast life of consumption, we don’t care about these things that much anymore. We are a use and throw culture, lack of time, easy availability of fancier items. Use cups till the bottom corners get so stained that we replace them. Use hand towels for a while and once they get worn out , throw them away or convert them to rags. But not for the women of Tara ajji’s generation. She spends several minutes per cup ensuring each and every inaccessible ring is cleaned till it is spotless.
I remember my paternal grandmother go through similar activities when I used to go stay at her house. She would put on the radio _vividbharati_ at 6 am and start her chores. Boiling the milk, making tea, making breakfast, rolling the chapatis, combing her long hair and tightly fixing it into a bun.
These daily rituals, routine mundane activities which need to be done every single day are the real crux of life. They lend a certainty and order inside the home, inside our head so that the big wide world broadcasted into our homes via news channels and social media can stay out and not disturb our peace.
I also remember my uncle, my mama, getting the bags of milk every morning and washing them with a spray of detergent water and then washing it again under running water before it went into the fridge. We also do it now in the covid19 times, but we used to be more careless earlier under the guise of building immunity.
What would we do without these rituals that separate the day into morning noon and night?
When my son was a baby, we used to have an elaborate night time schedule of winding down. Taking a shower, drinking a cup of milk, reading a quiet story, asking each other questions about the day and then he would finally snuggle into me and go to sleep.
We still do more or less the same things at night, but I have to reluctantly pull him from the world of fantasies in his head and then he sleeps in his own bed while continuing to ask questions about Star Wars or Jurassic Park, which I know nothing about. He seems to be closer to his dad than me now, because dad is the cooler one, a Jedi with a lightsaber.
I am thankful for these little things I get to witness especially when the pace of life has slowed down and we are all looking inwards.
Is it too mundane? Too ordinary?
It’s essential. No matter what, the sun also rises and sets everyday, the plants continue to grow and birds continue to forage for food.
And human? We continue to do all these things and more. Day in and day out.
What would be life without it?