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The City in Quarantine

It’s been over three weeks, maybe a month? We have lost track of time. We wake up to a clear blue sky, birds chirping, squirrels scuttling on trees, and dogs claiming the streets. The pandemic comes to us as a reminder of our overwhelming presence in city spaces now marked by our absence. We now touch lovers on the screen, and if we are lucky, we spend time with our parents, spouses, and children. You can think of it as the quality time you spend with your family if you’ve managed to come back home.

The distance that separates us from those we love beyond the household cannot be mapped anymore. It could be a cab ride or a flight, but you cannot meet them. You cannot sit next to them and hug them. You miss them and hearing their voice over the phone, and the face on the screen does not feel enough.

I walk on my balcony in the evening, sipping my privilege of a home, food, and family during such a time of distress. Sometimes, I slip into vacation mode and hurry out of it as thoughts of the crashing economy and the country circle above my head like a swarm of mosquitoes. I walk inside, glancing more than once at pink, golden, and blue swatches like a makeup palette in the sky. It is beautiful. The stars have returned even in Delhi skies.

Nature has always been a part of my upbringing. I have grown up with my parents as much as I have grown up with baby birds, stray animals, squirrels, and insects in the garden. The return of the sparrows should have brought me more joy. But it did not, and I wonder why.
Nature exists in the cracks and crevices of city spaces. It exists in our memory and desire to see a blue sky on a gloomy day with a high AQI. The existence of a city is a reminder of the absence of nature. How we control where the creepers and climbers grow.

It reminds us of the disappearance of sparrows with increasing numbers of cell phone towers. We had control over this space, over our movements. We took it for granted. We believed the city belonged to us until today.

The city space being reclaimed by nature is a reminder of how flowers grow around and over a grave. The stray dogs now scattered everywhere, a foreboding sense of abandonment in their cries. The birds fill the skies, and maybe if you look carefully around you, you might even see butterflies. Death is the end of the state of being. A pause or an absence is a temporary suspension of our existence; we are ceasing to exist in the eyes of nature. We have not left. We are here, but nature does not acknowledge our presence.

The city now reminds me of forest ruins – nature thriving in the remains and spectres of people.

Published inCityNatureQuarantine Diaries

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