Life In The Age Of Corona: Will You Be My Quarantine?
……it was the first week of February twenty-twenty. It was the time of the year when everything turns red, everything red becomes significant and it has nothing to do with Karl Marx. Red roses, red balloons, chocolates wrapped in red, teddy bears with red bow ties, red scarfs unlike the one remembered in the Red scarf girl but the red dress like that of the little girl in La finta nonna. The difference between the two is obviously the difference between a memoir and a fairy tale.
February is now recognized globally as the month of love by the neo-liberal ministry of capitalism. All the enabled lovers celebrate this day to celebrate the most expensive feeling of being- in love on fourteenth of February alternatively known as Valentine’s day. Of course, just like any other doctrine, all followers of love do not believe or participate in this celebration for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, orthodoxy of their circumstances to which they often escape as modernity allows and compels them to edit their own gospels, or the inability of their small pockets to accommodate and afford something as infinite as love which becomes easier to deny then to accept.
New York is the city that hyper-celebrates every occasion. Manhattan is the Island that has the spirit of festivity embedded in its soul. Its fast paced life, diverse population and multicultural fabric makes it a place where there are more festivals then the number of days in a year: a phrase that has also been used for the city of Lahore.
Manhattan has always reminded Mushka of Lahore since she moved to New York city to earn a master’s degree and then to upstate New York for her PhD. The hustle bustle of the city, congested streets, food carts and night life- everything reminded her of home. No matter how similar the New York city was, as they say about the city ‘it never sleeps’, she missed home and more often than not she would get lost in the memories of the beloved city as Bapsi Sidhwa called it. Isn’t it true for Lahore as well- it never sleeps? She would think and reminisce those night outs from her college days with friends when they would spend the whole night wandering in the streets of walled city, eating the specialties of Lahore’s historic gates and aromatic food streets. Those spicy Pathooras of Gawalmandi, Waris Nehari, Rafeeq sweet shop’s barfi and Khalifa’s iconic Khataiyaan would make their night voyage a food excursion alongside the random inspections of pre-partition Havelis abundant in those intimate bustling streets full of stories and secrets.
Residents of the walled city still gathered past mid-night on those hot summer nights to talk about politics, current affairs, businesses and ever increasing inflation in addition to recalling the good old days – memories of which were spiritually trapped in the architecture and life style of those narrow convoluted alleys that possess the centuries of human archive in them. Those trips would always conclude after dawn with the traditional breakfast of phajjay kay paye (goat feet curry) and feeqay ki lassi (thick yougurt-cream drink).
Mushka was on her way back home when she got off at Penn Station to change the subway line, Instead of going home straight, she decided to get out and see the decorations on the 34th street. It was February fourteenth and Macy’s windows would be a treat to the eyes with the display of Valentine collections. She bought her favorite banana pudding from Magnolia bakery and exited the station. The street was overcrowded as always with love birds in the red uniform getting lost into each other in tune with the symphonies of Chalo played by a beautiful Asian girl dressed in white also wearing a magnanimous white gladiolus in her neatly tied hair bun. It looked like a scene from La La Land or a Karan Johar’s carefully color curated song. The big screen on top of the tall buildings had this question on display as part of an advertisement “Will you be my valentine” picturing a boy on his knees holding hand of a girl smiling with ultimate joy in her Cinderella dress-, the dress which was on sale for the Valentine weekend.
Would I ever ask Burak this question now that we are already married or it is only for the lovers not bonded by a social contract, lovers who have not agreed on signing off their consent to a dedicated relationship and lovers who have kept their doors open foe infinite love.
How would it be for Saleem to ask Anarkali this question had love been so patronized and commercialized in that era. Muskha and Burak joked on their night long skype call that day as the topic was unavoidable that weekend. She told him that she is coming back home for the two weeks of spring break in mid-March which will give them a chance to pay a visit to Baba Farid’s shrine since they were planning to go to Pakpattan in order to attend a close friend’s wedding. She was impatiently counting the days to the spring break to see friends and family back home..
Mushka has always loved Lahore in spring when Amaltas blossoms on the road sides and canal welcomes the swimmers with the rows of trees on its bank in their full bloom. She grew up in Lahore that welcomed spring with the zestful event of Basant. That colorful sky festooned by kites, gourmet smell of freshly made Halwa puri reaching the nostrils with air, and the whole city echoing boo-Kata which was also popular song at that time, the festival was an identity marker of the city of Lahore. The time changed and a state ban was placed on Basant as it became a life threatening event from a life celebrating event. Anyways in the last few years there were no clear skies for kite flying due to increased environmental pollution. Nowadays, Basant can only be found in fossilized memories and memoirs as humans forget to have fun without harming each other and the environment.
It was the first week of March when she received an email from her University informing students that all university sponsored travel had been restricted and students should rethink their spring break plans before leaving, alarming about the anticipated travel bans due to the rising COVID-19 situation. In a couple of days, the situation turned into a global pandemic. It was clear that leaving the country won’t be a good idea at that point and her spring plans fell apart. In the meantime, a shelter in place order was issued by the state and news of strict quarantines in different countries flooded the media.
Mushka and Burak talked about the possibilities. They knew they had to make a quick decision if they had to avoid being stuck in two different continents in this unprecedented situation when international borders were closing for an indefinite period of time.
It was just a matter of a month that the February fourteenth question changed in to COVID-19 question in March and she had to ask him “Will you be my quarantine?”
To be continued…..
Disclaimer: This article is a work of fiction.
The author is a doctoral candidate at Stanford University and a cultural and political analyst.