Vishakha Mukherjee | India
Have you ever been hit with a lemon peel in the mouth? First, it’s sweet and sugary, but then the sourness kicks in and your face puckers in distaste. I think that’s my lockdown experience in India. At first, I was actually happy about it. My mocks and final exams were cancelled. I got to read, write and relax after ages. Of course, I was obviously grieving the lives lost to the Coronavirus and the multiple tragedies that occurred spontaneously, but I was strong. I was always a strong girl that even cheered up most of the negative people in my life.
It was like that for the first few months. And then cyclone Amphan happened. Haruki Murakami once said you’re never the same person after experiencing a storm. I never knew how right his words were until that day. The glass windows were blowing in their metal frames, dirty water sweeping onto the floor, as the wind, once a benign companion, suddenly transformed into this whirling, howling beast. My aunt, grandma and I barricaded the windows and veranda entrance with cloth and towels as the water began to flood in like a multitude of slippery serpents. Our power went off that night. We were lucky. I know of people whose trees tumbled onto their houses and apartments, ruining them and exposing them to the merciless cold. The villages faced an even worse state.
Of course, I kept a bright demeanour and helped my family out. But once the lights came back, I felt something leave me.
Something had left like a whispering willow, without my consent, and I just felt tired. Drained. After that, I had trouble going back to my routine. That storm didn’t just pour water onto my floor, no, it took a bit of my will and energy.
I even gave up my writing for a while. It was difficult to pay attention in online classes. And with online exams and college applications creeping up, I really didn’t have it in me to do them. What was the point? I think it was then when I realized the morbidity of 2020.
But despite the despair, I still surged forward. I still studied for my exams and SAT, applied for universities, wrote a zillion essays for them, and I still am working hard. It wasn’t an overnight thing and to be honest, I still haven’t fully recovered from lockdown. I write poetry instead of fictional stories, but I’m getting back to writing my short stories and novels I hope to publish one day. The stress exams brought did not help me either. Sometimes the stress was so so bad, I would be awake at night, my heart drumming inside my chest like a siren, as I tried to distract myself. And despite imagining calm, happy things, my body never agreed with me on those nights. I would pace around; the bathroom was my best friend during that time.
What helped me get through all that were the simple, irreplaceable things I seemed to appreciate even more: my family, friends and assurance. I’ve always been hard on myself, and to know that it’s okay to break apart from my family and friends sometimes was honestly a relief. I used to think it was a sign of my weakness, but then I realized that sometimes being human was to be weak. I read stories of so many girls and women who suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts, and learnt that even if we are all suffering, we are suffering together. And I think in its own twisted way that is beautiful.
I was a ripe lemon before lockdown, fresh and firm. Then I was peeled by the storm before being hardened, crystallized, shattered into little pieces, and back then I just thought I was flavourless lemon peels. But it turned out, even if I’m not the same, naive, untouched lemon as before, I am the lemon drop that’s harder to chew, that leaves an impact, yet is still just as sweet.