From the painted steel trunk with the vermillion Swastika on its chest, she pulled out 2 pairs of pants and 2 starched white-collared shirts. Ride the ‘For men only’ cycles of their minds, unashamed and unafraid with no one around who would judge them. So, with a steel glass of rum and a beedi in her hand, she turned to Chotti and said “Let’s try living free for a day. Let’s make this time count.”
Dressed up like men, enjoying the smoke and drink, and free of inhibitions, two elderly sisters are left to fend for themselves during the pandemic in Gayatri Gill’s story” Annapurna”. The elder sister succumbs to grief. On seeing her younger sister in despair and gloom, almost deserted by their grown-up children, she discovers her husband’s belongings in a trunk and explores the freedom enjoyed by men. Both sisters enjoy breaking the stereotypes and relish living these moments. A man’s carefree life within the shackles of the lockdown.
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In Virus, a woman from minority community wails from her tomb. Denied treatment from all hospitals being suspected of having contracted Covid during pregnancy, she loses her life. The infant also is infected. After the burial, deep in the crevices of the earth to prevent spread, it is discovered that she had an acute respiratory infection. The irony of being denied treatment in even the most deserving state of pregnancy hits hard in the face.
Gayatri Gill’s craft in rendition
Brilliantly crafted stories written by Gayatri Gill unravel realities experienced during the lockdown in Covid times. Gayatri Gill is a producer, scriptwriter, story editor, and co-founder at Swastik Productions. She has engaged in 15 years of writing and production. Niyati Singh lead researcher works on Indi Justice Report at Tata Trusts. Her illustrations deepen the sense of uncertainty and mystery shrouding humanity during the lockdown.
A diverse spectrum of emotions is reflected in the stories. Vulnerabilities, alarm, and fear of the unknown, and its implications caused by the pandemic run through the thread of the stories. Short and crisp, they grip attention. From the heart-rending emotions of love, affection, and belongingness to breaking stereotypes of gender to murder and snatching of life through medical negligence grips readers.
The cover page and the illustrations in black and white match the mood and eerie feelings of uncertainty and gloom universally experienced grips attention. Loss of life, economic ruptures, and scathing vulnerabilities sear through the mind while glancing at the cover page. There is also a feeling of relief that we have emerged out of the pandemic.
Narratives of diverse experiences of lockdown
In Day one, death during lockdown is treated as fading memory for all family members, and for the widow with a young baby, she feels trapped in her domestic sphere. Positive is about exhilaration and finding ways to overcome the challenges of lockdown by celebrating with family and children letting go of all reserves of daily routine.
Status update is about being quarantined in the hospital, and the fear of not being able to meet close ones. Green is a gripping and heart-rending story of the murder of the husband by the wife as she realised that he abuses domestic help. As if committing a business operation, she moves out to work detached from the murder to attend to patients in the hospital.
Red is a story juxtaposing the red of the nail polish to the mother trying to kill the baby for crying continuously and the protagonist murderously shutting her ebbing life away. The story moves from something as superfluous and cosmetic as nail polish to life.
Siya circa, in the background of the blue chips, is about a woman getting interested in a person who she met digitally. Siya Circa 2023 is a thriller where the woman is murdered and the investigation proves that she had been suffering from psychosis and schizophrenia. The story moves in life’s unpredictable twists throwing up the reality that the family was facing a huge financial crisis and the mother unable to keep up employment. Several letters written by the protagonist reveal her mental instability. The house was also depicted as unkempt and filthy with traces of marijuana.
Death of violence paradoxically and breaking all stereotypical notions is an alarming story about the illicit relationship of a young woman caught up with a goon through a digital encounter, ensnared in it, and conspiring to commit burglary in her own house. Caught by the police red-handed, she narrates the whole episode. Dissatisfied with a doting husband and young daughter, she plunges into the relationship to satiate her lust and boredom of a mundane life imposed on her by the lockdown. The story ends with suspense laden twist. A lurking sense of pain grips me.
In Death of Videocon, the mother-in-law, and daughter-in-law avenge the brutal behaviour of their son by bashing him and making him immobile. After several instances of violence unleashed on them, they react. Paradoxically, the story ends with the statement that 2 babies need to be taken care of.
Due to the religious ghettoization, a woman with acute respiratory distress syndrome is untreated after delivery under the assumption that she is impacted by Covid and she succumbs. In the Covid Cupboard, a woman tries to give away her clothes as alms, it is realised which leaves the readers profoundly dumbstruck by the fact that all roads are bereft of homeless and poor. The Peach a modern fairytale renders the dance of life of the peach tree with birds, animals, and the entire ecosystem in jubilation.
The tales are gripping, leaving readers glued till the end hits hard. Language is easily comprehensible. Some stories endear the readers to deeper experiences of fragility, power, pain, and immense losses that one has traversed.
Have you read this bittersweet collection of lockdown stories? What do you think of it? Drop a comment below and let us know!