March 25, 2020
New York, New York
Dear Adam and dear reader,
In my tiny apartment in New York, my mind holds two countries’ worth of worry.
The response to the coronavirus in India went from relaxed to a nationwide lockdown—today is Day One of that lockdown. It’s not perfect. I saw a video, played on an Indian news channel, of a woman in my hometown, Kolkata, who was taking a rideshare from pharmacy to pharmacy, looking for a particular medicine, when she was stopped by the police who were enforcing the lockdown. In frustration, she declared that she was feeling unwell and . . . licked the police officer? I couldn’t see clearly, but that’s what the masked reporter standing before a shuttered store claimed. Maybe that’s all the recourse one has against the might of a state which doesn’t know who you are, or what you need.
Among middle class Indians, I have heard that people are staying quiet about “foreign returned” relatives. Before, families might have bragged about them, and shared the Twix bars and Lindor truffles they brought. The change is the result of how, in India, COVID-19 has been seen as a foreign enemy invading the country. A version of the xenophobia we’re seeing here in the US, I think.
The stigma has attached itself to vulnerable others in that country, too. I read about doctors and nurses evicted from their houses by frightened landlords. I read about an airline worker rumored to be infected whose mother was refused service at a market. This is the country in which my family lives. What else can I do but read the news in hopes that information will save us?
Living in New York, I feel like I’m in the opening minutes of a horror movie. Outside a grocery store last weekend, my husband and I lined up, keeping ample distance from those in front of us. On the subway, we sat carefully, touching nothing with our hands—we would have walked the distance from the grocery store if the weight of vegetables, milk, and canned chickpeas had allowed. This morning, a police officer outside the apartment building announced something about keeping safe distance. The officer’s voice, run through an amplifier, was mechanized in a way that reminded me of grim scenes from cinema.
When all feels dire, what soothes me is cooking. In fact, before I wrote the paragraphs above, I had opened up this document with the plan that I would write about food. Yesterday, I made a shrimp curry with broccoli and carrots, and the day before, a Portuguese piri piri chicken which brought such delight. I eat proper breakfasts now. Some days it’s oats with blueberries and raisins that my husband prepares; other, more leisurely days, it’s omelettes made the way my mother made them when I was a child: bright with chopped tomato, onion, green chili, and cilantro. If you happen to have these ingredients, try it, and tell me how it goes.
Yours, with every wish for your safety and good health,
In lieu of payment, our friends and contributors to the Corona Correspondences are dedicating donations to nonprofits and independent businesses in their communities. Majmudar’s contribution will be directed to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation.