'Creativity in Crisis' is an anthology of short stories capturing the authentic experiences of 26 British Indian key workers, parents and educators through the coronavirus lockdown. Here is the fourth in a series from a single professional, missing the simple pleasures of connecting with friends during this socially distanced time.
As a single person who lives alone, this pandemic has shown me the importance of the simple pleasure of a cup of tea with a friend. When the crisis in the UK began to escalate and it became apparent that we would all be sent home from work, I wasn't too alarmed. Luckily, the sort of work I do can be done from home, and I also work at mid-management level for a large, stable, financially secure institution where even if I wouldn't do my exact job, useful work would be found and I would continue to be paid. The alarm kicked in when we were told that we would no longer be able to move between households at all.
I'd already isolated myself away from my parents (who are in a high-risk category and live in a safer, more rural location) and from my brother, who lives in London and is therefore exposed to a more high-risk environment. The truth is, I don't see them every day or every week anyway.
But to lose the ability to see the friends that make up the predominant volume of my everyday, face-to-face human interaction has been a challenge. I don't think I'd really appreciated the value of just seeing other faces, grabbing lunch together or sitting on the sofa to laugh our way through a film seen many times before whilst consuming our body weight in snacks.
As the lockdown stretches out, plans get cancelled with those friends I don't see every day or week, but who have been a part of my life for many years. We've gone from gawky teenagers to qualified professionals, supporting each other through the arrival of children and the loss of parents.
These people are the family that's built up around me over the past 25 years. That old cheesy line: the family I've chosen for myself.
Growing up in a Hindu family, and discovering my own connection to that identity as an adult, there's a phrase that is very familiar to me: “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”. It means “the whole world is one family” and can be found in ancient Sanskrit texts that underpin the history of Hindu philosophy. To be honest, it can sometimes feel like a throwaway phrase. Something that gets said to glibly explain the pluralism of our culture or to simplify the complexity of social cohesion.
In the current situation it feels like it has a more literal sense. The entire planet is struggling against something, collectively if not in a necessarily cooperative way. I see this sense of community in the acts of kindness between strangers, the appreciation for our frontline workers and the dedication of volunteers.
In my micro-world, my family is not just those with whom I share DNA, and often the closest ties are in ways it's hard to articulate. My best friend from the age of 12 now lives in Australia, having emigrated when we were in our twenties. But she is still my best friend. And knowing that her planned trip back in May won't happen now causes me an almost physical pain.
Most of my friends are now settled with partners, many with children, whereas I am not, but the strongest friendships hold fast even when lives move in different directions, literally and figuratively. That said, there's something important about friends who are in the same place as you, who can relate to your situation.
I'm part of a group of six, all living and working in the same city (some of us having previously worked together), all single and all living alone. We enjoy each other's company, and can spend time together with the ease of a shared lifestyle. Various iterations of the six of us are a little film club, theatre-going buddies, pub quizzers, and holidaymakers; three of the six are living in a different hemisphere to their families, so more than once I've had extra places set at my Christmas dinner table. We're staying in touch using technology, but I miss us all being in a room together. More than that, there's an understanding between us that while many of our other friends have the challenges of childcare and spending 24/7 with their partners, what we're all facing is a sense of true isolation. All day, every day in our homes, alone. It's a different sort of challenge.
A week into lockdown, one of the group messaged a couple of us to say that her brother had taken his own life a few days before. In the current situation, as her friend, I was unable to make the 10-minute journey to offer any sort of comfort. Never have I wanted to hug someone so much.
I'm grateful that her employers made arrangements for her to travel to be with her family, to help arrange and subsequently attend the funeral. We stay in touch as technology allows, but I look forward to a time, probably many weeks from now, when we can be in the same place, when I can finally offer that hug, and when we can do something as simple as share a cup of tea together.
*As published in 'Creativity in Crisis', Tattva Press, an independent publisher, with a mission to nurture aspiring authors and ideas at the frontiers of Indian culture. All proceeds from this publication will be donated to the National Emergencies Trust (NET)'s Coronavirus Appeal. Buy a copy and find out more: www.tattva.org.uk/creativity-in-crisis