When I am writing this, the street beneath my house is completely empty. This is a rare occurrence, not something I thought I would ever have to see. When I look out of my window now, I still expect to see fruit and vegetable vendors hawking their produce in rickety wooden carts, dragging themselves onward on one side of the road, while swanky BMW’s languish on the other side, recovering from the party they were driven to the night before. I expect to see bikes screeching down the asphalt road at wind-like speeds, harnessed all too often by college students, cigarettes dangling from their lips, while a lone, helpless policeman chases them down to no avail, perhaps because they hadn’t cared to wear helmets. I expect to see milkmen cycling to their jobs, weaving through the sauntering herds of cows in a deliciously ironic way.
I still expect to be woken up with a start in the middle of the night by a wedding party dancing its way down this street to the nearest banquet hall, blasting music at a decibel level thoroughly unsuited to the hour of the night. I expect to see people flocking to shanty stores and paan vendors and I expect to see children kicking a ball down the middle of the street on the days when traffic is sparse. I still expect to be greeted with a shrill gust of noise and bustle when I know all too well that I am grasping at straws, at a reality that no longer exists. In the past few months, as the world has veritably changed under the spell of a global health crisis, every time I have opened my window and peered down at the street beneath my house, I have been greeted by nothing but a strong gust of silence: a very different kind of noise altogether.
In recent days, this silence has been deafening. Just as I find myself adjusting to what everybody has been calling the ‘new normal’ and we all lock up and keep our distance, I make the mistake of looking out of my window and into the silence of this street. This empty street now spreads itself like poisonous undergrowth below my house; a constant reminder of how much has truly changed.
The fruit and vegetable vendors have deserted the street-sides; their wooden carts left in shambles and stray spinach leaves littering the ground below. The BMW’s have been driven off the roadside and the bikes no longer make an appearance; their engines have long been lulled into a peaceful slumber. I catch myself, at odd and embarrassing moments, straining my ears to catch even a flyaway note of the hideously remixed Bollywood songs our beloved wedding party was such a fan of. Maybe it’s a delusion, but it seems more difficult to fall asleep without them. The college-going students now smoke in their balconies standing six feet apart from each other, and the occasional policeman who wanders on to this street now wonders where they all are; each has no purpose without the other, it would seem. With the milkmen at home, the herds of cows are free to roam the street with a kind of joyous abandon we all used to have before.