It was getting very dark. Mahesh had still not returned home. I had already put kids to sleep and was waiting for Mahesh to return from office so we could have dinner together. Life for working couples in big cities is often like this, few stolen moments spent together comprises of all the romance in their life. The entire day often goes by in a whiff – office work, house chores, kids and we don’t even talk to each other the entire day at times. But these few moments at night, they were our moments. Mahesh often scolded me for waiting late for him for dinner but I liked it. These late-night dinners had so become a part of our lifestyle. Mahesh never returned home on time. Office work and Mumbai traffic never allowed him a goodnight peck on our children’s cheeks. They often slept asking when would their father return and woke up to see him rushing through the doors, running to catch that 8.25 local. I had taken a pay cut so I could be with kids for a longer time. Otherwise, the kids would have never seen both their parents.
Today was one of those late nights. Mahesh’s boss had given him some last-minute assignment. I kept checking on him every few minutes. I was hungry, tired and I had so much to discuss with him, about the kids, about the language classes I was taking. After third call, however, Mahesh’s patience wore off. He yelled at me and told me to sleep. I felt hurt. Few tears rolled down my eyes. I chided myself for being silly. After all, it was just one dinner without him. Or was it? I remembered our last dinner together. That was three days ago. Today, Mahesh had promised he would come early. I counted the number of dinners we had had together in the last couple of weeks. The together-dinners were going down every year. Is this the price you pay for dreaming of a better lifestyle, I wondered? And how was this lifestyle any better? Mahesh hardly had time for me, for kids. I remembered our early days. How we would at least have some time for each other, when Mahesh was still a junior in his company. But in the last couple of years, spending time with each other had become a luxury. I wondered, and not for the first time, if the quest for a better tomorrow was slowly killing our present. I didn’t even realise what I ate, when I slept in the whirlwind of thoughts.
“What are you thinking, Kumud? Pass me that jar of tomato ketchup na”, Mahesh’s question broke my reverie. I passed him the ketchup. I was sipping tea while Mahesh was preparing breakfast. Today was his work from home day. Life had changed so much since that horrible pandemic had happened. The pandemic that shook the world from its core. The never before heard, seen kind of pandemic which forced people to stay away from one another. That pandemic was such an irony. While it made life difficult for humans, animals cheered and so did the nature. There was chirping of birds in the morning. When has anyone ever heard birds chirping in Mumbai? Although the air was much cleaner, people feared to go out and breathe. Google maps showed green everywhere but still no one took their cars out for a long drive. It also brought out the stark disparity amongst humans. While some kept posting photos about their culinary experiments, some others were forced to walk on empty stomachs. While some cribbed about getting bored, some others walked miles in scorching sun with kids on their backs. The pandemic was Covid-19 to many but for some, it was famine, it was drought and it was a long walk to home.
I shuddered remembering all this. I thanked Gods profusely when the pandemic finally ended. But, however wrong it sounds, a part of my heart was also grateful that the pandemic had happened. I had long stopped arguing about it with myself. I was saddened by the loss that the world faced, hardships that people faced, difficulties that we ourselves had to endure. But I was happy that the pandemic had changed the world for better. Everyone had realised how their way of living was impacting nature, impacting themselves. Most countries in the world had undergone drastic changes in the way they operated. One of these changes was implemented by Mahesh’s company as well. That was called ‘The B&S workplace – Breathable and Sustainable workplace’. It said that employees should come to office twice a week and rest of the days, they should work from home. There were multiple reasons to implement this policy. Initially, it was about containing the spread of the virus. Almost all companies had followed this policy. But later, employers saw the improvement in the productivity of employees when they were given this option. Also, the positive impact on their health. You would ask how? Its as simple as it gets. People, now, have more flexibility to plan their day, rather than just running around from home to office and office to home. It saves travel time, travel fatigue, and allows them to spend more time with their family and friends, which rejuvenates them. But parallelly, they have also developed this innate sense of responsibility about their work commitments which makes them more efficient and more creative. Most companies working on 20-30% capacity everyday results in a more breathable travel as now the public and private transport can support the number of travellers on any given day. The traffic is less and hence the time taken to travel anywhere is a lot less than earlier. Google maps show green roads most of times – a delight to any driver. Overall, people are living balanced lives – spending time with their family and friends, pursuing their hobbies, and fulfilling their work requirements as per their flexibility. The time is not wasted in travel, the productivity is not wasted in fatigue, there is lesser guilt – about not spending enough time with your loved ones, lesser frustration – about not been able to follow your passions. Because earlier employees used to get only weekends which mostly ended in pending house chores and sleeping to get over the exhaustion felt during the weekdays. But just by this simple solution, majority of the working force now breathes easy. The city transport, which was crumbling under the weight of daily commuters, breathes easy. And we have not even talked about the environmental benefits. Selfish that our entire race is, we will always focus on our benefits first. But this one solution has also benefitted the environment tremendously. Due to reduction of vehicles on road, the pollution is better controlled than earlier. Due to less crowd on road, the litter is better managed than earlier. We can definitely say that the environment also breathes easy. With some more space to move around, the voiceless residents of our planet, the animals, also breathe easy.
As far as I am concerned, the wife in me is very happy. We not only have dinners but also have lunches together. We cook together, a happiness which I hardly experienced before. We divide the housework efficiently. We watch a random late-night movie on a weekday. We go on long walks at night and sit under the stars. Because we don’t have to run to office the next day. We are not always tired, and we have time for each other. We have time to discuss matters, important and trivial. But more than all of that, even if sometimes we are busy doing our own things, there is this feeling that we are really there for each other. We aren’t just running alone to pursue a far-away dream, but we are walking together to build our future. Never thought physical presence would make such a difference.
And for the mother in me, she was never this delighted. I finally have started to feel that our children will really know their father. Mahesh has time to drop kids to school. On most evenings, we all go together to parks, where Mahesh teaches Anu to ride a cycle. On some nights, Mahesh tells them a goodnight story before wrapping them in blankets and kissing their foreheads. From sighing by looking at his sleeping kids from afar to playing with them every now and then, Mahesh became the father he always wanted to be. He now wears a satisfaction no money could ever have bought. I feel he has finally come home.
Its not like this solution has solved all our problems. Life will never be full of roses. But this solution has given us more space. It has given us time for each other, and what is more precious than time? And however paradoxical it might sound; it always takes a fall to rise again for better. It took an unseen enemy to bring a breath of fresh air back in our lives. It forced people to re-define the world, for it was becoming a burden for humans as well as the environment. But this new world, though with many flaws, is still better than the old one. And I always pray that we humans would never wait for a catastrophe to strike us again to change for better. We will continue this journey towards improvement and make this world a better place with each passing day.
“Where are you so lost today?”, Mahesh asked again. It was his day to make breakfast. I smiled and said, “Just counting my blessings”.
-Pooja Surve (One of the prize winners of Covid-19 Article Writing Competition in the 25-34 years category)
Picture Credits: freepressjournal.in / BL Soni