Till COVID-19 did us apart

While the effect of the lockdown on its intended target is questionable, couples across the country have become its unexpected victims.
Till COVID-19 did us apart

While the effect of the lockdown on its intended target is questionable, couples across the country have become its unexpected victims. Forced apart and stuck in different locations, they recount their stories of separation, longing and loneliness to Roshne Balasubramanian and Vaishali Vijaykumar

Nithyalakshmi Sundar (Food blogger/ marketing and communications professional) and Arvind Ramprasad (Digital marketer)
After four years of a long-distance relationship, Nithya and Arvind got some real-time together when he came down from Malaysia just five days before the wedding. On January 30, they wed and a mere five days later, he flew back to Malaysia. While Nithya was supposed to follow suit in March, after her visa was processed and issued, the lockdown in Malaysia at the end of February scripted a new plan for them. Now, visa-less, Nithya finds herself countries away from her newly anointed husband.

“Arvind and I started dating in 2015. For four years, we have been in a long-distance relationship. After the wedding, we were looking forward to spending time together, planning our honeymoon along with birthdays (in May and June) and whatnot. Now, it looks like we cannot plan anything till the end of the year at least,” she sighs.

They have been coping with virtual cooking sessions, and with the number of apps that allow communication. “We love food; so even if one person isn’t cooking, we connect over video-calls and enjoy the process together,” she shares. But nothing compares for real time spent in each other’s presence, she says. “It’s only when you start living with a person will you be able to learn new things about them and get to know them more. It’s a different experience. We have never had a chance to just Netflix and chill, grab a beer, cook a meal together (cook a meal for each other as well), read our favourite books together, watch our favourite TV shows and movies or listen to music together. The lockdown would have been a great time to make up for the time we missed in the past,” she says, with a touch of longing.

She also missed the chance to set up the new house they were to move into after the wedding; now, it’s just him. “I shopped for a lot of things for the house, including vessels that are packed and have been lying in a corner for four months now. However, Arvind made sure I didn’t miss out on the movingday events and made a house tour video for me,” she recounts. On his part, Arvind says he has been writing and composing songs for Nithya, besides creating song covers. “I ensure that I send at least one cover every month, as a surprise. Nithya and I have also started exercising together on video-calls. I was waiting for her to come here and start our new life. I was eager to travel with her and take her around Malaysia . Now, all we can do is wait,” he says.

Arvind left for Malayasia after their wedding in January. Nithya’s plans of joining him in March was marred by the virus.


Rukmini P (QA Engineer) and Kirthivasan LV (Senior software engineer)

In November 2019, when Rukmini took her newborn, Shrinika, to her mother’s house in Tiruchy, hoping to recuperate in relative comfort, little did she know that she’d barely get to see her husband in the months to come. She and Vasan had plans — to visit a few shrines in March and return to Chennai by April. Several lockdowns later, it’s July and Rukmini has no idea when she’ll be back home. “Vasan was around for the labour and the first few days of my breastfeeding journey for he had taken paternity leave. He loved changing our baby’s diapers, putting her to sleep, pacifying her...I too enjoyed my ‘me time’ with him around to help.

When I moved to Tiruchy, he used to visit us every other week. All was well and then, the dreadful virus broke out and the lockdown was announced in March. We were stuck in two different cities,” shares Rukmini. While she does enjoy the comfort of staying with her mother during the postpartum phase, she says she misses getting to see the father and daughter bond.

“I miss the ‘We Time’...the moments that were just for the three of us. Corona does demand social distancing but it has made it extremely hard for people like us to share our real-time emotions over video-chats,” she shares, adding that she misses Vasan more on days when her daughter is harder to pacify. Vasan says, “Every time we are on a call and I see my child on the screen...the emotions are ineffable. With our baby crossing most of her milestones, I seem to be missing out on a lot.

I wish I could have shared the parenting load during the initial months. Sometimes I’m scared that she won’t recognise me,” he rues. The couple has been video-calling each other a minimum of three times a day, sharing their day’s events, recipes and discussing their eight-month-old’s milestones. “We talk for long on Friday nights. But I am not sure how we will manage when I return to work,” worries Rukmini. The duo has taken to revisiting their past by browsing through their old photographs. “It instils a certain positive feeling...that one day, everything will go back to normal. Raising a child together as a couple not only helps the baby in emotional development, it also paves the way for a deeper bond between the couple. The lost time might not come back. But we hope we are able to do the best with what we have,” she shares.

Vasan sees his child on videocall every day, but he fears that she might not recognise him. The couple also takes time out to look at old photos.

Priyanka SG (Marketing professional) and Karthi T (Head-marketing and sales)

When the country went into its first lockdown on March 24, Priyanka’s baby was just a day-old. She was discharged from the hospital that day as a precaution against the pandemic. As is the tradition with most families, she was sent to stay at her parents’ place in Chennai for the next few months. While her husband Karthi went along with her from the hospital, they got only a few days together — most of it spent gushing over the infant — before he had to return to his house. That’s when the “emptiness” crept in, recounts Priyanka. “I went through depression not knowing how to handle the distance, the pandemic and my newborn, who I had to breastfeed every 45 minutes.

My mother has been my major pillar of support during the past three months,” she says.The separation was all the more difficult given that the couple had barely been apart since they met. “Ours is a love marriage; we’ve been married for three years now. We work together too, so we practically spent all days of the week together even before marriage. This is the first time we’ve been living away from each other and it’s been very difficult. Although I have my little boy to keep me busy, there’s deep-set loneliness that I feel when my husband is not around,” she explains. While she was set to return in three months, there was more bad news around the corner.

Her husband and his parents tested positive for COVID-19. “We are a joint family and seven of them have been infected. Now, I can go there only by the end of July,” she says. While being stuck here in the meantime, there’s plenty that she misses — from conversations about how they would take their lives forward, watching movies, cribbing about the not-so-important aspects of life, to eating together and fighting for that last piece of cake.

“We miss not being next to each other in bed, and, most of all, I miss the father not being able to spend time with his son now. Although technology supports us in the form of video-call and FaceTime, it still doesn’t feel the same as being together in person. Luckily, my son recognises him,” she points out.

The Chennaibased couple live in a joint family. Karthi and his parents tested positive for COVID-19

Dheera Majumdar Mitra (marketing professional) and Amitava Mitra (freelance writer)

For Dheera and Amitava, the separation has been by choice but that doesn’t make it feel any less lonely it seems. Dheera and her three-and-a-half-year-old daughter Aarjohi moved to her parents’ place in Mira
Road in Mumbai just when the lockdown began. Amitava stays in their apartment at Goregaon, 15 km away.

“I understand we stay relatively close by and it’s easy for people to pass judgement on our decision to stay away. I don’t want to expose my child to the virus and put her life at risk. Otherwise, I would’ve gone to our apartment long back,” she notes. Besides worrying for her child’s health, she was afraid she and her husband — with their hectic and erratic work schedules — may not pay attention to Aarjohi.

This arrangement, however practical, has not been easy for Amitava either. Being a stay-at-home dad andwriter, it had been his job to attend to the child’s everyday needs — from fixing her breakfast and eating with her, to dropping her at school and picking her up, he got to spend a large part of the day with her. Now, he tries to stay connected through video-calls as much as possible. “I’ve been running errands as well as doing my professional work. It took a while for me to figure out how to balance work and chores. Taking care of my daughter used to give me a break from my writing. Staying alone isn’t
easy; your mental health can go for a toss. My job is such that I’m constantly on the phone. Otherwise, I don’t have too many friends. I hope things will bounce back to normalcy when I have my family by my side,” says Amitava.

The uncertainty and extension of lockdown have been unnerving for the couple. “My husband visited us for a weekend when there was relaxation. He had to move back as his work was getting hampered.
He misses his daughter. I miss my me-time. I have to constantly look for ways to keep her entertained. We’ve been managing through calls. I don’t know what awaits us,” Dheera trails off.

Amitava misses being a stay-athome dad, fixing his daughter’s meals, playing  and spending time with her.

Suman Prasad and Jayshree Gopina, PR professionals

For Suman Prasad and Jayshree Gopina, 2020 was supposed to be a year of adventure. They had travel plans in place for the entire year, right down to the must-see spots at every stop. When the lockdown rolled in, not only did they have to give up on their best-laid plans, but they did not even have each other’s company to get through the disappointment. Just a couple of weeks before the lockdown came into effect in Bengaluru, Suman and Jayshree had both their mothers visiting them. Both women had a series of health check-ups planned.

When all was done, Jayshree accompanied them back to their respective homes. After dropping her mother-inlaw off in Siliguri, West Bengal, she went along with her mother to Katihar, Bihar, with the plan to stay there for a while. By the time she settled in, the virus too had taken root. Suman managed to get himself to Siliguri on the day of the Janata Curfew. “When the Janata Curfew was announced, I anticipated a countrywide lockdown. So I decided to go to my hometown. Even though we are miles apart, I’m glad we are with our families,” says Suman.

It’s the second year of their marriage and the couple has been finding it extremely challenging to live away from each other. “This is the longest we’ve been apart from each other. It took a pandemic for us to realise how much we miss each other. Considering both of us come from the same professional background, things have been easier in many ways. We are always there to have each other’s back during the rough days. Technology does not compensate for the physical presence of your loved one. However, we’ve been trying to spend quality time. Both of us love to cook and I’ve been helping Suman with recipes. That’s like our bonding session during weekends. We are extroverted and have an active social life. It feels different to be confined at home,” narrates Jayshree. If things ease out in the next few weeks, the two will drive down to Bengaluru. Until then, they say these circumstances have only made their relationship stronger.

Suman and Jayshree bond during weekends, If things ease out, they will drive down to Bengaluru soon.

Savia D’mello (HR at an IT firm) and Lyle D’mello (works for an Oil and Gas agency in Muscat)

Tickets were booked. Plans were made. His favourite delicacies were to be prepared. Savia D’mello was eagerly waiting to have her husband home in Mumbai, back from Muscat after a year and a few months of being away. But Lyle didn’t even make it to the airport. “This was supposed to be his much-needed break. Oil and gas prices have taken a dip and they have been under constant pressure to produce more under limited conditions. He’s in contact with poisonous gas almost every day. What if something happens? I get to speak to him only twice a day.

My health also took a toll during the lockdown. My blood pressure went low, my heartbeat was erratic but fortunately, I tested negative for the virus. What’s worse is that we can’t visit each other even in case of an emergency,” says Savia, worried. The only thing that offers some reassurance is the financial security that comes with both of them still having a job. But being away from all her family hasn’t been easy. While she is in Kurla, Mumbai, her parents-in-law are in a different part of the city; her parents are in Goa.

“It’s hard to stay away from your loved ones. I have been penning down my everyday experiences. My in-laws had to go to our other house last week to take care of the renovation. Only my father-in-law was planning to go but I sent my mother-in-law because I hate to see another couple living apart from each other,” says Savia, who has kept herself busy with gardening and interior designing.

“Life can give you rude shocks, especially when you are awaiting your loved one. Now, I do not know when I will see him next. I got more spiritual during the lockdown. Prayers have given me the strength that this too shall pass. In case of arguments, we don’t carry anything for the next day and this is our ground rule. I hope to see him soon,” she finishes.

To take her mind off worrying about Lyle, Savia is keeping herself busy with gardening and interior designing

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