To call 1.3 billion Indians suddenly finding themselves thrust with lockdown life for 21 days on March 24 unprecedented might be an understatement.
In such a 2020, do you remember a question that has stayed with you? For many of us, it was that inevitable 'Will coronavirus get over in three weeks?' poser.
Dreamy and disarming at once, it made it seem like the grim virus, which we were tracking and writing about as journalists, had suddenly materialised right in front of us, wearing an evil grin.
Terms like social distancing, lockdown and test positivity rate soon became an everyday affair. Masks and sanitisers suddenly were among the 'list of things you should have in the purse' before stepping out.
Some of us were privileged to be able to lock ourselves in the safety of our homes with a good Wi-Fi connection to keep us going through it all. But others were right on the frontline saving lives and limiting the ravages of the pandemic.
Friends who had gone to visit their parents in March were now doing the opposite of what young Kevin did in the Home Alone movies.
The New Indian Express reached out to a few professionals from Tier-1 cities to understand what heading home -- to work, of course -- meant for them. The experiences were different, yet common.
"It started off well because I'm a homebody and I figured I would never get an opportunity to 'work from home' like this ever again. But my mental health did take a hit during the pandemic. Sometimes having supportive parents isn't enough. You're not the same age you were when you leave for college."
A sub-editor for a daily newspaper shared this experience. The hostel she used to live in issued an evacuation notice without any warning a day before the lockdown was announced and she has been staying with her parents ever since.
Mehar (name changed) also counted herself among the lucky. ''I was one of the privileged ones who didn't have to face the adversities of the lockdown as I have always lived with my family. My father was diagnosed with COVID-19 and I saw firsthand the seriousness of the virus. As someone who has been suffering from anxiety and depression, I was glad to be with my family but I also realised how important it is to be financially independent, especially for a woman," she said. The 25-year-old lives in Uttar Pradesh. She has been studying to gain her Masters entry for the last five months but says everything she planned for 2020 went in vain.
COVID-19 made offices adapt to 'work from home', an uncommon practice on the Indian professional scene. While some chose to live alone, many took the opportunity to live with familiar faces during unfamiliar times.
I was among those who took a flight back home when the central government started a 'phased unlock.'
"Coronavirus showed us that work or money alone is not important in life but spending time with family and making time to do things that we love is what matters more. COVID is definitely a blessing in disguise in a lot of ways," Prashant Ramesh said. The 30-year-old spent his lockdown in Chennai taking music classes online.
Aishwarya Ranade, 24, who lives in Delhi also agreed that the time she got to spend with her family and friends was what she valued the most.
"The COVID-19 pandemic was actually a blessing in disguise for me as I'll be leaving the country soon for higher studies. I got a chance to spend quality time with my parents and friends. Additionally, I got to invest more time for self-development. I completed three online courses while holding a full-time job. Therefore, I can say this year for me was actually not that bad and it wouldn't have been possible if I wasn't with my family," she said.
Aishwarya was supposed to go abroad for her higher education this year but due to the lockdown, her plans were stalled.
Kriti (name changed) did not have a happy start. "The initial days of the lockdown really tested my mental health. I had to figure out how to start working from home and since I was away from my family, I was also worried about them. But then I got used to the concept of lockdown and it became easy to adapt. Yes, I did get time for myself but I don't think I have utilised the year to its fullest," the 25-year-old, who spent four months alone in her flat in Chennai, said. Kriti decided to visit her parents in October and has been feeling a lot better ever since.
I am taking the liberty to assume that 2020 will be known as the 'COVID year' and many people will joke about 'marking themselves safe' on January 1 2021 on Facebook to celebrate surviving 'the year that wasn't.'
However, it would be unfair not to mention that the pandemic saw a rise in cases of domestic violence. According to United Nations data, pandemics and epidemics have always affected women in far greater ways than men.
Over 5,000 complaints of domestic violence were received by the National Commission for Women in India in 2020. The rise in complaints is attributed to factors like economic insecurity, financial instability and isolation among others.
"The workplace acts as an escape for women who live in toxic environments. But during the lockdown, the workplace and the home merged into one so there was really no place for people to escape to," says Maullika Sharma, a counsellor based in Bengaluru.
While the 'positive' experiences of those staying with loved ones are to be welcomed, these unheard narratives shouldn't be ignored.
Maullika says though there are several domestic violence helplines available, "When everyone is working from home, it is hard for family members to even find a quiet private corner to reach out to these helplines for support, as someone, who might also be the abuser, is always in and around the house."
She agrees that cases of domestic violence increased during the lockdown. However, she advocates that "women need to find support within their network." Due to the stigma attached to domestic violence, a lot of women don't reach out even to those they are close to. "Women in such situations need to find the strength and courage to stand up to the violence and seek help," she adds.