While the novel coronavirus may, in time, inspire novelists, short story writers have seized the day. Everything about these weird and wild times—from bats, masks and containments zones to domestic violence and untimely death—is being turned into Covid fiction. Gayatri Gill, with over 15 years of writing experience in television, digital, animation and documentary filmmaking, has used the lockdown experience to bring forth her debut collection of 15 short stories, The Day Before Today.
The dystopian nature of the lockdown is captured in broad brushstrokes. In ‘Annapurna’, it presents an unexpected opportunity for an elderly woman. “No temples, no sabhas, no jagrans. No responsibilities of any kind at all. There was nothing left of her old life any more so in that moment she decided she should turn new too.” In ‘Positive’, the narrator who celebrates the initial 36 weeks of the lockdown by hosting a Zoom party, says, “For starters, we are for the first time in the history of the universe feeling like a truly collective entity. Like one gigantic fruit.”
Death abounds in these stories, though only one of them is from Covid. There are more pernicious reasons. In ‘Infection’, a ‘minority’ mother dies due to medical negligence. In ‘Green’, a woman who has just knifed her husband for sexually abusing the maid says, “Things weren’t ideal at the moment, but then the last six months had taught us a great deal about dealing with non-ideal realities.” While the dominating mood of the collection is dark, several of the stories carry a tone of sly humour. In ‘Mummyji and Pammi’, about a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law duo whose lives unravel due to domestic violence, we are told that, “Mummyji had lived a full life, no one knew better than her that it was up to the women of the house to be always prepared. No matter, how big or small the calamity, finding solutions was what women were born for.”
An intriguing aspect of the collection is that some of the stories are set in the future. ‘Death of Videocon’, a complex tale that, if left to gestate, would have made a good novella, is about a police inspector investigating a cold case—the vanishing of a city housewife in the pandemic who “started to troll the dark alleys of the web, knocking from door to door, foraging for the forbidden”. In ‘Pandemic Blanket’, a magical story about a woman who takes up weaving during the lockdown, her granddaughter says, “My grandmother had made it from memories that lived deep within her soul.”
Quick and easy reads, these stories are as much about preserving memories as they are about persevering through tough times.