“I could have taken the first flight back to India, but I chose to stay back in Italy because …”

Aishwarya Rathore is a service designer based in Milan, Italy. At times she feels she is going insane as because of the lockdown she hasn't interacted with a real human in forever

Swati Subhedar
| Updated: Last updated on March 23rd, 2020,

It was a sunny Saturday, February 22, exactly four weeks ago. I was out with a couple of friends, having an avocado toast for brunch, roaming around the city,  living the quintessential millennial life here in Milan, Italy.

It was also that day that everywhere we went, there were whispers about the virus. Italy on that day did have some Covid-19 cases, 79 to be exact. Seventy-nine, to me, wasn’t a big number. Also, it ‘was just a flu’. Coronavirus was in China, which was ‘too far’’. Yes, I was thinking exactly how you might be thinking these past few days. Little did I know what was to follow. As of March 20, the active case tally stands at 37,860 with 5,129 deaths. Let that sink in.

The next day, the friend who I was with the day before, was flying back to India. He called me up worried that they were talking about a possible quarantine in the North of Italy. I doubted him first, but then gave in to my human instinct to fight for survival. Erring on the side of caution, I decided to go do my groceries for the next week or so. But just like me there were other humans out there, who thought the same. Never had I seen a supermarket so full and pasta shelves so empty!

That very weekend we were advised by our offices to start working from home for the next one week. Being an introverted person, that was a welcome change for me. I was actually looking forward to it. It reminded me of the time when schools in India were shut for about ten days because of swine-flu back in 2009. Things got hunky dory super quick then, it’ll be the same now, or so I thought. A week later, the quarantine was extended and then finally a lockdown was announced in the entire country until April 3. Thankfully, we are guaranteed access to essential services, but as cases are still rising every day, there is high likelihood that this lockdown will be extended further.

I have been fortunate enough to not have had this virus affect my life in any dramatic way as yet. I do realise that a whole lot of people in the world do not have this luxury. I have a job that brings me a pay check working from home. An internet connection that lets me stay connected with my loved ones around the world. As I live by myself, I do not fear that if I do have to venture out for something, I could come back and infect someone. Though I might say that managing groceries has been slightly tricky – ordering them online the first time was smooth, the second time there was a virtual queue of two hours on the site, the third time I went to a physical store to find empty shelves. A stupid fun-fact, I wanted to buy Mascarpone to make a Tiramisu because my inner Nigella Lawson came to the fore that day, but sadly I found none (does that mean all Italians were sitting at home and making Tiramisu?). But jokes aside, what is disheartening to see is the harrowing emptiness on the streets, day after day, in a country known for La Dolce Vita.

Weeks have been passing by, allowing a lot of time for thinking. Also throwing in the way, a myriad of emotions. From being overwhelmed at suddenly seeing the entire city burst into a thunderous round of applause to feeling serenity upon hearing my faceless neighbour practice his piano lessons for the 10th time in the day. Sometimes it also feels like I am going insane not having interacted with a real human in forever. One day, after having lost interest in doing all the things I usually enjoy doing, I phoned a friend and somehow, we ended up playing a game of Antakshari. A simple interaction but so uplifting in the end. I recall that the last time I probably played it was before I owned a smartphone, at a get-together I was bored at. All this while, in a rush to get somewhere we all just forgot to stop and look up and around, did we?

But what brings fear and anxiety are the nights. It is heart-breaking to see the numbers steadily rising, videos of hospitals overwhelmed, coffins lined up, first-hand accounts from doctors begging everyone to stay at home. It makes me worried about when it will all end; if it will end. What is even scarier is that if this were to happen in India where our population density and medical infrastructure are not in our favour, it could plunge us into a crisis of unimaginable proportions.

It is at this hour that we have to act responsibly and be blunt about telling others to do the same. Even though I am thousands of miles away from India and could have easily taken the first flight back, I chose to #stayathome because it’s not about me anymore. Social distancing and self-isolation are the only ways to tackle this. If any of you think that this will not happen to you, I hope you’re right because I would not wish this upon anyone. But how we choose to act today will shape how this chapter gets written in our country’s history.

Staying at home and having all this extra time on hands, I tend to my plants more these days. Touching the soil calms me down. Maybe once this is all over, the next time I go to a nursery, I’ll switch the succulent for a tomato plant. For since the longest time I’ve been conflicted about what we’re conditioned to believe is the right way to live. Maybe this is a wake-up call now that the very pillars of the civilisation that we are so deeply entrenched into, stand in treacherous waters. A tiny microscopic virus has given us all a giant pause to reflect on where we’re headed. Let’s use it well.

Aishwarya Rathore is a service designer based in Milan, Italy.