In February 2020, my family travelled from London to Hyderabad to meet our extended family. This trip was meant to be very special – it was a holiday of many firsts for us as a family with two little children, an 8-month old and a 4-year old. My wife and I had heard about the virus but we believed it was just another virus and that “we” wouldn’t personally be impacted by it.
We had a fabulous start to our trip. We had everything one could ask for – the love and affection of our family and friends, delightful food and most importantly, a brief escape from the horrible weather in the UK.
The inevitable happened pretty soon though – India, with one-sixth of humanity, couldn’t be immune to a global pandemic for long. The daily count of Covid-19 cases began to rise sharply and an extremely severe lockdown was imposed, with hardly any notice.
Quite simply put, one couldn’t step out of home unless it was to buy groceries, medicines or get emergency services. Schools, universities, hospitality, manufacturing, eCommerce, among others were shut indefinitely. India’s airspace too was closed indefinitely, with the exception of flights to repatriate Indian citizens stranded outside the country.
The lockdown sounded ominous to us for many reasons:
- We had no clue about when we would be able to head back home. We had no idea if it would be months or years before we could resume our lives back in the UK.
- The idea of staying with parents for a prolonged period of time was not something we had anticipated. It would be substantially more work for my aged parents and in-laws to host all of us for a long time.
- Our children had never experienced insanely hot summer days of 110F or so (OK, the weather in the UK isn’t that bad after all!)
- The mental health of our children was a huge worry. Being cut off from the world was going to take its toll. Also, our 4-year old was classified ‘vulnerable’ by the NHS and was advised ‘shielding’, which meant we needed to keep him indoors and protected as much as possible.
- And last but certainly not the least, for somebody who thought Amazon’s ‘1-click buy’ was the de facto standard for shopping, the unavailability of e-commerce came as a rude shock. It was almost the equivalent of a coffee lover not having access to coffee for the foreseeable future.
We also had to deal with entertaining two energetic children who had almost no toys, crayons or books. We entertained them in slightly ancient ways, such as making playdough out of cornstarch or making makeshift tents using sarees to beat the heat. There were days we felt extremely fatigued but it was not always because of the children. The sheer ambiguity and the helplessness were quite exhausting. We weren’t fully convinced that flying was a safe option once the skies opened up. Neither were we convinced about staying back, pausing our jobs, financial commitments and lives in the UK for an uncertain amount of time, or maybe forever.
The worst was yet to come.
On a fateful evening, our landlady decided to move back into the house she rented out to us and served us a tenancy termination notice. The legal options available didn’t seem very helpful. Half-heartedly, we had to oblige to move out. Over the next few weeks, a few good friends helped us get our house cleaned, the lawn mowed and our belongings moved to a temporary storage unit.
Now, not only where we stuck abroad due to the pandemic, but we were also now officially without a home.
As a Consultant, I earn my living designing strategies and solutions to help organisations deal with a complex array of problems. Understanding them and piecing them together in a coherent manner is one of the key skills that keeps me in my job. However, I seemed to have no clue about how I could solve my own problems. It was like a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, and I did know what the final picture looked like. Joining two different pieces did not help, for I had no idea if they made sense in the larger scheme of things.
Several weeks later, things took a natural turn for the better. Perhaps nothing could have gone further worse. Lockdown restrictions were relaxed significantly. The central picture in the jigsaw puzzle was clearer now – and we worked hard to fit things around it.
A month and three Covid-19 tests later, we are left with two more months in 2020.
Do I want 2020 to finish soon? Yes, for sure.
Do I want 2021 to be better? Of course, yes!
Do I want my children to forget what 2020 has been like? Definitely not!
Whether we realise it or not, the year has taught us some very powerful lessons. Prior to 2020, I would have probably had to wait for the right life experiences to teach me these lessons. Or maybe the right books or movies would have taught me these lessons. But a first-hand experience of these lessons is infinitely more powerful and relatable – and coming out of it almost unscathed makes them a lot more valuable to us as a family.
The three powerful lessons this year has taught me are:
- Be there for your family and friends. While my parents and in-laws did a phenomenal job of making us feel comfortable, safe and happy, our friends in the UK helped us remotely move out of home during the lockdown. These experiences have been great testaments to the importance of family values and being there for one another.
- Strive for the greater good. It is times such as these that bring out the best in us and makes the human race so special. All of us have had important roles to play in containing the pandemic. And it is important to acknowledge that.
- Persevere, and things will turn out for the good. Even if you don’t necessarily end up making lemonade every single time, life might stop throwing lemons at you and you might end up doing something better.
Like this story is unique to our family, millions of other children around the world have had their own unique experiences and journeys throughout the year. Children of this generation may not recollect these experiences or lessons in the years to come – and it would be such a shame to let go off these valuable life lessons so easily.
My wife and I intend to spend some time over the Christmas break updating our children’s ‘2020 time capsule book’, with pictures of our trip to India, their highs and lows this year, and more importantly, what we took away from this historic year. It will hopefully be a Christmas gift that they will remember and fondly look back upon in the years to come.