In January I took my mother to Udaipur as a prelude to her 90th birthday in April. What a wonderful trip it was – cool temperatures with sunny skies, a brimming Lake Pichola, and the town bustling with activity – colors of every hue and beauty in abundance. My mother, though not able to see too much, was in high spirits.

February was to be another very special time: I was to spend two months with my four-month old grandson in New York City. I had seen him the first month and what a joy and revelation he was. The photos my daughter had been sending and our Whatsapp video calls made me long to be with him. I didn’t mind that it was going to be in the dreary winter cold, as I planned to spend every moment with him and back by late March for mum’s 90th birthday. We planned a smallish, rather intimate get- together with friends who make her life special every day.

Photo Credits: Central Park -
Photo Credits: Harlem -

I set out for New York pinching myself with anticipation. The weather was unseasonal, far from the freezing temperatures I had known all my years living there. The first month went as planned --cuddling, cooing, laughing and, of course, clicking away, sharing his smiles and enormous dark eyes with friends. Much to my surprise the weather was pleasant enough for us to take long walks in Central Park.

By mid-March the situation in New York took an unexpected, drastic turn. First, we heard of friends coming down with Covid 19, and very soon the numbers grew exponentially. In the space of a few weeks we became the epicenter of the global Corona crisis. Living in Harlem, not far from Mount Sinai hospital, the ambulance sirens increased with speed and intensity. For a few weeks they ran day and night. Everyday the death toll was widely broadcast, the drum beat of sick and dying kept growing particularly impacting poorer people. Not enough preparedness, not enough hospital beds, not enough medical equipment and supplies, not enough testing, too much politicking – the mighty city brought to its knees.

Universities closed and moved on-line, then there was the shutting of schools and finally by late March a semi-lockdown –the “City that never sleeps” went ominously silent. My daily walks to Central Park continued. Since Spring came several months early it was more glorious than ever with the daffodils, then apple blossoms, and tulips blooming.

While stuck in New York with the Corona crisis continuing unabated, I felt relieved that India, and my city, Kolkata seemed to have been spared. On March 24th, with barely four hours of notice, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a total lock down. All flights to and within the country were cancelled as was the public transport system. Friends reported that they were locked in their home and not allowed to leave! I felt bad as I strolled through the park: my walks had kept me sane. Tracking the news, it seemed with the cases low, the tremendous mobilization of civil society, religious institutions, government as well as individuals to provide food support, India could ride out the pandemic. It would soon be over, and the curve was flattening in New York.

Photo Credits: migrants returning home -
Photo Credits: cyclone Amphan -

My muscles had barely started to relax when my feed was filled with harrowing stories of migrants walking hundreds of kilometers to return to their homes. They were abandoned with no work, no money and no food in the cities. As these numbers swelled, a humanitarian crisis unfolded. While the migrant stories were the most disturbing, the lockdown was causing havoc especially among the poor who lined up for food rations where available with no assurance with how they would manage through and after the crisis. Then the case numbers started rising. Each day the news more debilitating and the chances for me to return soon kept getting slimmer.

Amidst this crisis typhoon Amphan brewed in the Bay of Bengal with wind speeds predicted of up to 140 km per hour. Five hundred thousand living in the Sunderbans and low-lying areas were shifted amidst the quarantine to community spaces and schools. When the storm struck, my immediate worry was about waterlogging in my building, short circuits, and I fretted about how my mother would manage without electricity. I hoped the hundred-year old building in which we live could withstand the high winds predicted. On the night of the storm I learned that only a few panes shattered, and water filled the stair well. A knot in my neck uncoiled.

By the middle of the night the photos and videos of the city deep in water, the carnage flooded my inbox. Thousands of uprooted old growth trees and flooding made many parts of the City look like a jungle, a river flowing through it. Friends sent photos of the waterlogging in their homes. Devastation everywhere. The surrounding districts even worse hit. I wanted more than ever to be back home. By the early hours of the morning my eyes brimmed over seeing a video of the airport looking like it sat upon a huge lake. In these four months the world changed irrevocably in ways I could not have conceived. Nothing seems certain anymore, planning an exercise in futility. When will I return? What will life look like when I do?

My mother witnessed World War II, The Bengal famine and India’s independence. I, and my children, lived life as though there were no limits. We experienced a prosperity no generation has: we whizzed across the world, tied our faith to technology, inequalities between countries and people grew to monstrous levels. Our unrelenting and ruthless consumption stripped the planet and made the Corona crisis and events like typhoon Amphan and the abrupt changes in season the new normal. What will my grandson’s life look like? Can we dare to imagine and commit to forging an entirely new world? It is good that there is no going back.

Photo credits: Banner Left –, Banner Center -, Banner Right -