August 2020 gave us a summer of staycations, cancelled holidays, mask trends and uncharacteristic heatwaves.
While most of us enjoyed the brief stint of British sunshine and freedom from coronavirus restrictions, the undercurrents of a covid-engendered world flowed unfettered. The month began with a spate of local lockdowns – first in Manchester, then in Aberdeen. The catastrophic Beirut explosion of August 4 destroyed neighbourhoods, killed hundreds and displaced over 250,000 in a country already mired in an unprecedented economic crisis. A record-breaking heatwave lambasted us Londoners during the first two weeks of the month, no doubt a tell-tale sign of climate change. By mid August, UK was officially in recession. Ever-shifting coronavirus travel rules had holidaymakes racing against time to make it back to UK before snap quarantine rules took effect. A Level results Day made history as downgraded students took to the streets to protest against an inept algorithm that had robbed them of vital grades. In the same vein as most of 2020, August delivered more chaos and catastrophe.
Low Grade Depression
‘I miss the beginning of the quarantine period when we used to make Dalgona coffee, play online ludo and watch web series, now we are just dead inside.’ – I read this somewhere and it really hit a chord. 6 months into this pandemic, we are collectively going through what Michelle Obama has termed as ‘low grade depression‘.
I have definitely felt low grade depression weighing me down in recent times. My personal challenges feel insignificant against the global unrest and loss, but they did leave me exhausted and dispirited. A faulty car gearbox set us back thousands of pounds, an unexpected expense that landed like a mighty blow to our finances. Nizar’s job hovered over our heads like a pressing question mark (his one year contract was coming to an end) while my company began the first round of voluntary redundancies.
With the economy in free fall, I spent a lot of time fending off worst care scenarios in my head, trying to take it one day at a time. I cried when it got too much and withdrew into a shell. I stayed there, restless and hurting, until the day Nizar’s contract got extended. A tight tension unloosened itself from my muscles, leaving me physically lighter and mentally stronger. I thanked Allah profusely for His mercy and blessings.
“Stay at home” to “stay alert”
August had its positives too. In retrospect, it was that sweet spot post-lockdown when we were claiming back a lot of normalcy while hospital admissions and death counts remained consistently low. We hosted friends in our apartment, and gave in to socialising more freely. For the first time since March, we went out for a family brunch and dined with friends in Central London. The capital’s socialising hotspots have not been able to dodge the pandemic’s wrath, despite lockdown being lifted last month. While some places buzzed with pre-Covid rhythm, others remained woefully shut (Dominique Ansel Bakery, thou shall be missed 🙁 ).
August gave us Eat Out to Help Out, a coronavirus scheme that offered up to £10 off restaurant meals between Monday – Wednesday. Even though we used it only twice, the rest of UK rose to the occasion with gusto – some 84,000 restaurants took part, serving more than 100 millions meals. After all, its not often that the government is urging you to eat out at the Treasury’s expense!
Controlling the Controllable
At one point in August, something snapped inside me. I wanted to feel like I had some parts of my life under control so I took charge of whatever was within my power to change. I worked out with purpose, setting a goal of 3 days/week to stay committed. I established a Friday ritual of cleaning the living room and folding away the laundry. I feel like I am only JUST getting the hang of this post Covid domestic life, thanks to a newfound mental clarity that I didn’t have during lockdown. Furlough and non-existent childcare meant April-June lacked the structure that I needed to function. With Ary back to daycare for 3 days and my work life in full swing, the new normal feels more aligned to my old one (barring the commute, which is becoming increasingly more and more difficult to imagine as a future add-on).
Nizar and I both unanimously agreed that we needed some ‘lighter’ entertainment to counter this month’s heavy emotional toil. We rewatched movies (Jump Street), repeated shows (Friends, always Friends) and succumbed to Indian Matchmaking on Netflix (we like to resist jumping on the trending shows bandwagon).
The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson. A historical fantasy, The Bird King is the story of Fatima (a 17-year-old concubine) and Hassan (a mapmaker who can draw places into existence), on a quest to find a mythical king of birds while escaping the Spanish Inquisition. The story unfurls in 1491 Granada, the last Emirate of Muslim Spain, a part of European history that I love to explore. After a promising start that had me furiously turning the pages, the story dragged on for a bit, eventually steering me towards a grand finale so ripe in fantastical imagination that it was borderline nonsensical. I like vivid, euphoric fantasy – a lot – so I lapped it all up without hesitation.
Wilson, who converted to Islam at 20, is one of many talented Muslim writers I have discovered this year. Reading books authored by Muslims is a fairly new notion for me. I find myself connecting to their words and worlds more intimately. Where else would you find jinns as central characters in a book?
Would I recommend The Bird King? If you like magic realism, and enjoy your imagination being stretched, go for it!
I dont know how to put into words this overwhelming experience of mothering a 26 month old toddler. One word repeatedly comes to mind – intense. Toddler parenting is as relentless as the rewards are sweet. Being the centre of my son’s universe and knowing full well that this is a short-lived spell, I cherish all the precious moments we share with a fierce sense of nostalgia. Each eager kiss, each uncontrollable giggle, each enthusiastic dance move, each pretend play of scary diso (dinosaur) is loaded with unbridled infancy so pure that I want to hold onto it forever. Given an option between school and ‘basha‘, Aryan always chooses basha, even though he thoroughly enjoys school. I pose this question to him a lot (basha na school?), just to hear him pick us, again and again.
Aryan insists on helping us out whenever he finds an opportunity to do so. In this covid stricken world, allowing this can be quite tricky! Pressing the lift button (much to my dismay), opening parcels, (ugh) and rushing to prepare tea when he sees me pouring hot water in mugs are some ways he wants to participate in the daily humdrum of life. He is still too young to embrace his many identities – British, Bengali, Muslim – but each facet is crystallising and blooming in him like the colours of a rainbow. ‘Oh My Days‘ is his new favourite way to express surprise, each word followed by an emphatic pause before the next one is delivered. When I cough, he rushes in to say ‘Alhamdolillah‘. The other day, he randomly burst into ‘Bulbul Pakhi Moyna Tiye‘, a Bengali lullaby I used to sing to him when he was younger. I don’t know how he remembers all the words. Young brains are incredible organs.
He is very particular about things, with phrases like ‘I dont want it!’ and ‘Mummy, that’s Daddy cup!’. A concerned little soul, he peppers us with probing questions like: ‘Which one do you like?’, ‘What’s the matter?’, ‘What’s wrong?’. He is learning to understand the world by engaging his senses: ‘Look!’, he insists, gesturing towards whatever has captured his fancy. He knows the words ‘smell’ and ‘hear’ and can connect them with his nose and ears. He knows his ABC song by heart and is starting to grasp numbers beyond 1 – 10 (he keeps randomly mentioning 14, lol). He is all ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ like a little British birdie, not forgetting his magic words even in the middle of a full blown tantrum.
Recipe on Repeat
I have been making this squid curry recipe that is an absolute DELIGHT. Fuss free and revivable from frozen packets, its just the kind of quick meals that I like to run to on weeknights.
Google has been hosting workshops to educate their employees on racism and diversity. They are so informative, I cant help but listen in with Nizar. On one such occasion, we were introduced to Dr. Nina Jablonski, a world-famous anthropologist and paleo-biologist. She studies skin colour and the role it plays in self identity, racism and evolution. I would highly recommend that you check out her work.
September, which usually marks the beginning of a brand new school term. But this year, many uni students are looking at deferrals, virtual fresher’s week or online lessons.
WHO has warned Europe to be on alert for ‘tricky’ transition from summer to autumn. The second wave is gaining momentum across the continent but the rising number of cases are not matched with intensive care admissions which has to be a good sign?
With the total number of infections reaching 25m and 850,000 deaths, the pandemic is far from over. Despite the grim stats, we look forward to the last quarter of the year with renewed hope. The last days of golden sunshine, crunchy walks in leafy parks and pumpkin everything are beckoning with open arms. Here’s to the power and beauty of Autmun to bring 2020 back to life!