By Chetan Roy

(The author is a global citizen who has lived and worked across continents and countries. His life is a blend of spiritual inquiry, yoga, corporate leadership, music, writing, travel, sport, photography, and community service.)

These days, I look up at the sky more often. Every time I look up, the sky seems a little bluer. The clouds are more defined, drawing shapes not seen since those pictures in our school textbooks.

Working from home has not been the picnic one would have liked it to be. Workdays have stretched longer, blurring the lines between working from home and working on home. Time remains a paucity, a precious resource. But it has not been horrid either. Being home 24×7 has given me the opportunity to create a truly clean home. Recipe books have suddenly come to life, shaking off the dust of many years. Plants are happier with the attention they are getting. There’s time to put some food and water out for the birds. Every late afternoon, I can see the sunlight stretching itself across my balcony, playing with leaves, changing colour.

Cities all over the world have their own unique sprints. Bustle, cars, crowds, markets, rush hour, weekends, lazy Sundays. Indian cities, however, seem to run on a different level of adrenaline altogether. New York and London are busy too, some areas till the wee hours of the morning. But there are pockets of quiet. Our cities never have a moment of quiet, except during the hours between 4 am and 8 am. If New York and London sprint for the 400 metres, cities in India are rushing to pip Usain Bolt at the 100 metres finish line. Our cities are almost schizophrenic, with diametrically opposite personalities from 4 am to 8 am versus 10 am to 8 pm. The lockdown integrated these two brains of our cities. I remember clearly the first day of the lockdown. The lockdown had started in all but name. Janata curfew. It sounded like a new train launched by the Indian Railways. You boarded this train to nowhere to stay put. I still remember it so well. Silence. Just the sound of birds. So many different calls, songs, but always bounded by the cawing of crows.

I remember clearly the first day of the lockdown. The lockdown had started in all but name. Janata curfew. It sounded like a new train launched by the Indian Railways. You boarded this train to nowhere, to stay put. I still remember it so well. Silence. Just the sound of birds. So many different calls, songs, but always bounded by the cawing of crows.

I remembered silence as a child.

The sound of a fan, a chair moving in the house next door, a vehicle passing by.

Sunday afternoons were like that.

I wanted the day to never end. In a way, it never did.

Cities all over the world have their own unique sprints. Bustle, cars, crowds, markets, rush hour, weekends, lazy Sundays. Indian cities, however, seem to run on a different level of adrenaline altogether. New York and London are busy too, some areas till the wee hours of the morning. But there are pockets of quiet. Indian cities never have a moment of quiet, except during the hours between 4 am and 8 am. If New York and London sprint for the 400 metres, cities in India are rushing to pip Usain Bolt at the 100 metres finish line. Our cities are almost schizophrenic, with diametrically opposite personalities at 4 am to 8 am versus 10 am to 8 pm. The lockdown integrated these two brains of our Indian cities. For the first time in many years, Mumbai and Delhi resembled any other global city in their silence and peace.

Another wish fulfilled by this lockdown.

What drives people to walk for miles and miles along rail tracks or highways just to get home every year during the floods in Mumbai? There is a certain determination, born perhaps of desperation, or faith, that drives Indians to embark on seemingly impossible journeys. These, in a modern convoluted context, echo the padayatras embodied in our historical pages. One has to salute the resilience and spirit of such people. Perhaps, it is this same resilience and spirit, born from a thousand blows, that have helped Indians succeed in every country they have made a home in.

Many Indians, especially the poorest and most marginalised, have had anything but their wishes fulfilled by this lockdown. The gruelling, sometimes fatal, journeys of migrants making their way home have been heartbreaking. What hope is it that makes a person walk thousands of miles to get home across a country that has shut down? What drives people to walk for miles and miles along rail tracks or highways just to get home every year during the floods in Mumbai? There is a certain determination, born perhaps of desperation, or faith, that drives Indians to embark on seemingly impossible journeys. These, in a modern convoluted context, echo the padayatras embodied in our historical pages. One has to salute the resilience and spirit of such people. Perhaps, it is this same resilience and spirit, born from a thousand blows, that have helped Indians succeed in every country they have made a home in.

Yet, at the same time, large numbers of people have stepped up to help. Within a week of the lockdown setting in, and news of starving migrant workers and others who live hand-to-mouth starting to pour in, I began to receive news of efforts being made on the ground to alleviate the situation. In a matter of days, I had heard of ten different individuals coordinating hunger and medical relief efforts with NGOs across the country. Avinash Alag’s fabulous work in Meerut with Gyanoday. Nabeel Shah’s terrific efforts across India with Youth Feed India, pioneering social worker Bunker Roy’s Barefoot College barefootcollege.org in Tilonia feeding the poorest in Rajasthan, Rathin Mathur’s volunteering with Umeed Ki Kiran, Prerana Langa coordinating feeding families in 360 villages across Punjab with The RoundGlass Foundation. Some of these efforts have been highlighted in MyyIndia. Such people, such efforts, restore our hope in humanity and give us the opportunity to help in any way we can.

I returned to India 10 years ago after having spent many years in the West. The highlight of my return is the discovery that there are still people who will go to great lengths to help others. There are people who help without any expectation of return, there are people who help even if it impinges on their earning potential, there are people who help as part of their duty. I have experienced this in my own life here. This goes for rich and poor alike. In fact, it is the poor who are sometimes more helpful than the rich. A maid who says that she is willing to take a cut because she has not worked during the lockdown, guards who help clean the stairwells but ask for no money in return. For every bootlegger hoping to make some extra money in this time of scarcity, there are also heroes who rise to the occasion.

On every such occasion, I can’t help but look up at the sky. A sky that gets bluer every day. It reminds me of something I wrote as a struggling college student, comforting others and myself:

This life, it can make us trip and cry
But it also lets us touch the sky.