Living History – Aisha Abbas’s Chapter, Batla House
Life during Corona.
[By Mayank Austen Soofi]
Coronavirus will become yesterday’s news sooner or later. That doesn’t change the fact that we are living through a crisis the like of which hasn’t been seen in generations. One day, a century later maybe, when the longest-living among us too would begin to die, newspapers would commemorate the event as the passing away of the last of the people who lived through the world-altering Covid-19 pandemic. In brief, big-time history is happening now. And The Delhi Walla is trying to prepare a part of its first draft by putting a set of questions about ‘daily life these times’ to people from diverse backgrounds.
Today, it’s a PhD scholar. In her 20s, Aisha Abbas lives with her large family in south Delhi’s Batla House. Like most of us, she is in self-isolation—her parents are currently stranded in Bihar where they had gone to attend a wedding.
A Jane Austen devotee, Ms Abbas’s beloved Austen heroine used to be Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, but over the passage of years, she has started appreciating the maturity of the less boisterous Anne Elliot from Persuasion.
The lady talked on WhatsApp; the photos were taken through the phone screen that connected her to me.
5 outdoorsy things you’ll do after the pandemic is over.
1) I will gaze at the moon from (Old Delhi’s) Jama Masjid.
2) I will take a long evening walk somewhere cloaked in nature.
3) I will visit Mahila Haat (near Ramlila Maidan), which is the new abode for secondhand books. Earlier, I used to visit Daryaganj Sunday book market every once in a while. I’ve got plenty of books from there. Cried like a baby when I heard that the authorities were shifting the iconic book market to another place.
4) I miss taking my niece, Rimsha, and nephew, Arhaan, to a burger outlet in a Noida mall. So I will take them there for a treat.
5) I will resume my physical presence in activism against injustice.
The view outside your window at the moment.
The empty balcony of my neighbour, grim and bored like our present. The street directly underneath is a sorry sight to see these days. A once buzzing place—it would be full of life till two in the morning—is now drowsy in silence.
What’s going on in your mind right now?
The prevalent predicament tells me to put a hold on to my anxieties but I am helpless not to fall prey to my existential crisis. I have developed imposter syndrome, so most of the time my mind is occupied with things related to my thesis, which are not happy thoughts, I assure you. (Poet) Wordsworth says our true emotions are recollected in tranquillity. The lockdown has brought in me an adrenaline rush of spontaneous thoughts. I am thinking of our country’s dilapidated state of affairs. I am thinking how I never imagined that those dystopian movies I watched would come to bite at us in reality someday. I am also patting myself on the back for being fortunate enough to witness these happenings, whatever its consequences might be. No matter how bad the events in my lifetime might turn out to be, I am willing to experience them with pride.
Objects in your house that give you solace in self-isolation.
The large Victorian bookshelf my father carved for me out of wood when I was away in Aligarh for studies. It holds a special place in my heart, radiating his love and warmth. Then there are the books, read and unread, that remind me about the fragility of life, and that the process of living is beautiful and is to be cherished even amid despair. The shelf also has my favourite book, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. The voluminous novel is about surviving in a changed world. Another object of affection is my Jane Austen Journal, which was my gift to myself.