Friday, 1 January 2021

goodbye twenty-twenty

it is time that 2020 is put to bed. i say this knowing full well that its happenings have consequence for years to come. 2021 will bring more of the same. history rhymes and the stories of pandemics past tell us that this will be the worst of the season. when i shared my fears with omair a few days ago, he reminded me of the old proverb that the darkest hour is before dawn. 

here is what i want to remember of a year where there was so much to grasp at attention and so little luxury for it. omair and i welcomed this year at alexandra palace. it was a cold cold night. we had layered up and carried a thermos of chai to watch the skyline burst with spark and colour. i still remember the smell of gunpowder, the hiss, cackle and boom of the fireworks and the steam rising from our thermos. on the first day of the year omair told me that he was ready to make the move to bank vontobel in zurich. 

the season of change had begun.

we went to lanzarote in february. it was within a hair’s breadth of omair’s move and just shy of europe being plunged into covid times. and yet, our only worry at that time was a saharan sandstorm called calima. particles of sand suspended in the atmosphere turned the skies a dusty pink. lanzarote is a volcanic island which gives its landscape a martian feel. the colour palate of the calima made it seem like a dystopian world. the visibility was so poor it caused holiday havoc as flights into and from the island were cancelled. we were delayed by twenty-four hours and returned to london just a day before omair moved. 

it was also the day that a hotel in the neighbouring island of tenerife was quarantined because of covid. 

our luck for timely arrivals followed us through the year. i arrived in zurich in march on the weekend before it went into lockdown. i had come for three nights and  stayed for three months. we spent some of the summer in london arriving and leaving just as quarantine was relaxed. we drove to london for christmas and once again got in a few hours before the borders collapsed and britain was effectively quarantined from the world. 

at an outdoor exhibition at the southbank centre called 'winter light', tavares strachan has an installation that very simply reads ‘ we are in this together’. this is somewhat true. covid most certainly does not respect borders. it is an invisible being that does not need a passport or visa. its vector is humanity and it thrives in togetherness. which is precisely the reason why the piece bothered me. we are in the same storm but we are most certainly not in the same boat. what does together mean in a time when keeping safe needs us to remain apart? 

2020 was a thief. it stole togetherness. it took lives. the life that we knew no longer exists and the life that we will live is still a half formed thing. there is so much that remains unresolved but here are some certainties. 

the ordinary is extraordinary. the men and women who drive buses, stack the shelves, deliver parcels, clean the streets and collect the rubbish, the care workers who look after the sick and the elderly, teachers and educators and kindly neighbours. they are the essential ones without whom society would not work. i returned to an old favourite from the school of life on 'the wonders of an ordinary life' ; “keeping a home in reasonable order; getting an early night; doing a not very exciting or well-paid job responsibly and cheerfully; listening properly to another person and, in general, not succumbing to madness or rage at the paradox and compromises involved in being alive.” i must confess that there was little wonder and often a lot of rage and discontent about these ordinary daily chores. 2020 was the year that i lost my love of cooking. but it never distracted me from the bigger picture of how fortunate we were to be working, living together and having good food on the table.  

the places of grace were plentiful. the most exuberant spring in zurich full of frothy pink blossoms. a lot of sunshine and refreshing swimming in the lake. nature was a faithful reminder that time was moving along even on days when it seemed unlikely. tortoise published a letter that i wrote about the experience of time in lockdown. vittles published a piece i wrote about instant rice.  a mentee applied for and got a job that they really wanted. i got news that my role as academic project manager had been made permanent. omair had an excellent year at work. in his own words, ‘a vintage year’. we made wonderful new friends in zurich. a friend dropped a bowl of homemade gajrela anointed with silver leaf in our postbox on our first eid in lockdown in zurich. family. friendships. the health and wellbeing of family and friends. voice notes from old friends. long conversations with mama and baba. most of my london house plants survived my absence in lockdown. long summer nights and the most magical dinner at auntie guddee and uncle nasrullah’s house. a long weekend with valeria and jesse in bra, italy. this felt like a win against covid since we had planned to be with them at easter. the weather was beautiful and for while, even with the rules and restrictions of the pandemic, it felt that things were going to be okay. christmas with my brother and alia.  


people i am grateful for. family. my parents who have not seen their children in over a year but who have made us laugh and smile. i have loved the postcards and dispatches in our whatsapp group and i am counting down to when i will see them again. my husband who has a knack for cracking the silliest of jokes. my brother and his wife alia with whom we share a silly sense of humour and who gave us the best christmas this year. my sibling-in-laws and their partners for a deluge of tiktok videos, memes, gifs and for checking in our london home and providing plant sitting services. rod buchanan for his infectious and energetic instagram live barre classes that kept us fit through the first lockdown. friends (old and new). my work family who made the transition to working from home so much easier. my mentors. 


things i am grateful for. joymongers. the kind that rob bell talks about in ‘an introduction to joy’. rob bell says that joy is expansive because it can accommodate the breadth of human emotion - fear, anger, pain, happiness and laughter. maria popova chose joy as the essential life learning from this year. in her words, ‘joy is not a function of a life free of friction and frustration, but a function of focus — an inner elevation by the fulcrum of choice.’ books. written and spoken word. gifs. zoom, whatsapp and facetime. woodberry wetlands especially right after lockdown when they were thick with brambles.      

things i missed. my parents. seeing friends. eating out. exhibitions. sitting at a cafe watching life go by. a mask free life. a good night’s sleep. dreams beyond covid. travel. holidays. working in the office. meeting people. walking amidst strangers. live music. theatre. 

things that i read (and remembered). 

chimamanda ngozi adichie’s notes of grief

sabrina orah mark’s fuck the bread, the bread is over

christine kalafus’ renovating a family

francesa melandri’s a letter to the uk from italy

madhushree ghosh’s at the maacher bazaar, fish for life

leslie jamison’s  is it strange to say that i miss the bodies of strangers?

anuradha roy’s animals and touch in lockdown

shamil thakrar’s  me, an old-fashioned, and some reflections on 2020

kavita puri’s partition voices

afua hirsch’s brit(ish)

zadie smith’s intimations

raniya hosain’s to be a woman in pakistan

shadab zeest hashmi’s soap and sun

ann pratchett’s my three fathers

venkatesh rao’s pandemic time: a distributed doomsday clock

teju cole’s we can’t comprehend this much sorrow

sadia khatri’s the rupturing of the clocks

leslie jamison’s when the world went away, we made a new one 

also, plenty of poetry. 

laura olin’s newsletter

gina rush’s collection of things to read

tortoise media.   

the clock struck midnight while i was writing. omair and i stood on our balcony as the skyline of london erupted in fireworks. silhouettes of people appeared on other balconies each calling out happy new year into the night. there is hope in neon and bright lights. here is to 2021. may it be a kinder and gentler year for all of us.

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