A BIRTHDAY IN A PANDEMIC
Should I have even thought about baking a cake in a time like this?
Some days before my birthday (which was on April fools Day) my husband said matter of factly to me, “I hope you’re baking a cake for your birthday.”
“No, it’s the middle of Lent, ” I replied.
“That’s never stopped you before.”
“We’re in the middle of Lent and in the middle of a lockdown,” I re-iterated.
“Still….it is your birthday…..,” my daughter said.
The two of them run our organic farm and had brought in eggs, milk, vegetables and fruit from our farm for our customers in Mumbai. They know that I usually enjoy baking. And I had all the ingredients I needed. Namely cream from the milk of our Gir cows, desi eggs, whole wheat flour and sugar.
But this time I was very reluctant to bake.
We’re now in the middle of a 21-day lockdown in India to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has claimed many lives all over the world. India which was less affected than other countries at first is also now witnessing an increase in the number of people affected by the disease and dying from it.
Within India, there's an exodus of daily wage migrant workers leaving the cities where they had come to work in and heading for their homes in far-flung villages. Many of them have been stranded en route because suburban and long-distance trains have been abruptly cancelled. Though government authorities are trying to arrange temporary shelters and food for them, this is small comfort for the fact that they are far away from their home and with no guarantee that they will be able to return to these daily wage jobs anytime soon.
There’s a couple who have been camping on a street bench under the shade of a tree, outside our home in Mumbai. They seem to be displaced, daily wage workers. But surprisingly they have refused offers of food from helpful residents in the vicinity.
We ourselves(my husband, daughter and I) have had to stay back in our Mumbai home, because of the lockdown. The police were not allowing private vehicles to go out of Mumbai. So though we grow and sell organic fruit and vegetables, on our farm, in a village 120 kms away from Mumbai and though we also sell free-range desi eggs and Gir cow milk from our farm, we cannot for the duration of the lockdown get more supplies of these essential foods to our customers in Mumbai.
Despite assurances from civic authorities that essential supplies of food for the common man would not be stopped, we have also heard reports from farmers in areas close to our own farm, that a few villagers were beaten up by the police, as they were out of their homes and on the main road. Their only fault was that they were trying to sell the vegetables grown on their own farm!
In the wake of all this, how could I possibly bake a cake?! And what if the lockdown is further extended?
On the other hand, … all of the people in my immediate and extended circle of friends, relatives, employees and co-workers have mercifully NOT been affected by this horrible virus.
My brother who for some years now, lives in a special care home in Vasai, a large suburban area outside of Mumbai, is safe and well looked after. And though I may not be able to visit him for as long as there is a lockdown on local trains, I can still talk with him over the phone as often as we both wish.
All our resident farmworkers and their families in the village and all of their extended families are safe and well; all of them have food and provisions for 21 days and more. We communicate with workers every day via cell phone calls.
My son who is pursuing his Master's degree in America is safe and well in a student housing apartment within the vast campus. All his classes are now conducted online. The supermarket closest to the campus is well stocked with food and groceries. So he’s okay. We video chat via WhatsApp every day. And thanks to this wonderful modern technology it does not feel like he's halfway across the world from us.
So in the wake of all these positive facts, shouldn’t I just focus on being happy and celebrate by baking a cake?
Finally, I heeded the advice of one of my friends. She said to me, “Fran go ahead and bake that cake…. Just enjoy your birthday… You don’t know what tomorrow will bring in these troubled times.”
So yes I went ahead and baked a small cake. And was the pursuit of happiness that baking a cake usually entails, worth it this time?
On a mundane level YES. For a day or two, my family forgot about my not so good housekeeping !!
But a little of that blue feeling persisted as I could not even courier a piece of cake to my brother in Vasai.
Then again, as my friend rightly pointed out, none of us knows for sure what tomorrow and the near future has in store for us. All of us live in the hope but not any assurance that “this too will pass.”
And once this does pass, the world still has to continue to protect its food crops from the adverse effects of climate change…
So I guess I should be grateful that I had enough ingredients for a birthday cake this year!