1986, Lockdown in Darjeeling – down the memory lane

The word “quarantine”, takes me back to 1986, when I was a little girl during the Gorkhaland agitation in Darjeeling. A 40 day strike was declared, which meant a lockdown with no movement of vehicles, no movement of people, rationing of essentials and no schools – a dream come true for us, children and the worse nightmare for parents. While it wasn’t exactly like being caught in a health pandemic, but it has its similarities – working from home, no schools, restriction on transport and the worst one – stocking up on essentials. 

Just going to town was a bi-weekly chore for most of us living in our community. We had no motorable roads and the town was two hours walk uphill! It was literally an uphill task. In short, we couldn’t stock-up! So, what helped? Rationing! Everything. We were lucky that way, we were used to rationing essentials like even water, staying in Darjeeling meant, water was a scarce commodity. 

We realised that stocking up also meant, besides trouble at the storehouse with unwanted marsupials of course, that there would be shortages for people who really need them the most. What did we do? 

Without intending we looked at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs– starts with our Indian way of saying Roti, Kapda aur Makan – the physiological needs and moving towards zero waste.

We started by serving less: This doesn’t mean we didn’t eat adequately, this meant we rationed our food while cooking as well as eating and did the same with other essentials. Small things go a long way, one less spoon of oil, half an onion instead of one and serving less so that there is absolutely no wastage of food. Similarly with washing clothes, using up less vessels and other commodities. 

Educated the less informed: Some of the educated lot, like my mother, held meetings to explain how to ration, prevent illness and shared simple medical solutions to overcome common illnesses. In present day Bangalore, I educate Uber drivers I travel with over the last two weeks on using sanitisers and importance of washing hands etc. 

Helped the needy: While some of us could still manage to buy more, the community also helped the needy with food, clothes and sometimes shelter. Since we had doctors in our house, we helped with distributing medications and free aids we received from other countries. Right now, at home offering support to security guards and maids in terms of educations and providing sanitisers and masks, could be something we can easily do. 

Grew kitchen gardens: Most of us had garden patches back then and we grew lots of sustainable vegetables, which are perishable in nature and tough to stock up anyway. Also, special plants like Aloe Vera, we lovingly call it ‘Ghue Kumari’ (comparing it to Ghee) – so useful for cuts and burns and so many other ailments. Nowadays people do terrace farming or balcony gardening – this also helps in growing your own food. Add to that for those of us working from home or on self-isolation, gardening can be great therapy.

It was about making optimal use of things we already had and not just about stocking up. 

A lot of people in India stay in small spaces and it’s important during periods of isolation to also think about open, airy spaces at home. We are lucky that in India we can buy almost everything online, especially in the cities. 

In times like these, things boil down to one word – essentials. Besides working on ways to save-up and use optimally, it’s also a great time to check up on what we really need versus what we want. In a time of excesses, where we talk about clutter – due to consumerism, buying power and digital communications, it’s a great time to declutter and find your space, physical and mental too.

Stay Safe!

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Ira Pradhan
Ira is a Corporate Communications Leader with experience in Healthcare, Consumer Electronics, IT, Retail and the Automotive industry. She hails from the small and beautiful state of Sikkim and considers herself a complete Mountain Girl.

In a career spanning over a decade as a communications expert, she has championed and led programs on several sustainable business practices, diversity and inclusion programs.

She loves to read literature, and books on management and development in technology and economics. She mentors young women students & entrepreneurs in her home state, Sikkim.

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