Suddenly unfamiliar Sundays

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“Sundays are family days” has been a family rule for as long as I can remember. Sundays meant waking up leisurely, enjoying a hot coconut oil massage by my mother over a piping hot cup of coffee and a fluffy omelet my father would have just prepared. Sundays meant reading a book for hours on end and watching a movie with lunch. They meant waking my father from his nap to make our evening cup because he insists he makes the best coffee in the family, then waking my mother from hers because I always craved her dosas, especially on Sundays. They meant quarreling with my sister and arguing with my mother; they meant apologies, hugs. 

My family and I were collectively, unapologetically at peace on Sundays. For most of the mornings and the evenings, our house would echo with the meditative voices of Elton John and Eric Clapton from my father’s excellent music collection, interspersed with bouts of rap and R&B that my sister and I would play after childish arguments with my father and each other. We kept movement to a minimum on Sundays, only ever walking to and from the kitchen to peek into the fridge and the cabinets, with short walks, swims or runs in the evenings. Every one of us either worked or went to school, so we didn’t eat too many meals together during the week. But on Sundays, we sat at the dining table.

I realize now that I didn’t fully internalize how Sundays got a little lonely when my sister left for college. When we were little, I remember basking in the sun in the little oasis of an inflatable pool we would put out in our little balcony in hot, perpetually summery Mumbai. I remember the fights we would have — which I always lost because my sister’s always been stronger than I am — where our pillars of pride would only be stable for a moment before we would break them down, apologizing to one another, turning the bedroom we shared from a battlefield into a safe house. 

Without my sister, I was left to debate with my parents alone and didn’t have the solace of having someone to listen while I reflected on the week gone by. High school Anoushka began hating Sundays; she didn’t like all the time she had to herself, and she would have much preferred to spend the day with friends. Sundays started to mean heightened arguments and moodiness. 

Four years raced by, and by the time my sister began living at home again, it was my turn at college. Sundays once again became my most valued time at home, though not without some anxiety. I missed home when I was at college for most of the year, but when I was home, I helplessly counted down the Sundays before I had to leave for school once more. 

Sundays for my family changed so much in such little time, but we were so busy looking forward to Sundays that I seemed to have forgotten precisely how I savored them. I forgot the feeling of security that blanketed every Sunday I spent at home, the fear of missing out that I often couldn’t shake when I said no to plans with friends, the tranquility of the four members of my family just being — together.

It is strange to me, then, that shelter-in-place orders have turned every day into a Sunday on the surface but, given the current circumstances, even Sundays don’t feel like the Sundays I once knew.

Now, I spend my Sundays indoors, slightly disoriented. I spend them catching up on lectures that would have otherwise been live and intermittently scrolling through social media and old photos because isolation has never been this uncertain — and consequently, this lonely. I don’t fight with my sister, and I don’t spend the day talking or even being in silence with my parents because their days conclude 12 and a half hours before mine do. Instead, I spend my Sundays the way my family with whom I am currently living spend theirs — I help cook meals; I watch good science fiction; I laugh when they quarrel the way my parents and I would when we spent too much time together at home. 

Slowly, the frustration of isolation has begun fading as I’ve started to internalize this new reality of Sundays of online classes and social distancing, spent mostly in bed with mostly myself. Social media has come in clutch now more than ever, and I am so grateful for a strong WiFi connection and easy access to conversations with friends and family — even when they often consist majorly of COVID-19. Lockdown is comfortable, and the more I have begun realizing that, the less I find myself complaining. Maybe Sundays can still be Sundays after all.

Anoushka Agrawal writes the Wednesday column on her experiences as an international student from India. Contact her at [email protected]