SOUTHSIDE STORIES

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Change is in the Air

by Dakshina Gammanpila

Friends in Delhi have been informing me that things are changing  – I’m talking about the weather – I am quasi-British after all, and the Brits are world renown for their weather obsession. As if to echo that sentiment I awoke to the first frost signaling that winter is on its way. However the weather, much like the US electorate, was divided as bright sunshine and blue skies belied the distinct Winter chill. To add to the confusion there are roses still blooming and the now flowerless wisteria surrounding the window frames looks green and lush, as though desperately clinging on to the final vestiges of Summer. This last hurrah surely marks transition. The tulips in the vase on my desk say ‘Spring’, the gold and bronze leaf-fall suggests ‘Autumn’, the vibrant fuschia blossom cry ‘Summer’ and the frozen blades of grass shout a definite ‘Winter’. It’s November, people! Four seasons in one day as depicted in the photograph of fallen foliage taken on an early morning walk. Such discombobulation seems in-keeping with the world at large.

My son and I, news junkies that we are, were glued to the US election results. Will a new era dawn? A change in political as well as meteorological climate? Too soon to call, say the pundits. We wait with bated breath, and turn from the frenzy in the US to the calm predictability of school and work commitments.Yet here too, change is afoot as the UK goes into lockdown once more. To experience Covid restrictions on two continents will prove to be both taxing and interesting. When we arrived in July, Britain was emerging from lockdown; like many we did not foresee that necessary restrictions would once again be imposed as R Rates climb and governments are forced to take action.

Saturday October 31st, the night of Halloween and the British Prime Minister made an announcement of a second nationwide lockdown. An ominous omen, nothing was more spooky to the public than the thought of enforced hibernation. Life in limbo once more. Working, socializing, communicating and shopping at a distance. No contact with friends and family, unless on screens, and celebrations curtailed in the run up to Christmas. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales the other countries in the United Kingdom have already gone into lockdown or ‘circuit breaks’. Across the water France, Germany and Austria have done so too, in an attempt to stem the second wave, protect their people and overburdened health care systems. It really does seem like fire-fighting. The mood as in the US is one of division. In Europe that is also the case. The economy or people? Livelihoods or lives?
Where do you sit on this? We have to examine our core values and fast.

I have a regular zoom call with girlfriends whom I met in Delhi, they hail from the US and different European countries and one of them reminded me that every year on the first Tuesday of November (the same day as the US Election) we would be at the Melbourne Cup, the biggest ex-pat event in Delhi. The proceedings commence at 8 in the morning to take in the Australian time difference and the horse race in Melbourne. 400 ex-pats and Indian friends dress up to party and raise a great deal for charity. It is hosted at the Australian Ambassador’s residence and organised by two incredible Australian ex-pats, Lorraine Young and Peter Stahl, Delhi institutions in themselves. The event is close to my heart – dancing en mass in the morning, what’s not to love?The spirit of internationalism and fun is irrepressible, I have been the MC for the past 3 years and loved every second, seeing friends and colleagues blow off steam in a safe and trusted environment. Last year Vijay Amritaj flew in from the US as our special guest and was a delight. Yes, it is hedonistic but the fact that it raises so much for NGOs in Delhi and that it brings the community together in countless ways makes it a unique communal fest, punctuating the ex-pat calendar with a vibrant exclamation mark. However, the closeness, the number of people, the exceptional buffet, all the wild abandon and proximity – everything that Covid 19 loves. As if to add insult to injury this year dancing, fundraising and togetherness in a large tent in Delhi were seemingly replaced by voting, acrimony and division in the greatest superpower on earth. How the world turns.

The byline for my book entitled Southside Stories, a first volume collection of ex-pat experiences is: ‘a view askew from a global nomad’. The articles are drawn from my column in Brazil started 10 years ago. At no time in the recent past has life felt more nomadic or uncertain. In July my family took the view to travel to the UK on a repatriation flight to see our families, albeit socially distanced. My father-in-law has cancer and we needed to see him and also know that my Mother was safe. It was worth the head-to-toe PPE gear, the transit stops and 2 week quarantine to give an essential boost to those we hold so dear. A risk, we know but one that, at such a critical time, we were willing to take. I went through this 3 years ago with my own dear Father whom we lost in December, the only solace was being able to see his grandchildren several times during that final year. Ex-pats are often faced with these decisions that others would find mind-boggling, as continuity and stability are often thrown out the
window.

Due to vulnerable health and compromised immune systems in this year of Covid we are unable to stay with family as we would do normally and so life for our family of four has been lived in hotels and rented houses as school and work must continue. My daughter counted 16 moves since July. That feels pretty nomadic, to pack up and set up camp whilst ensuring our physical and mental well-being does not slide. It has been a challenge but we know that many are suffering and losing on a vast scale. So we count our blessings and make the best of a chaotic set of circumstances.

And then finally, over the weekend, the result; some relief and certainty, Joe Biden was declared  democratically elected as the 46th US President. He has spoken of being a transitional president, but also a ‘transitional presidency’ acknowledging the deep division and work that lies ahead. A transfer, a change, and change is what we need in the decimation of 2020. I have written over the past weeks about the changing seasons and transitions and nodded along when hearing the words of the President Elect ‘..to everything there is a season – a time to build, a time to reap, a time to sow, and a time to heal.” Surely this is that time.

Globally, many millions have lived so much of 2020 in transition, with socialising and working remotely, working from home, turning to consumerism and entertainment on line.What does that mean and how does that make us feel? We need to firstly be aware of the consequences of lockdown fatigue and uncertainty. For the UK to come through lockdown and then after a few months to go back to a restricted existence when Winter beckons seems harder to bear. But bear it we must. We have to acknowledge and accept that things have changed; that we will celebrate Hanukkah, Diwali, Ramadan and Wesak differently and it would appear that Thanksgiving and Christmas may well go the same way. We have to adapt for the time being at any rate. It is worth remembering that ex-pats are good at adapting, it is part of our DNA, at this time we have to dig deep into that store of flexibility and acceptance and support one another in doing so. So let’s look forward together to positive change and have a safe week.

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