The lockdown began with panic, moved into acceptance, and has now settled into a state of peaceful gratitude for Vidya Balan. Oh, and along the way, she discovered that she can enter the kitchen and, for once, not hate the thought! Excerpts from a chat:
If you were the sort of person who was keeping a diary, what sort of notes would you have made during this period?
That’s a very interesting question. I actually used to maintain a diary until a few years ago. But at this point, if I had to maintain a diary, what would be in it? I’d have probably started with a gratitude journal.
I think, you know, life is more mundane and routine than it has ever been, because I wake up in the morning, do my walk and then water the plants and then whatever housework there is. I do jhaadu-pocha sometimes, as in not every day, every alternate day. You know, up to lunch it’s just doing housework. And then post-lunch, I’ve just been taking a nap every day ( laughs). And in the evening, we watch something, or I read a little bit. That’s it. So it (the diary) would have read like clockwork more than ever because the variables are so few at this point.
Well, even in prison, each day ends identically, but people can change from within. How are you feeling about being locked in?
I think there’s a certain ease… I’ve settled into it, you know. There was initial panic, “Oh my god, how am I gonna survive without getting out of home?” You know, “What am I gonna do with my time?” But amazingly, I feel like my days have gone past, not rapidly, but I feel like the lockdown was announced yesterday. So, it’s not been a drag for me at all. And it may sound ironic, but I’d say this is an experience that is very unique, and for lack of a better word, I have even enjoyed it. I don’t mean to sound disrespectful to anyone who’s going through a tough time or anything, but I am the type of person who, I think, I don’t fight the situation. In most situations, under most circumstances in life, I don’t really fight the circumstance or the situation. So, I think I’ve just adapted, and I like to believe that human beings adapt beautifully, easily and effortlessly, and I think most people have adapted.
I know lots of people who are doing Zoom calls or calls on Teams, all day. It’s probably more exhausting than it normally is. I, of course, don’t have any of those pressures. But having said that, I think, everyone has fallen into a rhythm. And why should I speak for everyone? I should speak for myself. I won’t say I am bored at home because there’s a certain recalibration that has happened. I know we have to stay home, there’s no point complaining, there’s no point. So, there is a certain peace. There is a certain feeling of being settled. And maybe because I also know that okay, now it’s the 3rd of May. You know, if there was, you didn’t know how long this would last, then probably you know, it would get frustrating. But I think otherwise, there is a certain peace and most importantly, I think, I am feeling gratitude. Like enormous amounts of it all the time.
There are two undercurrents you’ve been talking about, one is gratitude and one the understanding that the post-COVID world is going to be a slightly different world, both for individuals and for the industry. Could you elaborate on both?
On gratitude, I think, generally around the time I became an actor, I stopped asking for anything. I started saying thank you and I find that the most powerful prayer. Also, you know, over the years, I have started using affirmations. So you know, saying thank you in advance even for things that haven’t happened so I think now more than ever, all that I have read, all that I have understood and all that I haven’t understood is now coming together at this point. I am feeling so much gratitude for my life. Of course, I am very grateful for the success and the fame and all that it brings with it, but I think more important things like good health, a loving family, home, the safety of everyone. I think these things have begun to matter more. People – at least the people that I speak to – are feeling a sense of gratitude. You know initially, people were saying “ Yaar pakk gaye”, “ yaar just when will this get over?” and now people have just accepted it and they have also accepted that this is in their best interest.
Maybe because I don’t really know – and I am so grateful for that – I don’t know anyone who has really had it (the infection), and maybe, therefore, I am able to say all this.
Think about it: we’ve all been forced to stay at home, acknowledge that there are other ways of being than the way we’ve been all our lives. We have just woken up to the fact that this is a possibility. Leaders of the nation are doing meetings on video calls. You know, it just opened up your mind to different possibilities. My house help was telling me that her nephews in school, in the village, are being sent homework on mobile phones, so we are not just talking about the Ivy League schools.
What are you doing differently at home, that you’ve not done earlier?
You know, I would have never gotten into the kitchen. Never ever. I actually see cooking as… ( pauses) as a girl, I never wanted to cook because I thought it was a symbol of domestication, so I fought it all my life. Now, suddenly, in these few weeks, it’s changed. Neither Siddharth nor I cook. So we have someone at home who cooks, so we were sorted. But suddenly now, because there’s no pressure to cook, I stepped into the kitchen yesterday – and I made something! I am not saying that I want to do this for the rest of my life, but it just made me realize that it’s not that bad, as long as there’s a choice.
You’ve always seen it as a gender discriminating factor, right?
Yeah, yeah, exactly! I’ve always seen it as a symbol of domestication, so I detested going to the kitchen to cook. But now I did it as a choice, and it was like a new discovery for me. You know, oh, I can do this!
What did you cook?
Yesterday, I made gud poha, which is south Indian. It’s the easiest thing that a mother makes for kids sometimes. If you have a sweet craving, it’s actually just poha in a gud syrup. It’s like a sheera. It’s really simple and quick. The day before, I made parathas, aloo parathas. Very simple things. It’s not Einstein’s physics.
And today I made modaks!
So, if it is done of free choice, you enjoy it. If it’s a duty, you’ve disliked it, like as a gender stereotype?
Exactly. And also because my mother has never enjoyed cooking and you know growing up there was no real option. Housewives or homemakers who didn’t cook for their kids were looked down upon. You couldn’t get a maid to cook till after we grew up. It was almost considered uncool if you didn’t cook for your kids.
Like not being an ideal mother or something like that?
Yeah exactly. My mother has done it. I don’t think she enjoyed it at all. It’s now that she’s begun to enjoy cooking. Because again, there’s no pressure.
What else are you discovering?
Basically, I am realising that ‘oh, I can do these things on my own’! Like I my AC wasn’t functioning, and I called the mechanic, and, on a video call, I asked him what to do. You know, I would have never taken that initiative in different circumstances. But I feel very happy about the fact that suddenly you are not just dependent on ‘ achha bula lo mechanic ko’, which is great if you got other work. But just to realise that it’s not an impossibility and I can do it myself, you know. I like to be self-reliant and now I realise that it’s really not Einstein’s physics, but I’ve just always been intimidated by technology. I have always detested cooking. So all these things, now I am saying arrey not bad, yeh toh main aasaani se kar sakti hoon! Cleaning comes as therapeutic to me, so that I am not talking about, you know. Again, I am not saying that I am going to do away with my house help or something like that – but just to realise that agar zaroorat padhi toh aap kar sakte ho khud… I think that’s the self-reliance that even if not all, probably a lot of people are going to realise. And to realise that nothing is the be-all and end-all in life. Probably a lot of people will also realise that about relationships. I think this is a very very…it’s a time which is gonna be full of realisations. About ourselves, about our lives, about the world ( laughs). We are gonna look at the world from different eyes.
Talking of relationships and realisations, in one of our older interactions, you’d said, “My father told Siddharth before we got married that you know she’s a very angry girl, so please handle her with care”. Also, “I proudly tell people that I am the most important person in my life and people are sometimes taken aback, because as a married woman I should be saying that Siddharth is the most important person in my life… and if you think that’s being selfish or self-centred or self-absorbed or self-indulgent, I don’t care”. With that backdrop, how easy or difficult is it to be closed up in the same space for this long?
You know, it’s been wonderful, because for me the people in my life are really the most important because I don’t socialise much outside my family or my closest friends, which are just a handful and they are all abroad. So I rely heavily on spending time with my family. My parents, my sister and her family are five minutes away and I am not able to go see them. But I’m glad Siddharth and I are getting this time, you know, and it’s wonderful. We are sharing experiences and also now are also appreciating that we can be in the same space, but we don’t have to be engaging with each other all the time. While I am enjoying spending time with him, there are times when he’s reading and I am watching something, or both of us are reading or both of us are watching or I am reading and he’s watching something else so I am doing my videos – and it’s all happening parallelly.
I think as far as being the most important person in my life is, there’s been a change I can feel. I think now I feel less of a need to even tell that out. Previously I felt, like, a need to assert that. Now I know it. And I think I don’t feel that need to actually make the point anymore. So maybe that’s the change.
If a couple of years back, somebody had said to you that you would be locked up at home for some 25-odd days and at the end of it you’d have this massive absence of restlessness, I don’t think you’d have agreed to it.
No, not at all. Not at all. Also, the restlessness is… again… I used to get irritated with the use of the term ‘settled’. Not just people asking me. You know people also ask others “ Arrey, are you settled now?” and I used to think like that was just an odd thing to say you know. “Are you settled?” But actually, settling is a beautiful feeling.
Is that a non-feminist statement?
No, no, I don’t mean just in terms of… I mean in terms of my self. Not in terms of marriage or being you know…
In the Indian vocabulary, the word ‘settled’ tends to have a very stock connotation, more social than personal, so the query.
Yeah, yeah… which is why it used to irritate me. But today, for me, settled means it’s like I am feeling settled in life and I don’t feel that because of, you know, my marital status or anything. I am just at peace with myself. I think that is… that feeling is precious. If you’d told me I’d have to be sitting at home for 25 days, I’d have said what rubbish, I can’t do that! There was a lot of restless energy, there was lots to… I mean forget the world, I felt like I needed to prove a lot to myself.
I don’t feel like that anymore. Again, it just comes back to gratitude. And it’s those beautiful lines you know ‘na samay se pehle na samay ke baad’. It’s the realisation of those lines. There’s no point in running and I hope that’s the realisation that the world is having right now. If I am having it, then I am sure then lots of people are having it. These are all constantly running, and it makes you realize that aap still rehke bhi bahut kuch haasil kar sakte ho.
If this is becoming too philosophical, I am sorry ( laughs)!