… which is now a lovely shade of faded memories from the lockdown.
At the onset of my least favourite time of the year—seasonal wardrobe change—I decided to escape to Bombay, because I’d rather pack one tiny suitcase than pack up my entire winter wardrobe into many large suitcases. Oh, I forgot to mention that my least favourite time of the year also coincided with the outbreak of a bad, bad virus. Yes, I travelled to Bombay, from Delhi, during a pandemic. Notify the jury, I’m guilty. What was meant to be a week-long rendezvous with friends soon became a four-month-long unpaid internship as Chief Stupid Officer at COVID & Co. The thing about unpaid internships is, you hate them throughout, but miss the experience once it’s over. Though I complained about being stuck far away from home every day for four months, I’m genuinely grateful for all the mischief I managed with my fellow interns: Aatif, Ankrish, and Kashif.
But this isn’t about my penchant for risk-taking, this is about my favourite pyjama set.
After frantic calls with my parents, going over the many possibilities a few hundred each, and many bouts of panic, I felt okay with being stuck in Bombay until things improved (or got worse). I was surrounded by uncertainty in a place of many unknowns, and the only piece of home that I had with me was my hurriedly packed tiny suitcase.
You want to be home at a time like this. Home can be in a house with your parents, it can be on top of a hill if you’re lucky, in a city you call your own, or where your dogs are. I wasn’t home. For four months, I lived out of a suitcase and had five sets of clothing that I wore in rotation. One of these was a royal blue pyjama set that I had rarely ever worn before, because it was too pretty to sleep in. Embellished with scenes from a jungle, this lovely set of jammies became my confidant on bad days and a place of comfort on the worst days. They became the versatile team captain of my five-player entourage. From workwear to a chef ’s coat, and sometimes even a cleaning crew’s uniform, my ‘for special occasions only’ pyjama set became a for-all-occasions piece of clothing.
The day I ambitiously kneaded atta for the first time, the flour flew in all directions to escape the wrath of my determined fists, and landed all over my pyjamas, making them look like it was snowing in the jungle. The printed leopards splashed around in soapy water on days I had dishwashing duty. And on the rare occasions I mustered the courage to do jhaadoo, their dust allergies kicked in. The leopards were the happiest on pancake Sundays. They got to snack on fallen chocolate spread all day long; my clumsiness was their celebration.
The chest pocket on the left collected my tears every time I julienned a pungent onion. It also held my phone as I listened to my mother narrate the recipe for poha, a traditional Indian breakfast that reminds me of home. Tip: Don’t burn the peanuts, and don’t hold back on the lemon. I burnt the peanuts on my second try and promptly stuck to making omelettes in the weeks thereafter.
Every day, I would glide into the same set of nightwear, and each time I folded the collar of my shirt, it felt like I had dog-eared the day and marked its existence in my mental journal of lockdown memories. On a gloomy Wednesday, I woke up wanting to break the monotony. I wore the shorts from my pyjama set with a different top, out of the five options I had, stood in front of the mirror, and instantly knew that they did not belong together. But, then again, I didn’t belong in Bombay during a pandemic, did I? That Wednesday felt like any other day—cooking, cleaning, yawning, pondering, moping, mopping—but my choice of a mismatched outfit added a bit of newness to each mundane task. My royal blue uniform transformed into a colourful costume, and the daily routine became a themed party (theme: stay at home and try not to cry).
For four months, I was living out of a suitcase. The circumstances forced me to live a minimalistic life. My source of excess and opulence shifted from things, to experiences. I enjoyed the luxury of friendly company, frequent inside jokes, card games, tête-à-têtes with Bombay’s skyline, video calls with family, new recipes, cyclone warnings, birthday parties, and quarantine haircuts. With each added moment of enjoyment, the buttons on the shirt of my pyjama set started to get tired, and gave in to gravity slowly. But how could I complain about the slow death of my fancy night suit when the world outside was fighting with a rising death toll, indefinitely delayed travel plans and weddings, and failing economies, daily wages, and hope. While all things big came crumbling down one after another, we collectively found joy in the little things. From homemade pies to virtual tambola nights, our joy now needed very little to help it surface.
With each new phase of the nationwide lockdown, the shiny blue buttons on my shirt started dangling, and I could tell that they needed rest, just like me. And so did the jungle and all its creatures. The leopards in the jungle scene were slipping into a deep slumber, the leaves were turning brown, and the shrubs were curling. By the end of my four-month stint in Bombay, my royal blue botanical pyjama set was of the shade of all my faded memories from the lockdown.
We are both home now, and I have concluded that for me, home is where multiple night suits are. And when my heart yearns for the taste of an old adventure, I will put on the same pair of jammies, and revisit all the days that I counted down with the shirt collar.