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Before this story began, another had to end. One that was redolent of the finest luxuries in Morocco. One that didn’t see a lockdown coming. By Devanshi Mody
Tumbling from the pinnacles of hedonism, confinement in Ali El Hajouji’s flat in Casablanca isn’t easy. I’ve rollicked (albeit with a reluctant mother) three weeks in Marrakech’s pleasure palaces. Then, the lockdown came down suddenly, sharply, like a guillotine. Hotels shut shop expelling guests. Homelessness menaced. Had destiny not conjured humanitarian young Ali of Casablanca Vacation Rentals who ushered us into one of his properties. The flat is snug, in ritzy Anfa, but without that private butler, I’ve gotten accustomed to.
And six rigorous hours of daily yoga, meditation, and mantras (even during the voluptuary weeks) ensure that from the sybarite of late the anchorite takes over. Indeed, Ali, when I’d rued that I should be gadding about Morocco, not stranded in Casablanca, had said cryptically, “We know not what destiny conceals from us.”
Mum doesn’t see the adventure or the amusement or the philosophy in any of this. Hitherto a bastion of fortitude and resilience, she is 72, ill, dismantling. I impress that whilst others are stranded in grotesqueness God-sent Ali has gifted elegant accommodation, The Indian Association Morocco purveys home-cooked Indian meals (everything from bhatura to biryani), delivered by the association’s secretary and contrast being home with the discipline here. But Mum lashes out, “I want to be in my country, in my home, with my family!”
When flights are cancelled in perpetuity and lockdowns extend seemingly for all eternity ensue histrionic fits. Mum wakes suddenly at 04.30 am shrieking. She fears she will never go home!
I write to the astrologer who recommended travel, what the HELL was he thinking encouraging I embark to Morocco with mum. He answers, “You were intent on travel, on spending time with mum, on seeing how you reacted when the champagne ran out.”
Yes, I’d ventured intending to spend time with mum. But I hadn’t envisaged anything outside gala champagned stays in stunner villas and suites with boozy gourmet extravagances. And yes, I’d imparted to the astrologer that I had champagne when offered, and could abstain without hankering. I hadn’t overestimated my ascetic capabilities. But aeons of yoga, meditation and mantras hadn’t prepared me for the domestic disaster with mum.
As mum unravels wrapped tightly in the flat, imbued in the news, bewailing her sordid circumstances, I’m disinclined to leave and guilty for not empathising with mum’s sentiments.
I slink away daily for a 90-minute evening walk before the 06:00 pm curfew. The emptiness is delicious. It’s like a destination privatised for me. It seems life has always been like this, the only commerce being at stores dispensing essential services: medication, food and liquor.
Spirit, not spirituality, preoccupies most. And the economy as protestations rages about unemployment during the lockdown. I alone am indifferent. I wasn’t paid before the pandemic and won’t be paid thereafter… “Vous vous portez bien la pandémie” my French friends remark at my singular situation. I riposte at my single situation, “Mieux rester seul que mal en compagnie,” referring to social distancing. A solitary creature, I’m not traumatised. This is amongst the most pleasured moments of my life.
The confinement I should have thought is a period of introspection. But friends in New York are already devising their next luxury vacation. Clearly, people are just waiting for the crisis to die so they can live it up again. Ali, when he kept extending my completely free stay in his flat for over two months, would insist that this disaster will change the world. He is of sanguine temperament, I, cynical, “The world won’t change.”
With dramatic interludes, mine isn’t to be a teary, tawdry lockdown tragedy. Although a tragedy of two people trapped intimately—one who wanted to be loved in a particular way and the other who could love but in a peculiar way. As I, sardonic, couldn’t offer mum the sentimentality she seeks I take to straying on long evening walks.
It suddenly strikes me that spring has arrived in all its glory. Or is it the exuberant onslaught of summer already? Carpets of colourful petals drape roads on which trees droop in a haze of lilac, gauze of white, fluffs of a candy-floss pink-heady profusion of colours and fragrances. And then there’s the cornucopia of carts laden with lush peaches, nectarines, strawberries, cherries… And suddenly I am seeing life and regeneration amidst disease and death, life from death.
And with immersion in music, Bellini transitions from being a fizzy Prosecco-based cocktail to a composer of opera, and I spend this holiday from life discovering that this IS life. Mum threatens to wrench out and throw the kitchen sink at me if I played another nerve-shattering Wolfgang opera and I must remind it is Ali’s kitchen sink, the poor boy has been so kind to us and it would be simply ungracious to manhandle his kitchen appliances.
The more my mother, languished in Morocco, anguished, yearns to escape the more I am imbued in art, relish this insulated timelessness, a dread that the lockdown must eventually end, snatching me from this placid suspension, a timelessness transcending space—physical confinement invites exploring mental spaces—and dumping me back in a world of feel-good platitudes, malls, movies, and materialism.
As we linger indefinitely in Morocco, with no control over the impending, dispossessed of family, finances, domicile, I am engulfed by the overwhelming realisation that the only possession one really requires is of the mind.