As work from home due to COVID made a reappearance this past week, I found myself getting progressively more restless sitting indoors. The bedroom or living room were too boring and not conducive to me focusing on getting work or writing done. I wandered aimlessly from window to window, peering outside at the seemingly-normal world that seemed to taunt me. When would I be able to go outside again, I wondered peevishly. When would the virus finally admit defeat and leave us all in peace?

Amidst my mini-war with the virus, I suddenly stumbled across the perfect makeshift office space in the least expected corner of the flat – my balcony. Usually occupied by a bulky metal clothes’ horse and a couple of underwhelming plants left out to desiccate, the balcony looked out over an empty lot with a tree and comparative greenery (and a few small piles of garbage because that’s one thing we can’t escape in urban India…). To my fresh-air-starved mind, it was a tiny, veritable paradise!

I enthusiastically dug into the layers of filth coating the balcony floor. Normally, no one used the balcony to sit or read, so the floor’s dust content was of least concern. I beat a few years worth of filth from the black and grey tiles, and then organized and watered the poor plants. They looked stunned to be receiving any sort of attention and thirstily gulped down the offered water. I shifted the clothes horse to the living room (after all, the wet clothes could be hung on the terrace for a week) and brought a few more plants into the balcony. Step 1 – clean and beautify – was a success.

I carefully placed a woven straw mat, known as a chatai, on the floor, folding it into a thick square, and placed a floor pillow against the wall. Indian walls have a tendency to slowly and fondly cover you with white powdery paint, which I didn’t fancy having to clean from my clothes each day. The pillow would serve as a good barrier, and it was old enough that no one would scold me for dirtying it. Then, I brought my lap desk, which was the perfect height for sitting on the floor and working, and set it up. The balcony isn’t very broad, so if the table was against one wall, I could comfortably sit against the other wall, leaning against the pillow, and reach my laptop without stretching. Perfect!

The first day, I felt renewed. Sunlight drenched my face, caressing my hair and bringing a smile to my face. After being cooped up indoors, it felt like heaven. The plants responded to my presence by blooming a bit, and I found myself chatting to them, discussing the latest scientific paper I was reading with them. The chirping of birds was music to my ears, and the wind ruffled my curls. A pair of drongos fluttered around, too busy courting one another to pay me any heed. Black kites wheeled in the skies above, eyes peeled for prey. Pigeons cooed from the rafters, unseen but somewhere above my head, and a coucal uttered its haunting call every so often, reminding me to be as productive as my busy feathered neighbours.

My balcony is now my favourite haunt, my go-to spot to drink morning coffee, work on my PhD synopsis, or teach writing classes to children. In this past week, I have made friends with a variety of tiny critters, birds, and reacquainted myself with my plants. My mind is more alert here, and I’m less likely to munch on chips from the kitchen when I’m outside. A book is always within arm’s reach, as is my notebook and pen.

If work from home continues from another week, at least I know I won’t rot indoors. When you have a balcony, everything seems a little brighter.

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