(This video is part of our series – Her Pandemic Diary. This was first published on 6 March 2021 and has been republished from The Quint’s archives to mark World Autism Awareness Day on 2 April.)
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam
Mumbai-based Mugdha Kalra wears many hats. She is a daughter, a mother, and wife. She is also a television news presenter and writer. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed her to take on another role – a therapist for her son who is in the autism spectrum.
Speaking to The Quint, Kalra takes us on the journey of how she, along with her husband and their 10-year-old Madhav, beat the odds that were thrown at them during the COVID-induced lockdown.
March 2020: How It All Began
For Kalra’s family, March began with hyper shopping and hoarding, cooking, cleaning, and like everyone, doing household chores.
“It was weird but we were enjoying the family time together and were treating it like a vacation. And then, the lockdown was extended. This time with more severity,” she said.
April 2020: When Going Gets Tough
In April, twin setbacks struck the family. While Kalra developed Tennis Elbow, due to all the household chores during the lockdown, Madhav started to show effects of no therapies, no school, and no physical activity.
“My doctor explained to me how I was terribly low on calcium and vitamins. So, one of the biggest learnings was that we women do not take care of our bone health, and calcium, iron, and vitamin deficiencies happen. I finally started on a strict regime of multi-vitamins that I was advised post pregnancy but finally made a habit – after a decade.”Mugdha Kalra to The Quint
Madhav had a repeat of unprovoked seizures – after undergoing a similar episode back in November 2019.
“He had a similar episode back in November (2019) but he wasn’t put on any medication. We had introduced a lot of exercises and therapies back then but this time around, medicine was inevitable. A tele-appointment with his neurologist was fixed, who advised us to start therapy at home.”Mugdha Kalra to The Quint
May 2020: Hyper-Learning Mode
Around this time, many therapists started offering training programmes and webinars to help parents. Kalra enrolled in as many classes as possible – with some days attending three-four scheduled classes.
“We created a home programme for Madhav. His dad took over his exercise routine, and I started doing yoga with him. We started involving him in chores of daily routine. He was helping in the kitchen, with dusting the house, doing laundry...His medicines were also changed and we started to see the behaviour issues come down.”Mugdha Kalra to The Quint
Following this, Kalra started her own Instagram and YouTube channels – ‘Autism Tales With Mugdha’ – to help parents in the same boat as she.
June-July 2020: Despite Fatigue And Exhaustion, Put Up Brave Face for Family
She explained that the lockdown was particularly difficult as she was not able to connect with yoga or meditation and negative thoughts took over.
“The moment I shut my eyes, all kinds of negative feelings took over. Being away from my parents, I would worry about them. I would see my husband stressing about the situation and that would worry me. My son was showing behaviour deficits. Of course, there was no help, no cook, nothing. So, you know we were doing all the work on our own. I was struggling. I was putting up a very strong front for everyone around me but it was taking a toll somewhere.”
She added that she was “fatigued, dehydrated, and had terrible mood swings.”
“I discovered art therapy and a beautiful art circle. I figured was doing well if my mind was gainfully occupied. It was like meditation in motion. I started learning various forms of art – Madhubani, Warli, Mathanipacheri, and Patachitra. I also took to audio books and podcasts, and together, they became my therapy,” Kalra added.
August-September 2020: Emergency Travel
As she began to make sense of all this, she was hit by the news of COVID-19 in the family.
“My Mom was COVID positive. I was worried sick, sitting in a different city. Thankfully, Mom was asymptomatic and we got past the COVID scare with ease,” she said, adding that she had to brave an emergency travel to be with her mother during an elective surgery soon after.
October-November 2020: Lockdown Weight Gain
“By this time, the lockdown had slightly eased to allow exercises outside of home. We both went on a total detox, on a healthy routine, and included exercise in our days,” the writer said.
March 2021: Looking Back, One Year Later
Looking back at the year that was, Kalra said that she was feeling “lighter, healthier, and wiser."
“And, here I am today. 10 kilos lighter, feeling healthier, a bit wiser, and with pandemic experiences that were both lovely and low. Getting out of the pandemic, I find myself a changed person, and I look back at 2020 as really one of my big years of gratitude and immense learning.”Mugdha Kalra