India's Year of Extreme Lockdown in Memes

The best memes of the worst year ever.
March 24, 2021, 11:28am
A collage of three meme
Images via Twitter (@SussexPrincess; @pranavsapra)

Today marks a full year since India went into total lockdown after rising COVID-19 cases across the country. Through the year, we’ve seen cow piss drinking parties, a godman get away with claiming his concoction would result in “100% recovery from coronavirus infection within 7 days”, watched millions of migrants walk home even as the other side of India baked bread and enjoyed the clear skies, wondered who exactly the PM Cares about, and watched people shout “Go Corona Go!” to ward off the virus.

Still, alas, the virus decided to stay—and so have the memes. In a year spent looking a lot at our phones, it seemed like memes made us all ride this one giggle wave together. Sure, they made us laugh through 2020 and now, 2021, but memes have also highlighted our cultural moments in a way that nothing else could. 

So as we remember the anniversary of the event that went on to make our lives as unreal as the “everything is cake” meme, we document the memes that not just made us ROFL between Zoom calls, online classes, and WFH breaks but also stood in for the anxieties and insecurities that the garbage year came with.

March 2020

Remember that dramatic excitement when most countries were just announcing their lockdowns, making us all believe we’ll be WFH-ing for two weeks—or three tops? Hilarious, wasn’t it? Back in India where the world’s biggest lockdown kicked off today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi rallied his countrymen to bang plates, clap and ring bells to show appreciation for frontline workers. It was a fun day for noise pollution. Also, a moment of silence for everyone who moved back to their parents’ for Holi and are still there.

April 2020

April came around with Dalgona coffee, banana bread, and an expose into how staying at home for some could be blissful while for some others, an absolute hell. Sending emails to your boss while wearing two-day-old shorts is a whole new level of comfort—unless you have the notoriously small houses that most of India does, or pesky kids who won’t keep it down. April also meant a month of lockdowns in many countries, and then this trend came around.

April also meant pollution levels going down drastically around the world, with even the good-intentioned, “Nature is healing, We are the virus” messages then turned into memes that mix sci-fi with internet absurdity to document this truly unique moment we were experiencing.

May 2020

When May rolled around, so did the realisation that the pandemic was here to stay. While we obsessively Instagrammed all the food we were learning to make, bake, fry and try, this is the time withdrawal symptoms kicked in and we were left with a deep nostalgia for the life that was. 

Ghana’s dancing pallbearers reminded us that despite having not meant our loved ones for months now, we had to stay at home or else risk getting to meet the pallbearers firsthand.

While many of us had the privilege to curl up on a cushy couch and consume memes, this month was especially hard on India’s migrant worker force, many of whom lost their jobs and were forced to walk back to their hometowns amidst all the panic. The crisis became bigger when these workers began dying in accidents on the way home; several were also stranded with no money. But since everyone was using dark humour to cope with these dark days, Bollywood actor Sonu Sood’s heavily marketed efforts to help migrants reach home made him the ultimate meme fodder for everything, from the locusts attacks to people who wanted a quick route to liquor stores.

June 2020 

Come summer, and TikTok gets banned in India for being a “security threat”. It’s okay; we’ll learn to get over it someday.

July 2020

In a new world where nothing is what it seemed, the absurd “everything is cake” meme that came around struck a deep, existential chord, making us wonder if everything after all was just a lie. 

August 2020

The classic 2020 Photo Challenge kicked off by actor Reese Witherspoon got quickly popular because who doesn’t want to Instagram nine photos of themselves in a year that nothing Instagram-worth really happened?

August was also when we laughed a lot at music producer and composer Yashraj Mukhate’s remix of a scene from an Indian soap opera that gave birth to a new meme, “Rasode mein kaun tha? (Who was in the kitchen?).”

September 2020

The Indian government announced they’d be banning PUBG along with 118 Chinese mobile apps, in the name of security.

October 2020

Popularised by a tweet by Dr Jill Biden, First Lady of the United States, “How It Started vs How It’s Going” quickly turned into a heartwarming trend in a year that felt like the apocalypse.

November 2020

November brought with it with the most wholesome meme of the year, a cat vibing to Turkish singer Bilal Göregen’s music. 

December 2020

Around December, vaccination against COVID finally looked like a more hopeful option and started the trend of “Don’t worry about what’s in the vaccine” memes.

In late November and early December, mysterious monoliths appeared worldwide, really stretching our ability to suspend disbelief in a very unreal year.

January 2021

On the U.S. Presidential Inauguration day, Senator Bernie Sanders was caught looking disgruntled.

‘Bean Dad’ came around after a series of tweets by musician and podcaster John Roderick tweeted his nine-year-old daughter’s ordeal with a can opener.

February 2021

Kathryn Hahn’s character in the show WandaVision became one of the most iconic memes of 2021 with her wink. 

For a slice of good ol’ nostalgia, we have the “You had to be there” memes.

March 2021

How is it that it’s been a whole year already? Last year at this time, the phrases “unprecedented times” and “we’re all in this together” were just catching on. Today, I’ll scream if anyone says them one more time. Between the shock that was March 2020 to the exasperation that is March 2021, it seems like at once nothing quite happened and a lot of it did too—from people believing that World War III could break out, to an insurrection in the United States, Meghan and Harry’s tell-all to Oprah leading to royally tasty memes, and a military junta that’s taken over Myanmar. And yet, here we are, still at home, still in PJs, still hoping to head to the bar but now worried about the growing second wave.

We sincerely hope March 2022 behaves.

Follow Jaishree on Twitter and Instagram.