Life In Time of Lockdown

Shillong, like hundreds of other cities around the world, has turned into a ghost town. As the corona virus infection cases increase exponentially, an aggressive measure such as complete lockdown seems to be the wisest way to restrict social mingling and break the chain of transmission.
A 21-day lockdown, along with curfew, means fetters of boredom and piles of solitude. It is exasperating, especially for those who are wont to the bustle and glitz of city life. Five days into the lockdown and people are complaining about the uncertain future. One consolation: there is internet. People of Kashmir were not that lucky during months of lockdown last year.
The sudden brake on our super-fast life has rendered us helpless and is causing mental stress, which is worsened by social distancing.
“What remains of a life under social distancing; a life without people, who indeed make it meaningful,” asks Bharatnatyam exponent Monica Chanda.
Baridondor Pahsyntiew, who has just come home for vacation, is furious about her 14-day isolation and the 21-day lockdown. The 16-year-old student of Karunya Christian School, Coimbatore, is disappointed as she had been planning her vacation for a long time. Months in a hostel followed by house arrest is indeed infuriating. Now television and mobile phone are the only source of entertainment.

The teenager feels that the steps taken are “a bit too much” and this is causing inconvenience to citizens, especially the poor and the middle class. “We all know precaution is better than cure but at the same time we also need sufficient time to be prepared. Many people may not even have food to eat or gas to cook. Do you think we can survive for so long? Twenty-one days is a long time and with the population in our country, I do not think we have enough food for each and every individual,” she expresses her worries.
Though Shillong has not reported any positive COVID-19 case, the fear and anxiety is no less. The four walls of the house are only amplifying the distress. But Shillongites are finding ways and means to cope with the crisis. For some, like Aparajita, books have remained a loyal friend. The 32-year-old employee of a private company has “audaciously picked up” Ulysses by James Joyce, “a humongous read that I have been avoiding for a long time”, after finishing 1984 for the second time.
“It’s the best time to read books which were lying on our shelves for many years,” says director Dominic Sangma, who is reading War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy and “working on my script”.
Aquarius Mathew, who is in isolation at home, is also finding solace in books. “Reading has increased. Currently, I am reading Jaipur Journals by Namita Gokhale that I picked up from the airport. Before this, I finished William Darlymple’s The Anarchy. I am also doing some work from home,” says the audit officer at the city office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.
Researchers say reading can calm jittery nerves and reduce stress by over 60 per cent.
However, some citizens, like poet and educationist Ananya Guha, are finding it difficult to focus on serious reading or writing. Guha says though he is keeping himself updated about the situation in the country as well as outside, he cannot concentrate on writing.
“The fear is overwhelming as this is something unprecedented… I am reading articles and books, following newspapers closely and social networking. But the reading is more random. I am also utilising the time to prepare for my classes at EFLU (English and Foreign Languages University),” he adds.
Congress leader Beryl Sangma and his family had to cancel his birthday plans in Tura and extend his stay in Shillong. “We are not being able to go out anywhere. I am doing some work but there is no internet at times. We are not doing much. We just play scrabble, cook and eat,” he laughs.
Time is precious and it is in abundance now. So many Shillongites — working parents, young professionals, workaholic husbands and restless adolescents — are taking this opportunity to enjoy with family. In fact, they feel that being with loved ones is helping them cope with the stress.
Chanda is happy to have an “uninterrupted” time with her daughter after seven years. “I am sure such precious moments must have befallen everybody even in a difficult time such as this… my daughter and I are indeed exploring the most beautiful possibilities of movements, almost like a bird learning to fly,” she says.
Healer and artist Jaya Kalra is keeping herself and her 36 young students busy in art. Kalra has come up with WhatsApp art class where she assigns tasks to students, who in turn send their paintings or write-ups. She even follows up with unresponsive students. “I have also asked them to paint something on corona virus. This way, the children will ask their parents (about the pandemic and how to take precautions) and they will gain more knowledge… For creativity, you don’t need to go anywhere,” says Kalra, who runs Jharokha Art Institution.
Kalra’s assignments are not only keeping her busy but also engaging the children in activities.

Worst sufferers

The lockdown has given us more than stress and loneliness. The economic side of the crisis looks equally frightening. Businesses are suffering. Small-time traders, vendors, petty workers and street dwellers are already worried about income. A ray of hope is that a few social organisations and NGOs are distributing essential goods among the urban poor.
While humans are still coping with the situation, it is the stray animals who are suffering the most. With no shop or eatery open, many strays are going hungry. A few Good Samaritans are showing care but are facing problems.
“It is really a tough time for me to feed the strays. I am storing dry food for 2-3 days for my campus dogs. Also, I collect my kitchen leftovers every night at 10pm and leave in the lane corners near my residence. I have kept around 50 packets of biscuits in my car for the rest of the strays,” says Anjan Das, a resident of RR Colony.
“We cannot keep rescued and sick dogs with others at home, so our quarantined days are spent bathing, cleaning, nursing, feeding, medicating and moving the poor ones from one corner to another to protect them from our dogs. Tough times indeed,” says another dog lover.

Beat the blues

It is a troubled time for every citizen. Fear of infection and the looming uncertainty are bound to make one anxious and depressed. But there are ways to beat the blues. According to Kalra, one should utilise the time for constructive work.
“We always complain that we do not have time. The current situation is a blessing in disguise,” she says and lists the things to do.
One can pick up an old hobby and excel in it in the three weeks. Parents who had had only qualitative interaction with children can spend quantitative time with them now. This is the time to get in touch with old friends. Reading, cooking and gardening also help in coping with the situation. “Meditation is definitely helpful,” she stresses.
The ongoing social distancing can actually give us an opportunity to socialise more, albeit on phone. This is necessary to overcome loneliness.
Consultant psychiatrist Sonali Shinde emphasises the need to follow a routine in this time of idleness. Improving the circadian rhythm and exercising can help keep one healthy.
“Children should be encouraged to follow a daily routine and a proper sleep cycle because 21 days is a long time. If you have space, then some kind of sport like badminton can be good. For people who are working from home, it is life as usual,” she says.
For the elderly, who are used to the old ways of communication, social distancing is challenging. Similarly, those who would socialise a lot will find it hard to remain locked up.
“Those who stay alone can call up friends and family. One should speak to people who make them feel at ease and not those who will add to the anxiety. Children may show social withdrawal. Apart from Corona, there are other things like well-being of loved ones staying away from home which can bother you. Job security is another cause for concern. So the government has to step in to help the quarantined persons and give a sense of security,” she elaborates.
Shinde prescribes limiting news intake to avoid more panic and anxiety. She suggests educative and informative programmes on television but warns against binge watching. Reading newspapers is comforting than watching news channels. “We should recognise the problems (of an individual) and think of a solution.”
There are many ways to survive the lockdown and with family around, one can easily sail through it. Though the world is yet to see light at the end of this limitless dark tunnel the good news is that we are walking together, hand in hand, in search of the much-needed light.
“Social distancing is loaded with an emotional baggage of being isolated from everyone, the coldness of being pushed to the corner… let us remember, it is a conscious observation of physical distancing so that we can all come together again… Let us all reach out to whoever needs us. My sincerest wish is that, may we all be able to find our share of magic in the monotony of life under lockdown,” says Chanda.

~ NM
Lead image: Pexels

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