Lazying around the whole day with a good book in my hand was nothing short of a dream come true. But as the lockdown started owing to a pandemic which saw thousands succumb to it in such a short period of time, the stay at home was not that dreamy and was in fact associated with a lot of anxiety.
It was not the long holidays that I always hoped for. Rather a constant anxious urge to look for latest updates, number of infected and dead kept pushing me to the edge. A baby on the way made my anxiety level soar to newer heights. Time spent on the internet was also much more than earlier. But it merely meant being bombarded with information which portrayed a scary picture.
Add to this, the problems of mismanagement of the pandemic. Mainstream media and social media are flooded with heart wrenching stories and pictures of migrant workers undertaking long arduous journeys with their meagre belongings. Many died not of the disease but of the hardships it brought. And for me who was used to a very routine life of travelling to college, reading and occasionally writing, things came to a kind of eerie standstill. The anxiety was such that even doing things that I enjoyed became difficult.
Reading has always been a solace and I have always prided myself in being a voracious reader. Cutting across genre, my reading knew no bounds. But this much-loved activity started taking a mental toll. I could not read for long without worrying about what is going on and checking my social media feed. This got me thinking. I knew I had to somehow get back into books which have always been my safe space. I decided to start with audiobooks which I prefer to e-books. But instead of the Kafkas and Camus and the occasional bad sci-fi of Dean Koontz that were doing the rounds, I picked up Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl, a psychiatrist was a Holocaust survivor of infamous camps like Theresiensadt, Auschwitz, Kaufering and Turkheim. His audiobook narrated by Simon Vance showed how men pushed to extremes, made difficult choices but also stayed resilient. More than dystopian novels, this story of survival gave me hope.
Nothing can however replace the feel of holding an actual book and caressing the pages as you read through them. While my first love has always been big novels, from audiobook I decided to move to a short story collection. I re-read a collection of short stories by 13 Pakistani women authors titled Neither Night Nor Day, edited by celebrated author Rakshanda Jalil. Women from different walks of life bring their own issues to the table. Along with this, I picked up another short story collection – this one in Assamese. Bipasha Bora’s Thaoliplingok Manuhe Pahori Pelaise brings together beautiful stories – some from the timeless folktales and others talking about eternal human predicament. These stories were not only delightful but also provided a ray of hope in difficult times.
I usually watch a lot of movies and online streaming platforms have made sure there are much more than you can watch. But somehow I escaped the usual recommendations that flooded the social media, mostly web series. And in its place I watched the much-awaited movie Little Women based on one of my all time favourite books Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. The story about four sisters through the thick and thin of life, of being resilient in the face of a war and also simultaneously fighting their own battles was calming in its own way. Apart from this, I would like to mention two more beautiful films that are not very new but gave beautiful messages – 12 Years a Slave, a movie based on Solomon Northup’s life and The Boy Who harnessed the Wind, based on the real life of William Kamkwamba. Both the films gave beautiful inspiring messages about life. Institutionalised discrimination like racism can have dehumanising effects, but Northup never lost his humanity believing this too shall pass. Similarly William’s backwardness, poverty never convinced him to give up on his dreams.
The long entrenched lockdown has been a learning experience for all of us. We all used our own coping mechanisms. I was enthralled by friends who took the opportunity to emerge on a self improvement and did a number of online courses, there were others who found solace in reading, cooking etc.
My social media feed filled with such stories and somehow my inability to do something similar troubled me. I in fact decided not to do things that I do during normal times. I read a little, I wrote a little and decided to take the time to make a few fundamental changes. A constant urge to live an ‘online life’ made me realize we were missing out on so much in life. So I thought of reducing my online presence and giving more time to things of life that I enjoy – my terrace garden, my unused yoga mat, my near absent culinary skills – could all enjoy a little more attention. My loving pets could enjoy a little more playtime. And that was when a period of digital detoxification with minimal presence on social media began and it gave my mind some much-needed peace. Somehow my days had more hours to do things that I always wanted to!
The lockdown’s initial period saw all of us dealing with all kinds of scarcity. With no proper mechanism in place and a haphazardly imposed lockdown, we all learned to manage and improvise. This experience made me rethink about the principle of Minimalism – our needs are a few but wants are too many. And I decided to give minimalism a try, to de-clutter my mind and my shelves. I realised that we have the tendency to accumulate things we barely need, to fill our wishlists with things we buy just because we can afford to, to fill our watchlists with movies and TV series just because some random Facebook friend spoke highly of it. And then starts an unending race of fulfilling these unnecessary goals of watching every movie and accumulating every book or buying everything that is trending.
We often turn leisure activities into a chore so that we can put up a cool status about watching a movie every other person went ga-ga over. In this race we often forget to enjoy. I wanted to take a break from this other kind of race and take a breather, to enjoy everything I do a little more.
This unprecedented experience has taught each of us something. For me, it was about taking a step back and relooking at life. It was about putting a little extra effort at things that matter to me. It was also about reflecting on the facts that how society treats its underbelly, how a fractured society sees more polarisation during such crisis periods and how as individuals we all should work towards building a more robust society to counter such polarisation. But with easing of lockdown, as the crisis of pandemic continues, people are already taking a very casual approach. What remains to be seen is whether we can carry forward the lessons learned during this episode, so that not only are we prepared for the next time but there is a change in our very perspective about life.