#housebound Life & Style

I, me, myself: The lockdown edit

It is the season of coronavirus and panic. It is also the season of memes. From silly ones that call our PM the prime minister because of his prime time 8 pm speeches to the gazillion posts on the West panic buying toilet paper (water and soap are your best friends), there’s a veritable flood on social media. But we certainly need the laughs — in the midst of worrying about falling sick, shaky finances, emptying pantries and being in each others’ hair all day long.

  • “I’ve been alone, on a two-week quarantine. I’ve been on FaceTime with my therapist because it was traumatic trying to get back from Italy. I’ve been finding comfort and humour in my Instagram community. I started the ‘Where we write’ series because, even as a writer who spends a fair amount of time at her desk, this lockdown entailed even longer hours. So I started thinking how everyone around the world is spending time at their desk; I wanted a glimpse of that. I loved that every work space was different and unique — just like us all. And what we shared was this lockdown experience and having a space to retreat to,” says Janice Pariat, writer-poet.

A tribe that’s coping with it a little better, however, is the one that’s been living alone. It is a lifestyle choice they’ve always enjoyed, and it hasn’t changed today — despite not being able to step out or meet people. “I was reading the other day that divorce rates have gone up in China, so there are perks of being single in the time of corona!” laughs actor Chandan Roy Sanyal, as we connect over WhatsApp and voice notes. On a break from shooting in Ayodhya for Prakash Jha’s upcoming web show, he is using the time to relax and catch up with friends on group video chats (“they are calling me up at three in the morning!”).

 

Of course, this is privilege, and they are the first to admit it. But they also insist that they should be the ones to instigate conversations now. “Since we — the 1% who can stay at home in nice surroundings and with stocked pantries — have the luxury of learning from this, we should,” says Varun Rana, former fashion features director of Harper’s Bazaar India. “We need to take the time to re-evaluate our social, retail and consumerist behaviour. A big conversation that is going to come out of all this is mental health... and the state of medical care and education in our country.”

We speak to a few on how they are handling the 21-day lockdown.

I, me, myself: The lockdown edit

Chandan Roy Sanyal, 40, actor, Mumbai

There is a lot of darkness and anxiety now, but I’m coping well. Because I travel so much, I don’t get much time to stay at home. Now I’m finally connecting with my house that I moved into a year back — watering my plants, feeding my cats and listening to the birds from my balcony. I’m getting hooked. I also make funny Instagram videos [dancing to ‘A Real Hero’ by Electric Youth and ‘O Maria O Maria’ from Saagar to show how you can make daily chores like mopping fun] to cheer people up. Life has become more structured; I sleep and wake up on time, do my twice-a-day yoga/stretching sessions, cook, read, listen to music. I’ve picked up the guitar again and my aim is to compose my first song on it by the time the 21 days are over. With so much to read and see, I’m constantly on social media — I follow Ricky Gervais [writer-co-creator of The Office], I really like his form of comedy. I also have great neighbours. The Malayali family who lives across from me sends over sambar, Kerala fish curry and rasam, which I love. But I do fear losing the internet and electricity [there was a power outage the other day]. That’s when it will be World War III.

I, me, myself: The lockdown edit

Varun Rana, 36, Communications consultant, Delhi

I’ve been living by myself for the past three years and I’m used to managing things on my own. But being alone has forced me to [rethink priorities]. Every day I’m on Instagram video chat with friends and old teachers from around the world, rediscovering connections. We are doing online hangouts — pouring a drink and chatting. I’m also talking more with my parents. At first, though, I was screaming at them to stay home; it seems they’ve become the kids and I’ve become the parent. I’m re-evaluating things that I’ve taken for granted, discovering different ways of being. I have a beautiful terrace garden, where I’m growing green beans [and reaping and stir frying them]. I’m also getting back to cooking — I just made an orecchiette in an amatriciana sauce, and some sweet atta cheelas (pancakes) with coconut and nolen gur from Kolkata. A real discovery is my music. I’ve picked up my sitar again and I do riyaz every day. It brings me a lot of peace and a sense of calm. In this uncertain world, there is the surety that when I strike with my finger is on a certain fret, a specific sound will come out. Nothing can alter that fact. I also try not to dwell on the disadvantages [of the present time]. Social media is such an echo chamber — the more negativity and first world problems we put out there, the more we amplify it.

I, me, myself: The lockdown edit

Samit Basu, 40, novelist-filmmaker, Delhi

I’ve been by myself for almost 17 years. I know it is pure privilege, but apart from the news, life remains mostly the same. It is the worry about the pandemic that is the challenge... and trying to buy the essentials without getting beaten up by the police! If you’ve worked from home for a long time, you develop systems to cope. Most writers I know are now doing more house management, supply chain management. While I don’t have any feelings of loneliness or panic, it can be a concern for others. So I spend time reaching out, just letting them know that things will be OK. I’m also telling friends that, at a time of unprecedented crisis like this, there is no need to start setting productivity goals, saying, ‘I will now run through my checklist of lifelong ambitions and I will become Tolstoy by Friday’. People should give themselves space to cope with the crisis. I’m always writing something, and I’m doing research for a new book. A peeve, however, is that balconies are now full of anxious people shouting on their phones, and I’m far too intimately acquainted with who is going through a break-up and whose office is not doing well. I’m worried that soon they are going to start playing anatakshari or tambola. I’ve also cut myself off from fake news by relentlessly blocking and muting suspicious people and sources on Twitter and across social media. That is a huge mental health step — people aren’t factoring in the psychological damage of being exposed to such news day after day.

I, me, myself: The lockdown edit

Swapna Gite, 31, manager - Corporate Communications, Pune

I’ve been home alone for almost three weeks and [despite the challenges] I don’t think I will rethink staying independently in the future. I’m happy being by myself. I’m using social media more now — following groups that do live yoga sessions on Instagram [my gym is sharing circuits too]. The office is making sure we are live on video for all our meetings, so we feel engaged and keep things interactive. Recently we had a farewell party online. My colleague is based in London, so we patched in on Microsoft Teams, opened a bottle of wine and had a digital party. It was lovely! I do feel lonely sometimes, so I’m planning my days: yoga/exercise in the morning, then I cook something healthy — today I’m going to try a few different types of salads — work, log on to Netflix [I like watching inspiring shows like Self Care], and settle down with a book and a glass of wine. I’m enjoying Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life right now. I don’t watch too much news; I depend on WhatsApp friends’ groups for relevant articles. But food is always an escape. I explore various sources and chefs’ pages before I experiment. I recently replicated a strawberry salad I’d tried some time back in Goa.

I, me, myself: The lockdown edit

Varun Singh, 29, project manager - Marketing Insights, Sodexo, Paris

The quarantine measures are stricter in France. I can’t go farther than 2 km from where I live and every time I step out I have to carry a self-attested certificate with the purpose clearly stated. It has been tough, but I’m coping with the isolation. I’ve always enjoyed the independent lifestyle and, of course, technology helps. I’m constantly on Zoom and WhatsApp — for my family’s Sunday video call, my dad patches in from Delhi, my mum from Bengaluru, and my brother from Bristol, UK. Our work meetings are on Microsoft Teams; we’ve suddenly jumped into this digital way of interacting and it is working. I also try to get in some physical activity every day [there is a beautiful park nearby]. This is super critical for me, to clear my mind and keep me motivated. A couple of months ago I’d started CrossFit, and, fortunately, I’d decided to buy the equipment. This is coming in handy now. I’m also a big advocate of meditation. Friends keep me busy. We catch up on the Houseparty app, to play Pictionary and quizzes in a virtual room. Since there is a lot of time for personal development, I am doing courses in machine learning on Coursera and Udacity — one is theoretical and the other, practical. And for my French, I have the local radio on all the time.

I, me, myself: The lockdown edit

Saina Jayapal, 41, PR consultant, Bengaluru

I’ve been living alone for well over a decade, but as an extrovert, the quarantine is quite hard on me. There is only so much Netflix you can watch! This is not the first time that I have been through this — when actor Rajkumar was kidnapped [by brigand Veerappan in 2000], we were in a similar situation. The difference is, then, we could tell where the danger lay. Since the coronavirus is an invisible entity, it is more anxiety-inducing. That said, I’m used to being prepared for most eventualities, with backups for water, medicine and food. There are a lot of elderly people living in my apartment block, so I shop for their groceries and leave it outside their doors to maintain social distance. Otherwise, I have been cooking up a storm.

I, me, myself: The lockdown edit

Deepti Adlakha, 35, professor, Queen’s University Belfast, UK

We are getting inventive with ways to approximate human contact and keep our spirits up, through virtual coffee meetings and hangouts. I am used to working remotely but not every single day — so this is a new normal. The key is establishing a routine for both work and leisure. Flexibility is an advantage. I can manage my day better and take breaks in-between to recharge. The lockdown has provided me with quiet time to myself, an opportunity to break away from the rush of everyday life. I am catching up on books I’ve wanted to read and pending writing tasks, which otherwise fall to the bottom of my list due to time pressures. My challenge has been dealing with the heightened anxiety and fear, inevitable in these unprecedented times. Being away from family back home in India causes an overall sense of helplessness as I worry about their health and well-being. It is very important to take care of not just physical health, but also mental health during a crisis. I start my day with deep breathing and stretching exercises, followed by yoga and guided meditation. I repeat this process in the evenings and also go for a walk around the block, while maintaining my physical distance.

I, me, myself: The lockdown edit

Rishi Singh, 27, operations management, Rolls Royce (aerospace), Bristol, UK

Things now are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It feels like we are all living in a movie. I still have to go into work, but the workforce has been split and put in shifts to minimise mixing. One of the silver linings is that, unlike earlier, when my working hours tend to stretch, now I am forced to stick to a timetable. So, when I can get home I have more time to myself. I use a threefold approach for my mental health. A big way for me to stay sane is to go out and do some form of exercise. So I run or cycle; it refreshes my mind and the endorphins keep me in a good state of mind. Then I try to avoid reading too much news related to coronavirus [except for the absolute essentials] because if it is all I’m going to be thinking about it is not healthy. Finally, I have a pretty wacky set of friends who are in the same boat, with no outlet for their wackiness. We catch up regularly online for some light-hearted banter. I’m not big on social media and I stay in touch with my family over WhatsApp. I’m thinking of signing up for a course on Coursera and also brush up on my Hindi, which is deteriorating.

On the other side

Aravind S*, 33, manufacturing engineer, Iowa, USA

I came to the US on a project on March 1 and have been at my hotel, under lockdown, since March 20. I’ve been working from my room and it has been over four days since I stepped out. Staying alone and away from my family is challenging; I am disturbed physically and mentally. I have stopped availing the complimentary breakfast because I don’t want to risk it. I have stocked up on whatever is available and I am cooking in my room’s built-in kitchen. I avoid spending too much time on social media as the surfeit of information causes panic. I have colleagues at the hotel and we help each other with food and emotional support. I listen to music on YouTube and watch movies on Amazon Prime Video to keep busy.

Online resources
  • Quarantine Chat: Survive social distancing by signing up to talk to strangers from across the world. Get paired with another person to talk about anything, from what you’re cooking for dinner to the global economy. Register on quarantinechat.com, then download the Dialup app (on iOS and Android) to get started.
  • Coronavirus.app: If you like data and statistics, and tracking the spread of the virus, this website has a live counter of cases and (more encouragingly) recoveries. This one is not for the anxious.
  • Houseparty: Bring back game night without stepping out of your homes with this new app. Friends and family from across the world can join a virtual ‘room’ through video call, and play games like Pictionary, trivia quizzes and Heads Up. On iOS and Android.

Disha S*, 33, senior bank executive, Alipurduar

I have been living alone only for a few months, so dealing with something like this has been really challenging. And since banks are working, we have no choice but to report to work. My family [in Siliguri] is worried, but the onus is on us to help essential services function smoothly. There are fewer people at ATMs now and we are seeing more cash withdrawals. My regular workday is from 9 am to 3 pm. We try and keep things jovial at the workplace to help us all cope together. As there is no public transport, I walk to work and back, which is about 2-2.5 km. I watch movies on Netflix and Amazon Prime, and listen to music. I have started reading again and Sidney Sheldon’s The Phoenix is my current favourite.

Anwar Rasheed*, 34, marketing executive, New Delhi

I have been indoors for over a month because I fractured my foot and am still recovering. Being away from family is tougher now, but I am trying to remain upbeat, learning how to cook by watching videos on Instagram [@kannammacooks]. My friends are also guiding me over WhatsApp video calls. I am a voracious reader. I am also trying out adult colouring books and entertaining myself with dog videos online.

D Elango, 59, senior AC technician, Chennai

My two daughters live in Bengaluru and my wife stays with one of them, to help take care of our grandchild. I usually travel on the weekends to see them, but with the lockdown, that is out of the question. We keep in touch through regular calls and WhatsApp. It gets very lonely, no matter how much I try to keep myself occupied. Since last Sunday, I’ve been home and the lack of face-to-face human interaction is taking its toll. So I spend my time watching TV, movies on Amazon Prime Video, listening to music and reading. I have also been doing all the house work and cooking, so there are a lot of learning curves.

*names changed

With inputs from Susanna Myrtle Lazarus and Nidhi Adlakha

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2020 11:39:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/i-me-myself-the-lockdown-edit/article31184940.ece

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