Peace in a Pod Columns

‘Positive’, a podcast by Newsreel Asia, lets everyday heroes tell their own pandemic stories

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Why should the burden of fixing a broken system fall on young people...who should be hating on exams, who should be laughing with friends, who should be bunking college....” (a 20-something volunteer at a COVID-19 helpline)

I’m a single parent..., [COVID-19] was like a sword hanging over my head...” (Abha Kohli, psychologist)

The problem of getting the whole world vaccinated is an unprecedented task.” (Anushka Ashok, behavioural scientist)

Now people have understood [about the vaccine]...but when people have understood, there is no vaccine.” (Regi George, physician)

I don’t know what hell looks like, but I’m sure it looks something like this.” (Sayantan Banerjee, student)

The COVID-19 pandemic has to be the most closely observed and deeply documented public health crisis in history, generating more words, more images, more sounds across media than any single subject in the past.

There has been more conversation within families and at the workplace — such as it is — on the screen and on the phone, about the disease, about the science, about the restrictions, about the vaccine. The daily dump of information from experts and non-experts, the constantly updating dashboards and trackers, have resulted in a rich archive that future historians of science and public health can plough through to understand what it must have been like to live through these times.

And there’s been no shortage of podcasts in what has emerged as an entire genre of pandemic programming, offering advice, analysis and explanation about everything related to COVID-19. The audio series Positive, from which the quotes above are drawn, does something a little bit different; it bears witness.

Everyday heroes

While the pandemic caused untold suffering, it also threw up everyday heroes from among our midst, people who went out of their way to render help and provide succour in multiple ways. It also led to the discovery of pockets of resilience and strength within ordinary folk; the ability to reach out, or to keep it together in times of extreme uncertainty and anxiety.

The six vignettes that make up the series give you, without preamble or commentary, a glimpse into what it is like to live in the midst of fear, helplessness, and heartbreak — and to emerge with a semblance of hope. Ranging from around eight to 13 minutes, these are first-person narrations of people who “surfed the rough seas of the pandemic... in hospitals, volunteer hubs and within families”.

The series is produced by the new digital media startup Newsreel Asia, which launched in May this year. Anupama Chandrasekaran, one of the founders and an audio producer at Newsreel Asia, says, “The idea was not to be tied down by the limitations of the pandemic but to continue telling stories without travel or studio needs. It was truly a low-cost exercise to produce something meaningful and timely in an experimental format.”

Even if you have grown weary of pandemic-related content, or, having experienced it too closely, wish to put it all behind you, these stories will resonate because of their direct, even terse, simplicity. The format, says Chandrasekaran, “simply allowed the people whose story it is to tell it. No narrator, no frills, just a real slice of their life in their own words.”

Positive is currently available only on the Newsreel Asia web site, along with a small but promising set of other audio and video documentary series.

The Hyderabad-based writer and academic, is a neatnik fighting a losing battle with the clutter in her head.


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Printable version | Sep 19, 2021 11:14:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/positive-a-podcast-by-newsreel-asia-lets-everyday-heroes-tell-their-own-pandemic-stories/article35230258.ece

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