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Conversations in the time of corona

Growing up in an urban jungle, one of the things we as children would look forward to was power cuts in the late summer evenings. While we would rush out of our homes to play hide-and-seek under the moonlit sky, the adults were rather crestfallen at missing their daily dose of television and were forced out of their burrows to make conversation with their forgotten neighbours. Thanks to these power outages, conversations which had sadly been sacrificed at the altar of television and technology would ephemerally come to life.

Today, while the world is in the throes of an unprecedented crisis, it has also experienced a power outage of sorts and we have come to reassess everything we took for granted. In this sobering spirit of introspection and ironically in the times of social distancing, I would like to make a case for meaningful conversations coming back to life.

When the lockdown was imposed in March, I was confined to my room in a tiny hamlet in southern Germany. The lockdown pushed me deeper into the burrow I had been building myself and I started binge-watching YouTube videos, mostly interviews of miscellaneous people who had "made it" in their fields. It was in this miasma of copious online content consumption and social distancing that I realised I could learn a whole lot more by conversing with my peers than by listening to celebrities I had never met. With this realisation, I stumbled upon the idea of interviewing my peers from university, who were also stranded. The result was Petrichor, a daily podcast in which I would talk to a different person every day about their passions in life, their journey, their greatest learnings, their fondest memories from university and every other topic under the sun, except corona.

A new episode of the podcast was posted on the university WhatsApp group every evening at 7 p.m. and all of us got to relive a person’s story. Each episode gave us a whole new perspective on a friend we thought we knew very well. We were moved by their struggles, inspired by their achievements and stimulated by their thoughts. While we tended to place celebrities on a pedestal, we saw our peers as equals and it was easier to be inspired than to be intimidated. It also gave everyone a platform to express themselves and provide reassurance that we were all in the trenches together. As the days rolled on, we looked forward to listening to a new story every day and learning more about a person who was on the same journey as ours.

The podcast went on for 35 consecutive days and the conversations never ceased to be fascinating. After this experience, I truly felt like the adult who had been forced out of his bubble to make conversation with the members of the community that had shaped him. We are in the middle of a crisis that is too good to be wasted. While despair and disillusionment are on the rise, there is always a silver lining, be it a pandemic that grips the world or a trivial power outage. With a bit of effort, we can add bringing back meaningful conversations to the uplifting list of plummeting emission levels, cities waking up to the songs of forgotten birds, crystal clear water in streams and everything else that the pandemic has changed for the better.

The podcast was named Petrichor, to remind all of us, Indian students stranded away from home, the sweet scent of the soil soaked in rain. It’s a scent that holds a lot of memories. The podcast could serve as an example of how you could foster meaningful conversations in your own groups and communities at a time when all of us need to come together to get through a crisis of unprecedented magnitude. It is time for us to come out and play under the moonlit sky, like we did all those years ago, except that we will be playing with thoughts and ideas, and we will have to continue playing even after the light turns back on.

sribalajisetlur@gmail.com

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2020 8:02:27 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/conversations-in-the-time-of-corona/article32935998.ece

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