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The good ghost is a viral story

How little brains process the lockdown is a concern — for, a child paints an apparition as a friend as it cannot infect unlike a human being

We have, temporarily at least, stopped racing towards new worlds and begun a forced meditation on what we shouldn’t have done or ignored. Some are worried about supplies of eggs, milk and vegetables or soap and toilet paper. Yet another group (the majority) do not know how they will get through the day because their daily earnings from selling perishable goods or manual labour ceased overnight. They have neither the exposure nor leisure to worry about a health or environmental catastrophe, but it is they who tread more lightly on the earth than the rest of us do.

Urban India, which rests comfortably on the labour of rural India, received a shock as supplies dwindled or disappeared with shattering visuals of farmers destroying their own harvests or just giving away the little they have rather than let it all rot. Life flows on placidly only for those who never had to step out of home even before the COVID-19 crisis to meet their daily requirements. They are either in the evening of their lives or have been cushioned so comfortably all along that they are proof that it is survival of not the fittest but the richest. Nothing and no one disturbs them.

Being alone

While the media is full of what a sense of being alone can do or undo, the call for physical distancing to prevent infecting each other is one of the most unwelcome things for us. We are highly social creatures, sharing food, eating and living spaces and dependent on company and companionship for emotional stability. We need to laugh and joke and grumble about the weather or the traffic or the TV channels. Then there are people who never outgrow their childhood and need to feel connected to a group all the time, do not know how to connect with themselves and cannot bear a single waking hour on their own. They have never understood that solitude or being alone is not the same as being lonely.

Trauma of isolation

My concern is what this spell of forced or advised isolation will do to our very young children. Studies of painting and sketching done by children recovering from traumatic experiences such as domestic violence, war, riots or loss of homeland or families offer revelatory glimpses into their state of mind. A girl of 12 who had fallen silent for weeks drew herself as a policewoman aiming a blow at a well-built bearded man. Upon closer enquiry, it became clear that for years she had watched her father beating her mother. A much younger boy drew a stick-portrait picture of his entire family with his mother missing. She passed away a year ago. I wonder what present-day children, deprived of energetic games and the company of their friends and unable to fully comprehend the reasons for the present unnatural need to stay indoors, will make of the stress caused by an unseen danger.

I happened to receive an assignment a youngster named Prithvi wrote after India announced the lockdown. “Long ago the wind blew and it was the ghost. It was a good ghost. The ghost was telling everyone a new stori. No body was afraid of the ghost. The ghost was polight and every body liked him. He tot every kid one by one how to mix colours.” Prithvi had understood that he could not play with his friends nor have them visit him. So he transferred his context to his story. What visited the classroom? A ghost! Not a human being who was taboo because of the threat of infection. Observing the rules of social distancing, the children were taught one at a time and not in a group.

When these dangerous times are behind us, we must prepare for fear and out-of-key behaviour from children who experienced anxiety and more disturbingly, watched their parents controlling their own fears with some difficulty.

“Everybody liked the ghost.”

What’s not to like when the ghost could neither infect nor be infected?

minioup@gmail.com

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Printable version | May 26, 2020 11:51:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-good-ghost-is-a-viral-story/article31488069.ece

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