Travel Notes


The Lockdown Notes

One thing that is clear is we are all living out a reality that rivals sensational films by tenfold. In the beginning, we talked about ‘that wild market’ and Wuhan very confidently. Months later, we are forced to recontemplate on the source of the virus. From February onward, the word ‘corona’ has been on everyone’s lips, whatever the topic of the talk be. Whether you talked about astrology or recipes, corona barged into the discussion one way or the other, finding its definite link. Just like it got into the bodies of millions and made the world come to a near standstill.

People, both educated and not so educated, only mention ‘corona’ when referring to the current problem in their daily talks. Other references such as the coronavirus, COVID-19 and Sars-Cov-2 (least used) fade in comparison as C-O-R-O-N-A became the undisputed word of the day every day. I believe it may have dethroned the word THE to become the most used English word in 2020. This unceasing use of the word itself has created a fear factor in people’s minds. It has given the disease the status of an established ogre to be used in future to scare away children, violators and criminals. I was curious to notice dual mentalities among cultures across the world in terms of looking at the word. A part of the American population started rejecting the Corona brand beer after the virus gripped the world. On the other hand, in certain countries like India and Indonesia, some couples named their new-born babies Corona and Covid. While corona itself is not a negative-sounding term (if you look at its other meanings), the timing of the naming can play a crucial role in determining its acceptability in the society. As for the beer, the owner as well as the drinkers deserve our pity.

Whether it be in India or in Italy, Australia or America, people learned or were forced to learn two things: social distancing and washing hands. In the wake of the pandemic, these two commonly learned practices were made to look like some phenomena. The tutorial videos that appeared on different websites and social media platforms exposed our ignorance of these skills or lack of knowhow on their effective employment. We are too social (Man is a social animal, as they taught me in Economics and History) to distance ourselves from each other. We are too busy to wash our hands for twenty long seconds. The WHO once amended the expression ‘social distancing’ and used the term ‘physical distancing’ in order to emphasise the importance of being in touch via the social media and by other means except by meeting face to face. This is a necessity to upkeep our mental balance during a time when we all lead a locked down life inside the four walls. The balcony meetings with songs in the Italian housing clusters inspired similar enthusiastic social interactions from safe distances.

What instilled a staunch sense of fear among people who dwelt on complacency in the early days is the virus’ egalitarian spread in world societies. A Prince and a Prime Minister, celebrities and cine-stars, owners, employees, workers and beggars received a dose of the corona that knew (and knows) no differences between human bodies. By the end of March, every country and every human being was affected by the pandemic in one way or the other. People who lived in hotspots found themselves to be prisoners of a different kind. It was a matter of survival amidst plenty. There was no lack of food, no lack of any kind of amenities, but they could not touch them with confidence. They could not get out to see a sky that was bluer and more pristine. The virus did not make a huge impact in the South-Pacific islands, but their biggest source of income – the tourists – was missing. This dealt a heavy blow to the islanders who might soon find themselves in Captain Cook’s days if not cared for.

Education in the days of the coronavirus has been revealing massive inequalities among different sections. The Zoom sessions keep the privileged learners engaged in their own cosy home environments, making sure they do not miss lessons at all. This is not the case with children in remote areas and slums who are not yet initiated into digital learning, or who cannot even afford to buy digital gadgets. It is good to see the UNICEF working with governments in different parts of the world including Indonesia to arrange for radio and television lessons. The photos that appeared on the organisation’s website showed cheerful faces seemingly enjoying what they were listening to on radios. Despite such efforts from different bodies, there are still millions of children in the developing world waiting for remote learning to reach their doorsteps.

As for those with Zoom facilities, it is not all a rosy world either. A case in point is the preschool and the kindergarten children’s online learning. At a time when adults whine about ‘Zoom fatigue’ and cumbersome online meetings, it is only left to our imaginations how little children can cope with learning from screens. I have been watching my 5 year-old son getting his kindergarten lessons via Zoom for the past 2 months. Seeing his teachers and classmates in a virtual classroom setup did not interest him much. He was stuck in an uncertain world for the first month; each of his glances at me and at his mum enquiring about the school. Zoom was not school for him. He missed his proximity to daily beloved characters, sitting in cirlces with them, jumping around, playing pranks. Though the teachers repeated rhymes and corrected the additions and the subtractions, the atmosphere was not the same for him. As the practice progressed to its second month, the ‘new normal’ dawned on him, slowly though. His nanny played a vital role in convincing him of the continued presence of his teachers and classmates. As his normal companion to school, she was able to assure him that he would not be cut off from his tiny tot kingdom. It is an art parents can learn from loving nannies.

Lessons apart, my son’s world has been changing slowly elsewhere. He has been finding it odd when we ask him to wear a mask each time we have to go out and ask him to wash his hands each time we get back home. Of late, he has been disappointed that we do not take him to his favourite mall nor to his grandma’s house. A few weeks ago, I decided to take him to the supermarket inside his favourite mall which was allowed to open (as all supermarkets were), to give him a first-hand experience of what the mall looks like these days. I was expecting him to learn for himself that papa and mama had not been keeping him away from any of his loved things and places. As we entered the mall and headed to the supermarket, we saw dark corners everywhere. The supermarket was the only place that was lit. I studied his face at this time. He was viewing the differences. He could not probably locate his must-visit play area that was shrouded somewhere in the darkness.

My son has sensed the changes, but talking to him about the coronavirus will be futile. I am documenting his life’s progress week by week. Sometime in the future, he will be able to see and perceive that part of his childhood was spent during a pandemic the world reeled under.