I am really very sorry. Once again my writing has become irregular. I always try to post a new article on Tuesday morning, and except few gaps, have maintained that consistency for the last 5 years. But for the last one month, the country is in lockdown. And we Kanpurites, notorious as we are, are one of the primary hotspots of the virus attack. That means, we are under severe restrictions, and venturing out of our homes is not allowed. All days appear same, and I have long stopped keeping track of dates and days. While I think it is still Monday, it is in fact already Thursday, and I have missed my weekly post.
You would agree that our response to the lockdown has been more or less similar. First we were filled with joy, then wisdom dawned on us as we made plans to make the most out of this ‘vacation’ — like Newton or Einstein. But soon that initial enthusiasm died out, and we lied on bed — day in and day out with only YouTube giving us company. We certainly do not know what the future has in store for us. We have already started feeling the effects on physical health. But experts warn of more serious implications on our mental health. As Krishnamurti said, ”Many of us are concerned with keeping the body healthy through right diet, and so on, which is essential; but very few are concerned with keeping the mind healthy, young, alert, vital, so that it does not deteriorate” (Bombay, March 28, 1956).
There is still concern about how the lack of social contact and physical touch is going to affect our psyche. My environment is even worse, there is absolutely nobody around and not even a single soul to talk to. Sometimes I wonder if all those sessions of language learning came to no avail when I do not have to talk to anyone. My sister sometimes used to warn me “Amit, if you do not talk, soon you will forget how to talk!” Perhaps her forecast is realising itself now.
But this aloneness has never been an issue for me. Note the difference between being alone and being lonely. All my occupations are to be indulged in isolation, whether it is painting or writing or playing music or reading. Perhaps all my life I was being trained for this day. After all, there are several people who have been harping that coronavirus was predicted in puranas and Hindu astrology. One fellow assured me that it is the result of the recent solar eclipse. When such drastic forecasts are allowed, I think I can also take the liberty of self-importance. Ahmedabad was different, there you would always find someone or the other to talk to. It wouldn’t matter whether your interests matched or not, everybody was eager to share experiences and opinions. If nothing else, you could just walk out on the street and look at the traffic, or may be visit some art gallery, exhibition, shopping mall, tourist spot, street food joint. At the same time, if you preferred to be alone, they would let you be — as was the case with me.
But Kanpur is different. Here people do not talk with each other. Most of the time I had to go to each individual’s desk to pull them into conversation. But soon it got very embarrassing and tiring, and I gave up. No, it is not a personality trait, instead something peculiar of IITK culture. People are reserved and prefer to stay in their own little sphere. I am not sure if such transition/transformation of social life has occurred in the outside world also. Who knows, may be it is the result of social media and electronic gadgets! But to look at the brighter side, I can have my moments of solitary occupations. For the last 9 years, I have killed my neurons and shed enough sweat over German and Russian languages, and obtained a fair understanding of contemporary Marathi and Gujarati languages. French suffered loss, as I was finding it difficult to manage several language simultaneously.
The most obvious response to being alone is reading books, and it could be a coincidence that I was wholeheartedly learning Bengali when I arrived in Kanpur. Sometimes I take stock of my reading over the years, and it turns out that I have read far more books in Kanpur than I had in Ahmedabad or Rishikesh.
Coming back to lockdown, major portion of my waking hours is spent in reading — for language learning, for review and for my own intellectual growth. I start my day by playing some tune on my harmonica, but never for more than 20 minutes. My lung capacity has certainly reduced over the years, mainly due to sedentary lifestyle and workplace stress. This is followed by skipping — in my opinion, it is the easiest and fastest way to maintain flexibility, stamina and a healthy heart, especially in present times.
After working out on my heart, I give a rigorous exercise to my brain by reading Krishnamurti with a cup of hot tea. Rest of the day is spent in research and academic work, with intermittent gaps to break the monotone. It is during these gaps that I do my language reading. In the evenings, I make some drawing — either on paper with pencil or digitally on my iPad.
So that is it. The day ends before it has even started! And then the cycle repeats. As for most of you, I do all my cleaning, washing, cooking and washing dishes on my own. And during those regular tasks, I wear my headphone and listen to some audio content.
In summary, I haven’t felt any change in my life or my health due to this lockdown. There is only one life, and one should squeeze every drop of joy out of it — no matter what the circumstances are.
Only one point on which I disagree: I wasn’t happy about the lockdown at any time, not even the first day. Though I hardly move out, I don’t like the restriction. But I know there’s no choice.
I read a lot, wrote a lot, learnt a lot. In fact, time flew faster than ever.
You have found a lot of creative ways to utilise time during lockdown.