It has been almost a year since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the biggest lockdown in the world. For everyone in India, whether billionaire or migrant worker, this is a year we have never experienced. It is safe to say that many of us will be the same again and again, at least by the beginning of 2020. For many, Sundays and Tuesdays — and all other days — are just a fog of years turning into “yesterday” and “tomorrow” or “another day”. It is insane, fearful and abrupt time to manipulate the many umpalas we have based on our lives.
Fear raises fake news and theories — doomsday warnings and false elixir and assurances. Depending on our natural dispositions and circumstances, we may choose to believe what we want and spread these beliefs very widely. We are still doing so and almost all governments have demonstrated jerky knees. The latest example of this is that most countries in Europe have discontinued the use of the oxford-astrogenene vaccine because a few dozen out of the millions of people who have been vaccinated have blood clots, although there is no definite link between Jab and that clot. Late last week, the European Medicines Agency considered the vaccine “safe and effective.”
But at its deepest and most subtle level, the Kovid epidemic has affected our perceptions of reality. We now have a billion versions, each of which is true to its viewers: the reforms of the larger world in which we live and the reforms of our smaller personal existence. Most of us have more time than we did before the lockdown, and we introspected on whether we knew about it or not. Some of us may be well aware of ourselves and those closest to us. And that’s not a good thing.
In Andrei Tarkovsky’s mystical sci-fi film Stalker, some explorers try to travel through the mysterious zone, where one finds one’s deepest desires. The trouble is, Jonah knows for sure more than you can understand your deepest desire, and when you look in that honest and messy neutral mirror, your beloved truths will crumble. During these months of the plague, some of us reflected, wanted meaning and feeling, and conclusions may not be what we expected.
However, even if we choose to wear masks in public for the rest of our lives, most of us will come out more or less intact from the substance and psychological trauma of Kovid-19. But very severely affected and very little seems to be said about the scars. Children.
The children now spent a year together at home, could not go out and meet friends, lost freedom, sports, fistfffs. They sit in classrooms, indulge in pranks, break up with mass laughter, exchange and do business or go out happily at the end of school, looking forward to coming back the next day and continuing from where they left off.
A school teacher friend pointed out the error of virtual classrooms that did not occur to me. The unheard of humor and ridicule that are an integral part of the physical classroom that both teachers and students share during lessons, and often make education fun, is never reflected in Zoom. These are the automatic branches of physical group interaction and the broader sensory perception — especially the visual. Imagine watching a cricket match telecast alone, it only shows the bowler and nothing more, and you know how the kid who goes home enjoys school.
Various studies have conclusively shown that Kovid affects the mental well-being of many children. Loss of peer group support at this stage in life leads to dangerous feelings of loneliness and often depression when peer interaction is important for brain development, self-concept building and ultimately mental health. High school students are worried about the academic pressure they will face after schools go back to business as usual and they will have to play catch-up. They are more concerned about their careers and futures than ever before. Their safety and stability required for a healthy childhood is compromised.
Now think of small school children. Kindergarten teaches them socialization and some basic values and life skills. And they have nothing to compare to the epidemic atmosphere, because they have no memory of what was once considered normal. If any, the nameless uncertainty, along with the strict regimentation, will be strictly coded in them. It can permanently describe their worldview.
Most older children may bounce back after the sanctions are lifted, because children are more resilient in humans, but the other reality is that young people who are unfamiliar and entering physical classrooms are burdened with anxiety for the first time. What other generation has not ginned?
Healing children is the primary duty of every parent, teacher and indeed a fully grown adult. Because, if we allow those we need most today to grow up with fear in their hearts and a declining perspective on everything the world promises, let us win the virus and pessimism. Mankind does not deserve it.
Sandeepan Deb is the former editor of ‘Financial Express’ and the founding editor of ‘Open’ and ‘Swarajya’ magazines.