When the lockdown started, I thought it was an opportunity for me, as a scientist and educationist, to work at home without the distractions that I used to face while preparing lectures or writing articles ever since I retired four years ago. But it is a mixed bag when every day is a reckoning under the health crisis presented by COVID-19. Under normal working conditions, the no-noise quiet ambience would be a boon for any creative writer. But the current view from my window is static and silent, with no movements or sounds of any kind, except those made by nature the birds, trees and so on. Its an eerie, empty silence.
For the first time, during my 55 years of residence in Mumbai, the three major means of public transport the local trains, BEST buses and autorickshaws are not plying. The roads of the city that never sleeps have been emptied out. The noise pollution has plummeted to zero. Hardly any planes take off from the busy T2 terminal of the airport. Instead of the whine and groan of the big jet engines, we have a serene silence all through the night, broken only by the pre-dawn birdsong.
With the absence of pollution-causing human-generated activities, I wake up to clear blue-sky sunrises, reminding me of my small hometown, where during my school days we slept watching the open star-filled skies. It was easy for anybody to spot Dhruva, the North Pole star. Its indeed hard to digest emptiness in the Mumbai metropolis, the sounds and views of which have been transformed by a tiny virus into a melancholy of the void. The only sounds I hear are those made by family members within our apartment. All cars in our tower-block society have been in the parking lots for over a month. Benches where elderly women sat in groups to chat in the evenings stay empty. I almost miss the honking malaise in this decibel-free lonely ambience, made macabre by the regular spikes in global casualties, leading to an urge to check the figures every two or three hours, fearing further catastrophes.
It is not that I dont attempt any stress-busters to break the monotony. I talk on phone daily with relatives, hoping against hope to relieve stress. However, I do succeed when I call some of my classmates and colleagues to chat lightly about our shared past, which often leads to plenty of laughter. Having a few genuine guffaws on phone is sure to drive the blues away.
A great stress-buster during quarantine is to work on a small garden. Attached to our first floor flat is a fairly big balcony, that we have converted into a small garden comprising green plants, rising to the heights of one foot to 10, and a few flowering plants. The level of the balcony is four feet lower than the flat, making it a soothing exercise to go down four stairs to water the plants, and remove the withered leaves. Each flower in this garden brings a thrill for our family.
With Aarey Colony, Powai Lake and Borivli National Park not far from my residence, I am blessed with another stress-buster plenty of nature around. Green plants and swaying trees fill a large part of the view from my first floor window, and the view extends beyond to the large municipal park named after the 2008 Mumbai attacks martyr Ashok Kamte, just 20 metres away. Pigeons, sparrows, parrots and crows show up in large numbers. Last year, a sparrow made a nest under a ledge in our balcony, to save her chicks from the rain.
Social distancing is not a problem when the whole family stays strictly at home, as we do. I admire the co-operation of my two grandchildren, aged 12 and seven. They have online school lessons, after which they play the guitar and make paintings, respectively, or just watch TV or videos. Since their parents are working from home, there is a need to engage them with new activities. Last week, I taught them how to play the Nepalese board game Bagh-Chal. Being grounded at home has made us appreciate the value of a place called home, and a family, and also savour the lucky feeling that we are all together.
I had stopped watching TV years ago to save myself from the near-fake news that several channels ladle out. That role in my life is now played by the frequent forwards of negative stuff by WhatsApp groups. Staying aloof from the influence of those posts needs skills. Otherwise, anyone with creative pursuits can feel lonely.
Coronavirus has managed to unmoor everything. Everyone is stressed, not being able to predict what is in store after a month, or six months hence. External distractions, errant thoughts, or anxiety affect the management and control of your attention, even as work commitments and unfinished jobs claw at you. How to concentrate? I cannot even suggest that you go out for a walk, which is prohibited during the lockdown. Maybe, you should spend a few minutes thinking about your big successes in the past to lift your spirits and recharge. Or, close everything to restart next morning by taking small steps. Accomplishing even a small part of your pending jobs will get you going.
The ultimate question is: How to learn to reset your focus and regain concentration, as many times as you lose them? Why not set up your desk with a convenient orientation near the window of your residence so that without getting up from it, you can recharge, every now and then, just by looking outside at nature the flower beds, the trees, pathways, children playing or people walking. It would de-stress you. That is how I relieve my academic stress.