Updated: Jun 18, 2020
The world is going through unprecedented times. No one could have guessed that a microscopic organism would cause such a contagion that people around the globe would have to stay shut for months on end. But there is something ironical here- The coronavirus never set out with the aim of making the entire world’s population sing from the same song sheet of emotions- that uniformity was and is not achievable. And yet, from time-to-time, we see someone doling out unsolicited advice on what to feel and how to cope.
While there are no right or wrong, good or bad, ways to feel during these times, yet ‘joy’ seems to be an emotion which, if experienced, is bound to raise some eyebrows. After all, it goes against the general sentiment of sadness, anxiety, uncertainty and fear that has engulfed most people today. People are falling ill, many dying, livelihoods are endangered and economies are crashing- and someone out there is joyous? It might seem antagonistic, maybe even sadist, but a bit of reflection really tells you how it is not impossible to feel some joy during this period.
To explore this further, I reached out to some of my friends and asked them what is something or someone that is a source of joy for them during these trying times. The answers, though subjective, shared a major similarity- they were attainable and heart-warming.
Getting to spend quality time with the family was something that came forward in a number of conversations. Madhulika told how the best time of her quarantined days is during the evening when she gets to play badminton with her parents. On being asked whether she engaged in this in the pre-corona world, she said, “We did but it was so long ago that I don’t even remember.” This makes the lockdown not just an opportunity for her to bond with her parents, but it also means being able to take a refreshing daily walk down the roads of nostalgia. The routine is simple- they go to the terrace at 6, and while one parent waters the plants, the other plays with her; the plants are nurtured, along with relations. Playing also entails all sorts of noises- excitement or disappointment at making a good shot or missing another is expressed easily, without words. Even the non-supportive winds only bring about minor frustrations but can’t dampen the sportsmanship spirits. She says she looks forward to this time because it feels “amazing to play without any worries in the mind”.
Unlike Madhulika who lives under the same roof as her parents, Kunal’s story is different. Being a student in Delhi University with an army officer as his father means extended periods away from and short, sparse reunions with his family. This is what makes the quarantine extra special for him since it has given him the unanticipated opportunity to stay with his parents for months together. With the increase in the quantity of his interactions with them, the quality has also enhanced. Instead of the nightly phone calls that were part of their routine while he was in his PG in Delhi, he now gets to be next to his parents to watch Netflix, enjoy, and share a laugh. “I go on walks with them, we have dinner together and can celebrate certain occasions as a family, which wasn’t possible earlier. It makes you feel more involved with the family.” Safe to say, as long as the quarantine lasts, he is shielded from the terrible pangs of missing his family, and this prolonged reunion with his parents has just made him feel more grateful for them.
Family time is not the only pleasurable takeaway that the pandemic-induced lockdown is granting us. More and more people, especially youngsters, are attempting to make use of these days by thriving in their small cocoons and engaging in solitary hobbies. Osheen, an 18-year old who is currently housed in Jammu with her parents and siblings, has started to journal her art. “Whenever I engage in an activity like painting or writing, I grab my Polaroid and click a picture, and stick that in a separate journal I am maintaining. Alongside the picture, I write about the conscious experience I went through when I painted or wrote that piece of poetry.” This act of self-expression is relaxing and liberating, and grants her some moments of joy, away from the usual hustle of life. She says, “This has helped me analyse my art more deliberately; it has forced me to be honest with what I do and think, enabled me to actively inspect my life and improve, and I have learnt to be more present in the moment”.
Similar therapeutic effects of pursuing art as a hobby and a distraction are being experienced by Sanah as well. Her joy lies in taking anywhere between 2 and 5 days to complete intricate paintings. It is a conscious decision to make tedious pieces that require a high degree of concentration and patience. She says, “I live in a Punjabi household, so my environment is always noisy. But when I am painting or doodling, I feel like I am actively blurring myself out of that chaos. It’s my version of meditation.” Spending time with paintbrushes and canvases is not only a source of happiness for her, but that same unleashing of creativity has done for her what medicines used to do earlier: “..ever since I started painting, because my mind is so occupied in determining what should be the next color, or how to fill the empty space on my canvas, I’m so exhausted by the end of the day that I sleep- without any pills.”
For yet others in my diverse group of friends, the pandemic is bringing joy in ways they would not have expected.
Ayushi, a final year engineering student, falls back on TikTok at the end of the day to get some respite from her otherwise hectic schedule. “My days are spent in attending online classes and preparing for entrances. So when I need a break, I open TikTok and immerse myself in the ingenuity, fun, and even the occasional cringe that it offers.” What makes her specially attached to this platform is the presence of a lot of creative and relatable LGBTQ content on it. Ayushi identifies as a bisexual, so videos on and by members of the community make her feel as if she has found a place to share her raw feelings with similar others. Hearing her talk about it seems like hearing an excited child who has been gifted a toy; she agrees and talks about the unparalleled warmth and giddy joy she feels . “I wish I had discovered these earlier; but now that I have found them, I plan to watch every single one of such videos that exists on TikTok. Who knows I might even make one someday?”
Gardening has been the go-to activity for Dhriti who has now (finally) started to appreciate the garden of her house in which she has lived for two decades. What she took for granted earlier and used only as a background for clicking aesthetic pictures for her Instagram, has now turned into the place where she spends hours daily. “Weeks after I planted my first seed, I finally saw some sprouting from it yesterday. In that moment, I felt like I had become a mother.” This unusual childbirth was not easy to arrive at. She has been extensively researching on gardening tips and tricks on the Internet, and then applying them under the harsh sun daily. So when the efforts (and the plants) finally bear fruit, it is bound to be nothing less than a delightful, long-awaited achievement.
The outdoors seem to be a hotspot for stealing moments of joy for Tanmay too. Usually a shy boy, he lets his Bollywood-lover side come forth when he is out for a walk. His ‘Walk Songs’ playlist on Spotify houses some of the best party anthems that our movie industry has to offer, and he makes sure to slyly shake a leg to them, on the road, when no one’s watching. “The empty lanes are such a relief for me since I’ve never liked unnecessary spectators. Whenever I see no people around, I break into a few steps, and immediately return to normal as if nothing happened.” What might be a funny sight for an unsuspecting onlooker is a source of unbridled happiness for Tanmay who feels as if he is slowly breaking out of a mould with every dance move on the road. “I don’t think I would have done it if people weren’t stuck in their homes. While these walks are good for my physical fitness, I feel the songs and mini-dances are causing gains in my mental well-being too.”
These narratives elucidate that as the world has shrunk to the size of our homes, it seems that the simplest things- those previously overlooked or taken for granted- are now becoming a source of pleasure for many. The times may not be particularly joyous, but I hope each one of us can find some joy wherever we are.
Written by – Pratika Mehra Header art by – Gayathri Nair