Quarantine Times: Our friends in need by Tanuja Chandra

When we’re locked indoors for 60 days, the only things that keep us sane are work, social media and real voices over telephone lines
Filmmaker Tanuja Chandra with her aunts while shooting her documentary Aunty Sudha Aunty Radha
Filmmaker Tanuja Chandra with her aunts while shooting her documentary Aunty Sudha Aunty Radha
Updated on May 23, 2020 11:08 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | By Tanuja Chandra

It’s peculiar, but ever since we’ve had the rug pulled out from under us, the enormity of what has happened hits me every day. It’s as if the same piece of bad news finds me again and again in my very own land of the midnight sun, where day slips into night and back into day and holds me in its unblinking stare of despair, then hovers like a spectre somewhere amidst the indifferent clouds where from down below, I can only regard it mutely till it visits again.

Totally insane

Is the pandemic affecting my sanity, you ask? Why wouldn’t it? Have any of us ever been 60 days indoors? And what have we done with ourselves during this unnerving interlude? Have we learned anything that will equip us to navigate the untested times awaiting us? There might be some benefits (hidden thus far) of lying in bed, staring into quiet, cavernous nights, ruminating on all we’d promised ourselves if we’d just had the time, but humans are crafty and we make sure we find ways of dealing with stillness that asks uncomfortable questions of us.

Humans are crafty and we make sure we find ways of dealing with stillness that asks uncomfortable questions of us

And so I’m aware the lockdown has brought hordes of bakers, real and faux, out of the woodwork. I applaud anyone with an understanding of cinnamon and keen nasal passages, and I sure as hell appreciate the meditative qualities of cooking; the same qualities that some, like me, find in writing.

I’m grateful for small mercies like script deadlines and endless material online that constantly beckons us. Across the world, social media has drawn us into its seductive arms; heck, my own thoughtfully curated Instagram feed informs me, rejuvenates me, makes me laugh and shatters me. It brings me the beauty of art, and most importantly, at a time when we are watching history being made from within our walls, it carves a window through, which I can gaze into this large world of ours, which is in grave trouble and doing the best it can. Not too long back, living without the Internet for a couple of hours was a nuisance. Now it has become a full-blown impossibility.

Voice of friendship

We’ve also been chatting remarkably more with each other, haven’t we?

Not through reams of messages, but with our natural-born voices that carry with them emotion, a sense of history, a world and a nuance. Often, the conversations are long and deep. Some could be arguments that last the night; at times, there could be a declaration of love or possibly the ending of it. Maybe relationships weren’t ever meant to be simple or quickly formed, and maybe digitally encrypted, abbreviated words or cutesy symbols have been trying to make them so. Maybe affection thrives truly if it’s weather-beaten, if it has stood witness to how troublesome we can be, and what a beautiful mess each of us is.

When I recently spoke to my wonderful colleague Konkona Sen Sharma about this, she let out a long groan. Her days have been utterly crammed, but even so, she’s had to squeeze out evenings for calls with loved ones. Which didn’t take away anything from her parallel-parking skills (apparently perfected during the lockdown) but video calls are where she would’ve liked to draw the line. She caved and made those too.

I understand her impatience. Video calls require one to remain within frame, so to speak, whereas with the help of the humble earphone, one can walk around, lounge, eat, paint, if one so fancies, and the voice on the other side stays close, expressive, full of the ebb and flow of life.

During our confinement, we’ve all had our fair share of conference calls for work, and blessed are they for keeping our minds ticking and our ambition resilient, but it’s the handful of friends we’ve been reaching out to regularly, to talk about dire issues or about nothing at all who have brought us comfort and made us feel safe when uncertainty is in the very air we breathe.

For we know only too well, as an 18th century poem said, ‘the best-laid schemes of mice and men/go oft awry/and leave us only grief and pain/for promised joy!’

(Author bio: Tanuja is an author as well as a filmmaker. She is known for movies like Dushman, Sur, Sangharsh and the Irrfan Khan-starrer Qarib Qarib Singlle.)

From HT Brunch, May 24, 2020

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Tuesday, October 26, 2021