Guest column: Covid-19 taught us the value of offline relationships
At the beginning of 2020, my new year’s resolution involved a lot more book reading and a lot less inane social media scavenging. Marching into the new year armed with a renewed sense of self, I boldly and successfully implemented a month-long exile from my Instagram account and significantly reduced my daily activity on Twitter to once in a couple of days.
And then came March torpedoing all our best laid plans. While the novel coronavirus wreaked havoc outside of our homes, swiftly fracturing both our mobility and sanities and banishing us into an asylum of isolation, another kind of pandemic manifested itself within our homes. With connections to the offline world short circuited, the world clung to frantic and increased online connections, losing themselves unabashedly to the addictive dungeons of the World Wide Web.
I found myself back on social media in no time. Between toddler tantrums, toilet training, marathon feeding, changing and cooking sessions, that felt like endless abysses in our home bubbles, a quick thumb-scroll on the device started to become the norm.
With a spouse working late hours sequestered in the home office for the most part of the day, even the joyous company of a two-year old can start to give way to a subdued but lingering loneliness. I was glad to be able to reach out to old friends around the world while being shackled all the while to my sofa. Recipes and jokes with old friends from Abu Dhabi, Munich and India, zoom calls with the motley gang from Spain, Dubai, South Africa, USA and Germany, all raising a glass on the video call after their respective long days, and the welcoming WhatsApp calls with family back home in India – the soothing balms to our painful predicaments. It was heartening to note that in these testing times technology was able to keep our usual verbosity ventilated, albeit virtually.
But we knew it was always going to be a band-aid fix until we could finally reach an airport, take a flight and embrace each other with real, offline, in-person hugs. It was especially heart-wrenching when the toddler would push isolated suitcases towards the door and announce that he was “going to fly in an airplane!”
It has been a year and we still haven’t been able to fulfil that wish.
And then during the course of the year, something happened. Having just moved to a new country in the midst of the unmitigated monster that the pandemic was turning out to be, we started to make some new connections.
When the COVID numbers began to ease up a little towards the onset of July, we gradually started to allow ourselves some socially distanced and masked meetings. Strangers and neighbours started to become friends. The doorbell would often ring with a delivery from another floor of some home-cooked Indian delicacy -a box of Halwa, some Indian sweets like Laddoos and Rice Kheer and even some freshly baked Focaccia bread.
It wasn’t the family we had been yearning for since months, but it was certainly starting to feel a lot like home. A tradition of frequently getting together on a different floor each time with good food and better company began on weekends. Whosoever was slated for a grocery run would text the others to ask if anything was needed urgently. A medical emergency would mean the kids would be dropped off for a play date instantly and without hesitation.
For most Indians – home or abroad, the magnanimity of the festival of Diwali cannot be obscured even during an ongoing pandemic. The family back home had been sorely missed this year but this newly acquired surrogate family had kept the spirit of the festival alive and somewhat salved the pangs of yearning by hosting a small, homely Diwali dinner.
A sense of online fatigue has now set in, both among children with their online classes and adults with home-bound work and increased social media usage as a result of restricted outdoor activity. Netflix has broken all revenue records this past year and the virulent Twitter army continues to scale new heights of intolerance and animosity.
Living in “the audacity of hope” – a phrase I borrow from former president of USA Barack Obama (the title of one of his books) – with a vaccine hovering over the horizon but still no definitive end in sight, I have learned to find comfort in the little things. To shun toxicity in the online world and simultaneously appreciate and allocate more of my time to the small offline moments of joyous disruptions from the mundanity of our current routines.
“Read the story again mumma”, pleads my son, his head on my arm as he leans in for the tenth story reading of The Little Red Riding Hood.
There is no number of likes or followers on social media that will ever be worth giving up a moment like this.