Lockdown Series 5

As lock down moves to 50 days, there is a “new normal’ emerging. Human beings have the amazing and scary capacity to adapt and endure in myriad ways to crisis and tribulations maintaining the minimum “ business as usual” attitudes”. The days of lock down and Corona scare have brought out this fortitude and coping strategies of the human mind. Most of the times this is positive but at times it becomes beneficial for the corporate sections that are out “to make hay while the sun shines”.

My thoughts as days pass are about the young adults in our society who are often neglected, insulted and pushed around as indispensable. One wonders what their thoughts and concerns are…about their future and career still in the formative stage, how would they be seeing this breakdown of a way of life they are used to? Will they be communicating to their peers or are they in a state of ‘suspended animation’? The brief communication with friends who have children in this age group revealed that many of them are in the “denial mode” with sublimation tactics like cake baking, stitching and soft skills development. This could be also because they belong to the privileged upper middle class.

While all these thoughts were going on in my mind on an afternoon when time was hanging heavy like the dark rain clouds in the skies, a loud horning and rapping on the gate was heard. Going out I saw a small head peering over the gate asking “Vegetables? Fresh vegetables?” Since I had run out of stock of some essentials like green chillies and ginger, I decided to give it a try and opened the gate. The vegetable laden box auto was driven by an elderly man accompanied by his smart smiling wife and this boy whom I assumed must be their grandson.

The vegetables were fresh and they explained that every morning at dawn they would drive the 10-15 km to the lake side agricultural village near the city to source the vegetables. The 13 year old Arjun turned out to be their daughter-in-law’s brother for whom the couple had developed an unusual affinity because of his life story. His father died when he was a young child and since then the mother worked as cook in a hostel to make both ends meet and bring up her daughter and son. The marriage of his elder sister into this family was a turning point in the life of Arjun and family. They were caring and understood the boy’s longing to be looked after and given attention.

At the slightest excuse, Arjun would leave his lonely home and run to his sister and her in-laws. His mother who worked in the hostel would return in the evenings to an empty home. She laid some conditions that he can visit them during holidays and weekends. This year everything turned topsy turvy with the Corona and lockdown.

The enterprising couple, the in-laws of his sister, has a small vegetable shop in an area near which there are many houses and apartments. They managed to get a pass to take their vehicle and distribute vegetables at the doorstep of houses within the vicinity. And who else but the willing and energetic young Arjun offered all help? That is how they appeared at my doorstep one sultry noon.

The shy Arjun took some time to warm up and share his interests and life. Obviously he was very fond of the couple whom he called Achan and Amma (father and mother). He was very forthcoming, weighing the vegetables in a rusty machine, calculating the cost and spelling it out to us. The indulgent “father” would gently reprimand him when he made small mistakes. As days passed and the visits were once or twice a week, Arjun opened up to us. He was not too fond of formal education. He studied in a good aided school in the city because his mother wanted him to get a government job and reach heights of career and financial position. The weight of his mother’s dream hung heavily on the young boy’s mind.

With all discussion of lock down related collapse of economy and assumed life style that was in the news all the time, Arjun vaguely understood that the normal process of studying and getting a job is a tough proposition. He knew instinctively that people like him and his family with little or no negotiating power in this competitive scenario stand no chance in this chaotic world. He watched his sister and brother- in-law struggle in frustration with their jobs as sales persons in a nearby huge mall. With lockdown, the mall had closed and the owners of the shops they worked refused to give any support for the employees. Recently a friend of his brother-in-law had committed suicide because he had no means to support his family!

Young Arjun is also observant of the boring life of his sister who when going to the shop was stressed for time and energy – she had lost her bright smile that Arjun loved so much. He loved geography but hates Maths. When we offered him an atlas he was elated and softly shared his dream of making money to travel the world!

The mind of Arjun especially since lockdown was in a state of turmoil as he saw images of a modern developed world collapse and deliberations about the need to achieve food security and self reliance in livelihood options dominate the media. He wondered if the woman he met near the lake rowing her boat alone at dawn to collect lotus leaves to reach to the city’s flower market was affected by the lockdown – he had not been seeing her near the lake side. Or the man with a reed fish trap who would wade and swim with agility to the middle of the lake to catch huge prawns and fish that he would take to the nearby tourist village to fetch a good price – where were they? He wanted to be like them because they seemed to be having the freedom and time after work to be happy and healthy.

Another issue which struck Arjun was the total absence of religious rituals and social events. Normally his mother and sister had to attend at least one wedding, funeral, house warming or some such ritual every week. Or he would have to accompany them to the temple every day. Now with lockdown there seems to be no issue to avoid all that. There were no complaints or sense of guilt, no formal invitations and small fights and sulking about not being included… Arjun wondered if people would stop all of this which would be saving a lot of energy, money, food and time…He was particularly upset about the wastage of food during each celebration because he had seen the strain and energy with which the raw materials – vegetables, rice and pulses are grown…

These are the thoughts of young Arjun as he helped his foster parents collect and stalk firewood from our garden on to the box auto one day…Though shy he has started slowly verbalising his special thoughts and ideas to us. When he realised that he would not be ridiculed or scolded at, his confidence grew …

Life skills (WHO definition) empower those abilities that help promote essential well being and competence in young people as they face the realities of life.

So true and apt for dear Arjun as he discovers what would make him face life square and acquire skills necessary to survive rather than vaguely search and waste time over an unachievable dream. For Arjun life and survival are at arm’s reach and Lockdown taught him this lesson faster and deeper than ever before..

Anitha.S ( anithasharma2007@gmail.com) is an ecologist and writer based in Thiruvananthapuram ,Kerala. This was written in conversation with Dr.S.Santhi and Arjun along with his foster parents. His photo has been included with his permission and that of his guardians.


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3 Comments

  1. Avatar ASHOK SHARMA says:

    Yes. True… Life skill education and school education will be really a challenge in the present days as well as post covid times. The students staying in the extreme rural areas have no access to the online classes. The challenge is really difficult to address… Especially pre primary and primary education will face a lot of challenges in the new normal times..

  2. Avatar David Kennedy says:

    Some survive; some don’t. Some will survive; some won’t.
    What makes the difference? Who can tell?
    Some realise the futility that surrounds them and accept this as inevitable; some recognise this futility but are determined to fight against it, to surmount it, and to succeed.
    Always there are opportunities and there are hurdles to be overcome. Chance plays its part, but so does determination, dedication and ability.
    There are a myriad stories to be told. Here is one that haunted me until I had re-told it. I titled the story “Joey”. It is a true story that I have fictionalised.

    Joey.
    Joey was a little boy who liked to make people laugh.
    He lived long ago, twenty times the age of a ten year old girl.
    He would dress up in clothes belonging to his daddy.
    He wore his daddy’s bowler hat and painted a black moustache on his top lip.
    He looked just like daddy.
    He wore daddy’s shoes.
    Daddy’s shoes were too big.
    Joey wobbled as he walked in them.
    He had to be careful.
    He looked very funny as he teetered round the house dressed like this.
    It made his brothers and sisters laugh when they saw him.
    Daddy’s trousers were too big and had to be tied with some string.
    Joey looked so funny.
    The bottoms were rolled up, but this did not stop him falling over as he walked.
    This amused his sisters and brothers, especially the little ones.
    When he fell, Joey sat on the floor, rolled his eyes, made a funny face and pretended to be dazed.
    They thought this was very funny.
    Joey was pleased. He liked to see them laugh.
    Sometimes he painted his face with mummy’s lipstick, making his lips large and smiley.
    He put blue eye shadow around his eyes and made his face white with talcum powder.
    White face, red lips, blue shadows around his eyes.
    With daddy’s bowler hat on his head and a thick black moustache on his top lip he looked very funny indeed.
    The children invited their friends to see him.
    Soon he became very famous in the village where he lived for his dressing up in this way, his tumbling on the floor, and the funny faces he made.
    Everyone laughed. Joey was pleased.
    Joey found lots of old clothes that he was able to wear.
    He found new ways of painting his face.
    He learned how to fall without hurting himself.
    He tripped over his shoe laces.
    He tripped over boxes and buckets.
    He spent a lot of time tumbling on the floor.
    This made people laugh and he was pleased.
    No one was surprised when he joined a circus as a funny man.
    He was a funny man with difference.
    He was the very first clown to use grease paint.
    His clothes were now specially made for him.
    Huge boots. Baggy trousers.
    Loose jackets. All patched. Funny hats.
    And all kinds of funny faces made from grease paint.
    Now, lots of people came to see him.
    He made them all laugh.
    He became famous throughout the land.
    The circus travelled abroad.
    Joey was the star.
    Language wasn’t important.
    His funny face, funny dress, and funny antics made everyone laugh.
    Joey was pleased. His fame spread.
    Laughing is important. Everyone likes to laugh.
    When people feel tired, or sad, or feel a bit off-colour, laughter cheers them up and makes them feel better.
    They forget their troubles. Life is happier.
    That is why Joey was successful. He made people laugh.
    Now, circus clowns everywhere copied Joey.
    They all wore funny clothes.
    They all used grease paint on their faces.
    They all became ‘joeys’.
    Even to the present day, 200 years later, clowns meet every year to revere Joey.
    Such was Joey’s fame.

    Although he made everyone laugh, deep inside himself Joey was sad.
    He worked hard, travelled a lot, and had no time to spend in family life.
    No wife and children to love him and for him to love.
    We all need love and someone to love.
    Everywhere he went, he was alone and stayed in lodgings.
    He knew his landladies and they knew him.
    One day when he was feeling sad, his landlady persuaded him to see her doctor.
    Joey was reluctant.
    Eventually, he agreed.
    On seeing this ordinary, sad-looking man, the doctor said he knew just the thing to cheer him up.
    The circus was in town.
    “Go to the circus.
    Go to see this wonderful clown Joey.
    He will cheer you up.
    He cheers everyone and makes them happy.”
    A tear ran down the face of the poor man as he shook his head.
    “What’s wrong?” asked the doctor.
    “I am Joey.”

  3. Avatar Renu Henry says:

    Dear Anitha Chechi, wonderful article. Thanks for introducing Arjun and his thoughts to us. Nice family, loving.