Updated: December 30, 2021 7:10:37 pm
It’s perhaps easier to define the losses of the last two years of the pandemic in statistical terms. Numbers help us quantify damages and reduce their seemingly uncontrollable character. So while we felt the loss of lives, livelihoods, jobs, school sessions, opportunities, we couldn’t make sense of a way of life that had slipped out of our grip forever and melted into a great void.
And as we step into 2022, with the pandemic still playing a predator, it is perhaps our evolutionary moment, drawing new contours within which we may nurture life again. But there is quite a bit that we lost.
Loss of relationships: No family has been left untouched by the pandemic as each of us grieve and mourn the loss of a near and dear one. As we dealt with the death of our favourite people, it numbed us to such an extent that some of us became wary of engaging deeply with people around us, lest we get hurt again. It also exposed us to the fear and anxiety of being left alone in the end. The lack of physical interactions in the social space made loneliness a bigger pandemic.
“Though there is increased socialization online, it has changed our emotional behaviour offline. Somehow, without the intimacy of a physical set-up, where we vibe off each other and feel comfortable to open up, we are already filtering our natural emotional responses online. This is detachment brought on by isolation,” says Dr Sandeep Vohra, psychiatrist, Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi. This is evident from many internal surveys of top corporations, which showed that in an online group discussion, participants felt conscious and distant and were not as spontaneous in a work-from home environment. The power to ideate, which is born of animated conversations and a free flow of ideas, has been hit. This has led to emotional distancing that affected team spirit and future team-building in companies. In fact, the bonding over company offsites, family weekends and get-togethers is very much a thing of the past.
This has also affected familial and group behaviour. Says Anita Chandra, who has been organising a support group for senior citizens who live alone, “Talking in a group takes the pressure off opening up. Hearing others, you also feel encouraged to express yourself. But confined to a laptop in a room and worrying about connectivity, you do feel inhibited and tend to withdraw for fear of standing out. So you withdraw into a shell.” This is one of the reasons that Tua Sanyal, a mother of a kindergarten-going son in CR Park, organised mini-mum meetings in the neighbourhood park. “No matter how many times you video-call, you do get tired seeing the set image in a particular frame. I have switched back to normal audio calls as it makes me talk much more easily without the pressure of a static engagement,” she says.
But nowhere was the loss of relationship most sharply felt than with families trapped in a shared space longer than they were used to. The work from home routine and online classes meant a constant collision with each other that led to a blurring of lines. This unfamiliarity impacted married couples the most, who, compelled to spend longer times with each other, probably looked at each other’s flaws for the first time, swept as they were under the humdrum of daily routines and patterns. Almost all countries, India included, registered an increase in domestic violence and divorce cases during the lockdown, signalling a relationship crisis like no other.
Says lawyer Sraboni Majumdar, women had to negotiate not only with their spouses but their children as well. “My children, aged five and seven, understood and adapted to my going to work at a certain time and returning home at an appointed hour. When I work from home now, they see it as abnormal and non-serious. In fact, they make additional demands on my time and space that they wouldn’t earlier,” she says.
Loss of childhood: While children were confined to their homes and deprived of their peer groups, they found solace in online classrooms and digital recreation. The more children got dependent on devices, the more they got addicted to gaming and were exposed to knowledge that was unfiltered. “What this surfeit of information and images online do is limit the power of imagination. Even books and stories are now heard rather than read. While one cannot ignore the educative value of the digital revolution, it also opens up a whole new world that kids may be unprepared for,” says psychiatrist Dr Samir Parikh.
Also, the dramatic change in the way they were used to growing up has meant that they have been forced into adulting before their time. “The school is a key socialisation tool for children. It is also a key component of their happiness quotient. We forget that they are experiencing the adult sense of fear, uncertainty, panic, and anxiety that is transmitted from their surroundings. No wonder this has eroded their innocence. And they are overnight being expected to understand the sudden change,” adds Parikh, simultaneously advocating the need for digital literacy, setting limits, and guiding choices among the young. Majumdar had a tough time veering her son back to more creative forms of physical engagement than enacting airline crashes offline that he had picked up from online videos. “He was interested in aircraft and began with a lot of instructional videos on them and engineering. Then he began watching videos of air crashes and translating that image in his essays, story-telling, and sketches. We consulted a psychiatrist and realised that was his way of internalising the gloom around him and venting his frustration,” she says.
Going forward, one is hoping that the schools will restructure schools as safe, supportive, responsive, inclusive and interactive institutions that prioritise EQ (emotional quotient). And with the hybrid format here to stay, the parental and home environment becomes just as important.
Loss of the workday: Work from home and online routines have made work hours fluid and stretchable at all hours. Lockdowns meant that companies slotted crucial online meetings even on Sundays. Sudeep Bose, who works with a multinational and has been at home ever since the pandemic began, says, “Somewhere the flexibility and portability of a laptop or tab has meant that we can multi-task at home, maybe supervise the kids or do the laundry, while on a con call. The surfeit of virtual conference platforms has also increased the frequency of meetings as it is easy to round up staff across geographies. Stacked meetings are the new menace.”
Work-life balance is quickly turning into imbalance. The question is can we restructure and rebuild, losing some and keeping others? Something to think about in 2022.
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