By Nishi Pulugurtha
Covid_19 has been changing a lot of things. We are trying to get used to the ‘new normal’. Most of us are still indoors, working from home, trying to deal with things in the best way we can. Those of us who are into teaching are working from home too and trying to learn new ways of engaging with our students, of being connected with them. I tried ways and means of taking online classes if and when I could, of emailing my student papers and reading material, of getting assignments mailed to me, of correcting them and of counselling them.
I even tried various online platforms. There is the question of network connectivity, not all are able to join in regularly. Some call and talk too. One misses out a lot when one is teaching online. I feel it is important to see my students when I teach. All I am looking at is a blank screen — their videos are off to save bandwidth. I know they do disturb in class with their fidgeting, their talking and their daydreaming but teaching online is a poor substitute to classroom teaching.
I see many of my students write poetry these days. Some of them scribbled once in a while, but these days I find them doing that more often. Some of what they write is really good. I encourage them to go on as I am impressed to see them expressing themselves in English. There are many who want me to read and comment and edit their work too. This, I feel, is their way of trying to deal with the situation they are in.
There are many who draw and paint and share their art work too. I had always wanted to have a Literary Society in the College I teach at but never actually got down to having the students work at one, so I thought I would use the online medium to create one. A platform where I could share the creative done by students of the college I teach at. I am sure that some encouragement will make them work harder at it.
We even got down to celebrating various events online. To commemorate World Theatre Day, we shared readings of plays in the department virtual group. We shared video recordings of our readings, songs and even dance recitals on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore too. It was nice to see many of the students joining in. The best we could do. A student compiled them all into videos and posted them online too.
There are a number of Webinars being organized. I jumped the bandwagon too. I have felt that they are nice ways of engaging. Yes, there are gaps, lacunae, criticisms and the like but at least for some time I think it does open us up to ideas and thoughts in a scenario where concentrating on something is becoming difficult for many of us every day. I have had people tell me that as long as they are listening to the lectures their mind was engaged in stimulating discussions for some time at least. I learnt working on a new medium in order to organise it all. Yes, there were hiccups and snags and I am still trying to navigate my way through the technical maze.
A young dancer and dance teacher told me that he had begun taking dance classes online. A friend tells me her son is taking karate lessons online. I was surprised to hear that initially, but have taken that in my stride now. This is the new normal, the way things might have to go on for some time. My nephew’s coaching classes are all held online. He was even given a test that he had to take at home. I guess, one of the important things is to be connected with whatever one is involved with.
My mother’s carer was speaking about how people in her village are reacting to ‘Corona’. She said that though there have been no cases as yet in her village but people are scared. They have been asked by the village elders to do a number of things that would help them ward off the evil eye of ‘Corona’. I could not but be interested in what she had to say.
One of the first things that they were asked to do was to get up early in the morning, before sunrise, and stand facing the East. Now they had to chop onions into round pieces, put them into their mouth and chew and eat them. They could only have water after about one and a half hours after that. She said, that her family followed all the instructions, like everyone else in the village.
Another set of instructions soon followed as more news about the pandemic trickled in. This time they had to get up early in the morning and stay unwashed. They were asked to eat five grains of rice and five wet tulsi leaves.
At another time, they had to get up early in the morning, have a bath, light five lamps, earthen diyas, which they had to make the day before, and pray to the gods. I laughed when I first heard her say all of this but soon realised that this was their way of trying to deal with the unknown disease. They had no clue about it, or what it could do. As it is the gods are goddesses are propitiated when someone in the family falls sick.
I was reminded of the Sitala Puja that is associated with sickness and disease. Maybe these village folk were trying to do the same with this new sickness as well. She tells me that there is talk about ‘Corona Puja’ as well. I ask her details of it.
She said that her folks are awaiting news and information from the village priest. Inspite of all the blind faith and beliefs, one thing that she tells me is that they make it a point to drive home the importance of wearing masks, of washing hands and of quarantine. A local school is the quarantine centre. Her brother who has been out of work, recently returned from Coimbatore and is now housed there. Once he is out of quarantine he is going to get married to his sweetheart, she smiles as she tells me. Some new beginnings in these times.
Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor in the department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College and has taught postgraduate courses at West Bengal State University, Rabindra Bharati University and the University of Calcutta. She is the Secretary of the Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library, Kolkata (IPPL). She writes on travel, film, short stories, poetry and on Alzheimer’s Disease. Her work has been published in The Statesman, Kolkata, in Prosopisia, in the anthology Tranquil Muse and online – Kitaab, Café Dissensus, Coldnoon, Queen Mob’s Tea House, The World Literature Blog and Setu. She guest edited the June 2018 Issue of Café Dissensus on Travel. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010) and a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019). She is now working on her first volume of poems and is editing a collection of essays on travel.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.