Angana Bhattacharya

Nunchucks to German: Kicking up a storm in the Lockdown!

I had never imagined that I will be back in my childhood home for 6 months, locked in with my family. Since the time I went away to hostel and my brother went to college, we had hardly ever been together in the old house with our parents. I arrived at home on 18th March, when IIT Guwahati was suddenly closed down. My brother arrived by flight on 20th March, just before the nation -wide lockdown started. On arrival, we made him scrub himself on the courtyard itself, spraying sanitizer all over his luggage – the whole spectacle watched by curious people on the streets! And thus, started our journey of being stuck inside the house.

The first days were filled with fear of the unknown, glued to the news for the latest updates; struck down by paranoia. However, the dread, distress and anxiety soon lead me to decide being fearful is of zero use. Armed with sanitizer, soaps and a decision to change this terrible pandemic into a blessing, my mother and I started sewing face masks for the whole extended family.

As the lockdown progressed, the sky became blue and clean. Noiseless, I heard birds chirp-so many different birds which I never knew resided in these concrete jungles. My brother and I took out the time to go out everyday to our garden and meditate in the silence, to breath in the cool unpolluted air and to marvel at the beautiful fluttering butterflies. Were the birds, butterflies and squirrels always around and we failed to notice them in the busy race of human life, or had they suddenly appeared to cheer us in these times of gloom like selfless angels? With the serene environment, my new -found appreciation for nature and the power of tiny beings, I felt myself heal from the inside. My family started practising yoga in the morning and playing carom together in the evenings. This gradually progressed to me practising kung-Fu and the nunchuk that I had learnt for self- defence during my school days. The nunchuk did hit me painfully quite a few times, before I got back to my previous form!! As the days progressed my kicks got better and so did my breathing. Our whole family was getting fitter.

While we were inside our houses, the pandemic continued to rage outside. The plight of migrant labourers grieved me and I was filled with a strong desire to contribute in some way. IIT Guwahati organised a competition, ‘a Covid19 challenge’, to suggest innovations as a means of control of the disease. Me and my friend whole heartedly put in our brains together and came up with a crowd control and social distancing measure using drone sirens and signalling. We went on to be among the top ten ideas, which were then acted upon by the engineering students. After that, I helped make e-fliers and posters in Assamese regarding the precautions to take against Covid19 and circulated it among elders and vernacular audience. The pandemic made me understand the huge social responsibility the youth shares. Soon, the Assam floods happened and I along with colleagues from IITG started a fund-raising campaign for the flood affected people.

Longer lockdowns were being imposed. The severity of infections was on the rise. Scientific groups in Oxford were coming together to make a vaccine. Closer to home, the biotech department at IITG were developing masks, UV sanitizers and robotic machines to put in use in the government quarantine centres inside our campus. We kept track of the science and development via weekly colloquiums. Our expertise in conducting meetings over Microsoft Teams and Google meet got better. With renewed confidence, we the IEEE photonics society student chapter IITG conducted a highly successful online celebration of ‘The International Day of Light’. As darkness took over our lives – light, optics and science kept us going.

In the meanwhile, stuck inside, I decided to leap into making innovative food. The 4 PM afternoon tea became a haven for the family, we would all gather together- away from our work ridden laptops. I baked cakes and cookies – from pineapple cake to oats-jaggery ones. Sometimes, dinner time became fancy with pizza and lasagne made from scratch!! From boiled Assamese cuisine to spicy Indian, from making cheese from scratch to spaghetti with home grown tomatoes, making food became a solace. I planted mint and ginger in our kitchen garden. The beautiful plants made our tea evermore tastier. At the same time, we assembled meal packets to distribute to the needy in collaboration with the neighbourhood welfare association.

As courses on nanotechnology through Coursera continued, Netflix introduced me to the mind-boggling series ‘Dark’. With Dark, I decided to start learning German online in Udemy. Never had I thought I will be able to understand phrases of a German TV series, but the lockdown made that possible as well. This series also made me go back and read ‘A Brief history of Time’ all over again!!  When TV series and books got tiring, my afternoons got filled with brushes and colours – for I had started painting after a long time!

The pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has been an experience that will stay with me forever. A virus brought down the mighty human race to its knees. It stopped the noise and set our world silent. Along with grief and dismal conditions, we also saw the grit we possess to go on no matter what. We understood our privilege, the privilege of mundane things in life – from travelling in a crowded bus to the touch of a hug – all that we had taken for granted. I realised how much I can push my body to be fitter, I realised my capacity to easily skip 1500 times in minutes. I realised the power of inner peace, the power of a blue sky and frolicking kittens when all that we took as entertainment – malls, cafes and movie halls shut down. As the sirens of ambulances blared – the only sound in the pin drop silence of the days, it made me infinitely humbler and appreciate the power of science as a saviour of humanity and the world.

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