Welcome to our journey of differences. Over the past couple of months, most of us have been displaced, confused and uncertain of our existence as human beings. Some of us have got completely cut off from friends and family, while others have the luxury of being in the company of our loved ones. That being said, life still goes on. Our definition and understanding of the word ‘normal’ seems to change with every minute of everyday life.
It’s quite fascinating to see how the entire world has reacted to the situation. One would think during a global pandemic rules would be the same throughout the world, however, this is not the case. Different countries have chosen to respond to the situation in several different ways, with varying rules and priorities resulting in diverging infection and death rates. But what we tend to overlook is the impact of these rules on us all as individuals co-existing in society.
Through this self-reflective project we aim to explore how different rules or the lack of them in various countries have made an impact on the way we behave and engage with ourselves, each other and society. Will this behaviour now become the new normal?
Join us on our journey of differences, as we make our way through society by connecting and disconnecting.
Aparna – I arrived in Chennai on the 17th of March. I was in self-isolation and quarantine for a 14 day period, this was advised by WHO and the Government of India. It was extremely strange being back home and not being able to talk with my family. However, after my 14-day quarantine period the only interactions I had were with my parents and my grandmother and no one outside of this until about 2 weeks ago when I decided to visit a very close friend of mine. This was definitely one of the strangest experiences I’ve had as a result of the pandemic. It was almost as if I had forgotten how to be social. I would have thought that we would both be excited to see each other after almost a year, but instead the first thing we both thought about was the distance between us, and this was not in a nice way. I instantly began evaluating in my mind how many steps I should take either forward or backward to maintain a “good distance”. Although the government has advised us to maintain social distancing, there isn’t any information as to how one should behave or act in a situation like this, there are no rules. So how does one determine what is right from wrong?
Nayonika – As the lock-down was enforced, I decided to continue to stay in London as opposed to going back home. Zoom and video calls are my only opportunity to meet more individuals. It was weird and strange initially, not knowing how to navigate through these conversations, trying to understand people and their temperament without being aware of their body language. Slowly, socializing, through these means seems to have become more comfortable as opposed to meeting someone in person. I feel it frees me from the fear of contemplating where the person has been and allows me to engage with them and talk to them more comfortably. However, my engagement is limited to my friends, family and the community at RCA. I cannot help but think once the lockdown is over will I still be comfortable in meeting other people? Will it be important to clarify and tell another individual about my interactions or vice versa? How will I navigate through this without fear?
Aparna – I love grocery shopping! I know it’s quite strange associating an emotion as strong as **love** to something as mundane as picking up groceries, but I’ve always found it quite therapeutic. I used to look forward to going to the store, but so much has changed now. The government in India has advised its citizens to maintain social distancing, but after a point isn’t it really up to us to follow the rules? Here in Chennai things vary depending on which grocery store you go to. A couple of stores have enforced social distancing as best as they could, while the majority seem to be as they’ve always been, and that’s what’s scary, it’s almost as if people think they are invincible. I’ve been back home for 3 months now, and I’ve only stepped out to get groceries twice, I step out in fear and that’s quite honestly not a nice feeling to have. Irrespective of how careful I am, it’s not possible for me to control the actions of others. I’m not sure why this is though, most things are shut, you’d think that would be a sign for people to understand the seriousness of the issue.
Nayonika – Ever since the lock-down, I have been looking forward to grocery shopping to leave my apartment. The UK government advised citizens to leave their household for buying essential items. In London, the access and entry to the grocery store is regulated. Each store has a restriction on the number of people who can enter and access the store at a particular time. Self checkout stores have all marked out safe distances at which one must stand. The cashiers have a glass/plastic barrier which restricts their contact with the customer. In many off license stores, either similar measures have been enforced or the cashiers wear masks and gloves at the counter. As for the public, everyone seems to be respectful, giving each other the space to navigate through the store without being in close contact. Interactions have changed, not drastically, but most people are more aware of themselves and are being proactive in protecting themselves and as result also protecting others. However, I often feel uncomfortable or scared if I am just within a 2 metre distance from another person. I wonder how one can best continue with this simple activity without fear? Without worrying about who is standing next to me and where they could have been?
Receiving packages in the mail
Aparna – Due to the lack of social distancing in most places here, we buy all our groceries and supplies online and have them door delivered. As you can imagine, the supplies that are locally sourced come in instantaneously while the others are delayed by either a couple of days or a couple of weeks depending on the situation at a given point of time. We receive packages almost every day, and during the beginning of this we had no idea what to do with them or how we were supposed to behave around these packages. We instructed the delivery people to leave the packages by the door. Imagine a family of four, standing around a big brown bag filled with fruits and vegetables and just staring at it not knowing what to do. Sounds quite primitive doesn’t it? I would have never thought I would be in that situation either. Again, it brings me to the question of what is right? Do we leave the package out in the sun for a couple of hours hoping that whatever is on it dies from the heat? How many times do we wash the fruits and vegetables until it is clean?
Nayonika – E-commerce options are still available in the UK, hence most of the packages I receive are deliveries from Amazon and other online platforms. Everytime a package arrives, I isolate it in a corner of my room for a few hours. Unpack it and discard the cardboard case and then follow with disinfecting the products with a wipe. If I am unable to do so I leave the item in a corner of my room and steer clear from it for 2 days and then interact with it. An interaction with the package is immediately followed by washing my hands or sanitizing them. It’s a new routine. Not something I would have ever anticipated before the pandemic. The fear of having these objects in my space whose travel history and handling cannot be traced has forced me to moderate my consumption and make more mindful choices. This has been a positive change in behaviour and I hope I keep up with it in a post lock-down world as well.
Someone around coughs/sneezes
Aparna – My flight back home was quite interesting. It was a packed flight and it was one of the very last few flying out of London. The airport seemed relatively quiet, unusual for Heathrow. Airport staff and personnel acted like everything was normal, the people wearing masks were all passengers. I assumed there would be many safety and health checks before being able to board the plane, but to my surprise there were none. I very rarely sleep on planes, with the situation around me at that point of time, I was wide awake right through the 10 hour journey. Every Time I heard or I thought I heard someone cough or sneeze, for some reason my immediate response was to hold my breath for as long as I could. Quite an irrational response I know, but somehow it made me feel better. This is something that I’ve found myself doing off late, I don’t think I ever did this before the pandemic. It’s like my senses are now conditioned to listening for people coughing and sneezing everywhere I go.
Nayonika – In outdoor spaces such as the grocery stores or parks, people tend to maintain their distance. In grocery stores, I have never come in contact with individuals who cough or sneeze without masks. However, in an open ground or a park, sometimes, I do come across individuals who do so. Ever since the pandemic, there have been many speculations about the virus and the distance it can travel, the period of time it can exist in the air, etc. One of the articles I read mentioned that once an individual sneezes the particles can travel up to 5 metres depending on the speed and direction of the wind. This information, whose credibility I cannot vouch for has become my standard of operating. If and when I hear anyone sneeze or cough I just remind myself to maintain a 6 metre distance wherever possible. I have also practised wearing a mask in outdoor spaces, event not though it was not advised by the government earlier. I wonder if this response will turn into a habit and how will I navigate in a post-lock-down world without this fear?