Lockdown: a deja vu

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In these times of global pandemic, while remaining inside is a good way to protect yourself and others from the coronavirus, it is equally an important measure to help flatten the curve of daily cases. Staying at home therefore in such times is a service rendered not only to oneself but to the society at large. But for the ones at home, this being at home is far from what one terms as a vacation or a compensatory  break from work. It is but characterised by a mind boggling seclusion enough to drive you balmy if all the measures of self containment are not taken.

It has been now near 2 months that the lockdown in India was enforced. Much to the peoples’ expectations, and after witnessing the superpowers rendered impotent in their fight against the terrible pandemic, India more or less took the decision of enforcing the lockdown at the right time. Although, the pandemic is said to have been dealt with at the right time, yet, things could have been much more under control had the much hyped and media-inflated ‘Namaste Trump’ been given only its due importance and first things kept first. Nevertheless, the lockdown, whether sooner or later imposed turned out to be pivotal. Days after its imposition, it came from the authorities that the lockdown had reduced the doubling rate of coronavirus cases and this marked the entry of the second phase of the lockdown following a need to extend the self-quarantine period of the masses in order to avoid any otherwise possible eventualities.

Well, staying indoors leads you to contemplation. But, if you are a Kashmiri, it leads you to ‘comparison’ in addition to the ‘contemplation’, where the degree of former is greater than that of the latter. Thus, post lockdown imposition, while the rest of India began contemplating, Kashmiris began comparing their current situation to a situation they had come across before as well. Although novel for the rest of the world, this lockdown, the home quarantine, the social distancing, the fear of going out was a part of Kashmir’s collective life– a deja vu, where you undergo something that is similar to what you have undergone.  An unsettling experience! An inexplicable endurance! The lockdown gave claustrophobic tendencies to some of the celebrities out there who took to their social media handles to express their angst against the pandemic having restricted them to their plush villas or grandiose gardens. Others began ‘killing the quarantine’ by duetting on online games. But, for Kashmiris, it was like dancing to a tune you’ve already mastered to dance on – the same old choreographic step patterns, the same musicality, same old style and the same continuity! Therefore, while India entered its third phase of lockdown, Kashmir was stuck into the Lockdown 2.0 – a newer version of an older experience!

The situation of Kashmir seen in this context is akin to the situation of the people in the well-known science fiction of H.G.Wells entitled ‘The Country of the Blind’. In the story, an isolated community, that has prospered over the years is struck with a disease rendering all newborns blind. As the blindness slowly spreads over generations, the people’s remaining senses become sharp and by the time the last sighted villager of the country dies, the community fully adapts to the life without sight. Over the years, the vale of Kashmir has seen such repeated lockdowns that they have become accustomed to living a life of limited mobility. Stuck indoors now and then, the people of the valley have devised their own idiosyncratic ways of dealing with the paranoia and its murky associations. In fact, a queer thing that surfaced during the current pandemic in Kashmir was the connotative nature of the ‘lockdown’. A dire need was felt by the people at the helm of affairs to make the common masses realise that the current one was not a ‘normal lockdown’ and that going out to buy groceries early in the morning and late in the evening was to be refrained from! But, the adaptation and the subsequent assimilation of living in clampdowns have dragged Kashmiris to a point where they could hardly distinguish between the kind of situation they are facing now and that they were facing then.

Amid all the statistics and surveys pertaining to the rise in the incidence of mental health issues in Kashmir and the co-morbid psychiatric disorders having taken a surge in the past few years, an ironic study has come to the forefront lately which reveals that the valley has reported minimalistic or no cases of claustrophobia in the recent past. The reasons are obvious. Therefore, no matter how much the world grapples with the idea of facing extended lockdowns, Kashmiris have befriended it. There might be various phases of the ongoing lockdown for the rest of the world, but for Kashmir, this Lockdown is a newer version of an older experience!

Asma Majid is Masters in English Literature