Staying in touch during a pandemic

Sravanthi Challapalli | Updated on April 04, 2020 Published on April 03, 2020

Learning curve With the virus having forced a lockdown across countries, people are making the most of interactive programmes on the internet images courtesy: sravanthi challapalli   -  images courtesy: sravanthi challapalli

The Covid-19 outbreak may have led to self-isolated lives, but people are still managing to stay connected — in cyberspace

It’s 10 in the morning — in some parts of the world, that is — and the pens and papers are out. From her house in Madrid, Spain, Alicia G Rey is teaching her students the fine art of Zentangle. Together the students, in their own homes in different parts of the world, follow the steps of the art form on Instagram.

Rey is a certified teacher of Zentangle, a pen-and-ink art form that does not require prior knowledge of drawing or special skills. Students outline a pattern and make intricate designs within the lines. The concentration — along with the end result — brings serenity to its practitioners, its advocates believe.

It certainly helps when you are locked inside your house. The Covid-19 pandemic may have led to isolated lives, but there are people who are reaching out to each other, working and learning together — all in the cyber world.

From art lessons to yoga sessions and piano classes, and from cooking to storytelling and dancing, they are doing it all. Several businesses and individuals are live-streaming entertainment, fitness programmes, prayers and creative workouts.

“These live sessions are something good to have come out of coronavirus times,” says Chennai-based KP Megalai, who has been following pianist Anil Srinivasan and Carnatic vocalist Sikkil Gurucharan. The musicians have been performing live on various social media platforms, raising funds for a Covid-19 helpline.

Many of these sessions are free. “I have done several free classes in the context of community support — to groups of carers, to people suffering from fibromyalgia, to pensioners and with children from families with problems,” says Annie Taylor, a Zentangle teacher based in Alcala la Real in Spain, one of the countries severely hit by the deadly virus.

Children, parents and grandparents have been tuning into Tales Unlimited, a live session by actor-storyteller Janaki Sabesh of Golpo. The initiative by architect-engineer couple Avanti Natarajan and Rajavel Sundar, on their Instagram account @liltrails is, like the other sessions, an interactive one.

“With the Covid-19 lockdown, engaging children at home becomes difficult,” says Srividya Ganapathy, a Bengaluru-based mother of two who logged into a live session on Instagram where participants were taught how to make puppets using cereal cartons. “Live sessions like these are a boon,” she says.

Community social media activity was not uncommon in the days before the pandemic. But with the virus having forced a lockdown across countries, people are making the most of interactive programmes.

Actor Suhasini Maniratnam is going live on Instagram and Facebook for the duration of the 21-day lockdown, which began in India on March 25. In her chat show-like sessions, guests discuss a range of subjects. On the second day of the lockdown, they debated the “Art of doing nothing”.

Likewise, Delhi-based theatre actor-director Sudhanva Deshpande has started a poetry workshop where he will recite a poem every day till the lockdown ends. He started with Ogden Nash’s So That’s Who I Remind Me Of.

Some are using social media to inform and popularise the sessions, and conducting them on conferencing platforms such as Zoom. A Abhirami, project manager at Slough, a social enterprise, held a creative session on Zoom with writer Menaka Raman. It involved coming up with six-word two-hander plays that they could choose to develop later if they wished to.

“I loved seeing what people have done with my suggestions, getting the lovely feedback and making new friends around the world. One day, when all this is over or when we can return to normal, I would like to continue to do online classes. It would be nice if I could earn a little money from it too,” Zentangle teacher Taylor says.

For the participant, there are some tangible takeaways at the end in the form of a piece of art or writing, a dish or friendship struck over a shared interest. There is, for instance, a growing group of Zentangle enthusiasts. One of their instructors, Japan-based Ayumi Fujimura, says she went live because she wanted people to enjoy the art at home. For Ayumi, the rewards are participants’ appreciation and the ensuing confidence that she has gained in herself.

Taylor points out that the art takes people away from their problems, albeit momentarily. “It doesn’t solve the problems but allows people to distance themselves from the problems for a while. That’s why it is touching a chord just now,” she says.

Clearly, borders are no barriers on the internet. Delhi-based music enthusiast Hemant (not his name) never thought he could attend a workshop conducted by American jazz pianist Chick Corea. Last week, he took part in one such session. “He keeps surprising you with his choice of material to practise on. On the second day he played Chopin,” Hemant says.

Natarajan of Liltrails points out that around 8,000 people joined the first day’s session. The art sessions have participants from India, China, Italy, Croatia, Japan, Germany, the US and elsewhere.

Next in line from Abhirami is a Friday night party in the kitchen, singing to ’80s Ilayaraja songs, and an aerobics session inspired by film dance maestros Puliyur Saroja and Kala Master. She is also working on a theatre project idea which will involve older isolated people in the UK.

All this for free? “Doing something like this and sharing what I have at a time when we need to be connected more than ever is plenty payment,” she says. “At the very least, we can keep our spirits up till the uncertainty lifts.”

Sravanthi Challapalli is an independent writer and editor based in Chennai

Published on April 03, 2020

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