Pandemic Woes- Prisoner Yet No Prisoner

It was a rather hot day, and if Chakrapani had other options, he might never had chosen this part time job of conducting surveys. But, what to do? Money is a real issue.

He sighed and grudgingly walked away from the main road into one of the side streets. His brown shirt was so drenched in his sweat that the shirt matched the shade of his skin. Add to that discomfort, the mask he was wearing. He cursed the Corona virus which was directly responsible for his current situation. “Why should the owner of a theater go around doing such part time jobs?!” His mind kept demanding of him.

This particular street seemed to have decided to keep most of its land as empty sites. The only houses were ahead. Sweating and panting, Chakrapani reached the first house to conduct the survey.

When a lady opened the door, he introduced himself and asked the questions he was supposed to ask.

The lady replied, “My kids were very energetic. One is an introvert but still enjoyed being at places like libraries and parks, while the other is an extrovert who always had fun with friends wherever their little gang went. School, tuition and games, their lives were so active. Then came the pandemic bringing with it online classes.”

For the first time that morning, Chakrapani actually became curious. “What is wrong with online classes, ma’am?”

“Oh, it has become a daily chore to get them up and make them sit through their classes. Even then, they don’t really concentrate or anything. In the beginning they used to play pranks on the teachers by shutting them out of the video calls suddenly and causing confusion to the said teacher while they had fun. Later however they’ve got bored of it. Both my kids are members of seperate WhatsApp groups where only them and their friends are there. One kid copies answers from the internet and posts it in these groups, and the others copy. The teachers often have no idea if the homeworks and tests are copied from elsewhere or not. They just copy, but do not have an iota of what they’re writing. Their assignments are mostly similar and even if you ask them questions, they don’t know the answer. Sitting on their bed, they freeze their camera. Then for the rest of the class, they chat with friends/play online games/browse random things on an alternative tab on the internet. As far as I’ve seen, only a tiny group of kids in each video call will be the ones actually studying and understanding the homework/assignment material. You see, all these kids were excited about extended summer holidays at first. That excitement has long gone.”

“So you say, what started as an extended holiday has now become a bore?” Chakrapani asked.

“Absolutely!” came the reply.

“Could you elaborate on the impact this has had on kids?”

“Certainly! They’ve started eating loads of junk food, spent all their time locked up inside their rooms crouched in front of their laptops. They’ve made their room everything from a simple bedroom to their classroom to their entertainment room to even individual dining rooms! They do complain of eye fatigue, and back and neck pain. But next moment, they’re back in front of their gadgets.”

“What about the teachers? What do they say?”

“Well, for many of them, technology and online classes are all new things. Kids these days obviously are smart and fast paced. They play pranks on the unsuspecting teacher to increase his/her struggle. Teachers are also finding it hard to cope up with this. My sister in law is a teacher too, and she says it is near impossible to control and discipline kids from a monitor as they play pranks at the teacher. Defeated, most of the teachers end up getting very little or no time for teaching at all. They are unable to engage with the children, and ultimately just give up the session for the day. Kids sometimes put up virtual background features and fool the teachers.”

There was a short pause. Then, the lady continued, “And its not just the problem in cities. In villages and even in cities, many families are not only unable to afford laptops and mobiles for their children, but there is also the problem of internet connectivity. Those who can afford laptops, and have good internet connectivity manage well. There are those who cannot afford laptops for their children. For example, a former colleague of mine who lives nearby. Such people struggle a lot. Then comes the internet connectivity issue. Many places have poor internet connectivity which is a hindrance not just to students and working professionals but also to people looking to connect with family and friends faraway, and those who are looking for entertainment options.”

“I have a cousin who is a psychologist. He says that man is a social animal and this lockdown, pandemic has affected most of us. Children, obviously are filled with energy and it is not right to expect them to sit like a rock all day. People in their teens and adult years are filled with desire to work, and its not right to expect them to sit like rocks either. Even old people fancy taking a walk now and then. But the pandemic has forced all of us to sit indoors all day.”

Chakrapani’s hand was paining after quickly jotting down these points. He was panting by now. The lady offered him a cup of coffee but he politely declined and asked for a glass of water instead. He still had the rest of the houses in that road to visit.”

The lady noticed him staring at the other houses and immediately understood. “Oh, don’t mind them. They all have the same to share. I’m the Head of the Mahila Sabha so all these complaints and issues are discussed with me. Not just the issues ladies and children face, men have also told me problems they face. Lack of connectivity during an important meeting is one concern, another concern is from someone who can’t afford such gadgets. There are also concerns of people having lost jobs. We discuss all this at the Mahila Sabha. Some of the Mahila Sabha members live in those houses. Based on what people have told me, I’ve given you this statement. Its a very hot day and you don’t have to walk all the way down the street and back up to the main road there. Just alter the statements under the names of the people living in this street. That should simplify your job.”

Grateful, Chakrapani left the house ten minutes later with a smile. He would have time to enjoy cool breeze at the park before going to submit the survey and collect his money.

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