Over the past many months, we all have travelled farther inside ourselves than outside, contemplating our inner worlds as we stare with wide-eyed trepidation at the world we see through our screens. For those of us with no need to leave home to care for society or put dal/roti on the tables for our families, we can ricochet between the anxiety of personal privations and the guilt of knowing how much worse it is for too many or we can value and explore the new opportunities from home.
Zoom fatigue may have dimmed some enthusiasm for this kind of communication, but I remember when it took hours to get an exorbitantly expensive “Lightning call” through in our pre-fibre optic days (God bless Sam Pitroda!). Today, I can read stories and show the illustrations to my grandson in Singapore and celebrate in real time the joys of daily events with family near and far. When letters took two weeks to arrive, it’s really quite fabulous that we have WhatsApp, Google, Zoom, Instagram, FB, etc., to connect. And you don’t need to let them overwhelm you either. My incoming social media is all muted except for my daughter’s and I check the rest very intermittently. Occasionally, I do miss something time-bound, but not enough to be addicted to checking.
Being at home meant I had to face teaching online. I’ve avoided this for years, despite requests, as it seemed too challenging logistically and of doubtful success. The other day, I asked one of my online classes what they discovered as the best thing about being a homebody. Unanimously, they chimed in: “Being able to take Odissi classes!” These students include teachers, an astro-physicist, European language interpreters, professional Odissi dancers and my teenage GOI scholarship holder, among others. They are spared the expense and hardships of travelling to India from London, San Paolo, Atlanta, San Francisco, Vilnius, Berlin, Pune, Bhubaneswar and even Delhi as they simply flip open their laptops to immerse themselves in a world of metaphysical beauty. Whether my own choreographies or those of my guru, Padmavibhusan Kelucharan Mohapatra, teaching online also means each session is easily recorded and uploaded to an unlisted YouTube playlist for indefinite review, reference; it even allows dancers with scheduling conflicts never to miss a class.
Home time does mean more consuming of news, which can lead to “Doom scrolling”, not to mention being led down rabbit holes by social media. Anything I watch on YouTube leads to their algorithm only showing me more of the same; sometimes, I find myself watching repeats of US Senate hearings! Easy to see how QAnon and other bizarre conspiracy groups hypnotise the unwary. One advantage we have in India is the print media. Newspapers are still holding their own here, and they give us the opportunity to learn something not pre-selected for us by AI. I like to start my daily newspaper reading with the Asian Age, since it’s the only paper that has a front page showing news I’m interested in rather than ads I’m definitely not. (Sponsor disclaimer: I’d say this even if Asian Age wasn’t the sponsor of this column!)
Perhaps, I’m being a bit churlish about YouTube not helping find diverse content; in the months before I finally turned on the TV and succumbed to Netflix, I watched a super selection of historical documentaries and listened to free audio books. Sapiens had been sitting on the shelf for ages unopened, but it was an easy listen. So was the Trilogy of Immortals of Meluha, Dune and finally winding down to binging on pure brain candy Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes. Besides the world-from-home of YouTube, podcasts are great windows into offbeat and amazing subjects, especially for extending the time spent on long walks socially distancing in parks or gardens.
You may not have the “library bug” or the “curse of the collector” but if you are older than a millennial you probably have actual photographs stuffed in drawers or shoeboxes. It took months into being at home to confront this and suddenly the fog cleared and the organisational sun came out! The inspiration came from an idea to scan my daughter’s childhood photos for a digital birthday gift album as I couldn’t easily give a physical present. Unsurprisingly, opening the trunk of filled with long unseen Rama Color small plastic photo albums was a rediscovery of many memories and I decided to keep going beyond the albums and sort through loose photos after the this start.
Instead of making more albums, which would mean taking up unavailable space and lessen the ability to scan if needed, I streamlined the process with labeling manila folders. Magically, miscellaneous buried sources revealed photos I’d forgotten (and really would have loved to use in my two last books!) Chhau and Manipuri were separated from Odissi; Family and Friends subdivided, Students, Other Odissi dancers, Other dance artists’ lec-dems, Fest of India-USA with Guruji, Contact sheets, Dance related, some of these obviously specific-to-me files created. Family photos can sectioned into Birthdays (by name), Diwali (over the years), Vacations (by name) and voila, you can easily find and revisit all the memories you valued enough to photograph with a glance at the folder headings. I also put small sticky notes on photos that I’d like to scan and share sometime in the future. This means I don’t lose the momentum of filing in order to scan special photos but I know it will be easy to find again when I’m in the mood for a scan-and-share session.
What about DVDs? Do you have some you love and some you are done with? Do you have DVDs copied from VHS tapes or other formats? I may not be ready to ditch all of them yet, but I know I’m less inclined to put them in a DVD player and soon Windows will join Mac in not bothering to include this hardware. No time like the present home time to confront this. It was liberating to throw out the old Pilates for You and AM PM Yoga and Jane Fonda DVDs. I periodically give batches of age-appropriate DVDs to the teenage children of staff to enjoy on their laptops and get English practice between online classes. I plan to also give away audio CDs of Indian and Western classical and folk music. If you are an interested NGO, let me know. Calling the Blind School is on my to-do list.
A major long pending home project has been going through stacks of DVDs of archival dance performances and family events copied from VHS and Video-8. I upload, edit and put on my non-monetised YouTube channel to share precious videos of my guru, other dancers, and even rehearsals and lec-dems that might be of interest to rasikas. Family and many of my performances I upload as unlisted, so I have free cloud storage and personal histories needn’t disappear in the trash with DVDs in the not-too-distant future.
Staying at home has been easy, considering what a dear friend said years ago “A better class of problems”. We need awareness and commitment to help those in need and make our personal lemons into lemonade.
Sharon Lowen is a respected exponent of Odissi, Manipuri and Mayurbhanj and Seraikella Chau whose four-decade career in India was preceded by 17 years of modern dance and ballet in the US and an MA in dance from the University of Michigan. She can be contacted at email@example.com.