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Issue 11

Exploring Crevices in Global Healthcare Systems: An Analysis of Health Beyond COVID-19

An article published in the New England Medicine Journal in April 2020 describes the plight of a nurse whose husband died of cardiac arrest when New York hospitals were met with one of the worst public health emergencies in recent times. While the nurse, a medical professional would have ideally rushed her husband to the hospital, she struggled to take a decision for fear of exposing her spouse to the Covid virus. This incident makes one consider the story of the ‘untold toll,’ which the pandemic is forcing on non-covid patients and medical resources across the world. 

When the pandemic hit, the first response of national governments was to impose lockdowns, fund research for the study of the virus and increase hospital intakes for rising coronavirus cases. But most institutions, both governmental and medical, within this rush to curb the coronavirus spread, overlooked other illnesses that had already been affecting people. As a result, all public health funds, research, hospitals and professionals only focused on the potentially deadly virus, while special hospital wards for other diseases were either completely shut down, converted to Covid-19 isolation centres or restricted patients from entering their premises. 

news report published by Al Jazeera in April 2020 covered the impact that Covid-19 had on non-covid cancer patients in the past year, describing how a breast cancer patient was unable to continue treatment and struggled to get her check-ups for fear of getting the virus. Another report from India highlights how cancer patients within the national capital struggled because of postponement of surgery dates owing to pandemic lockdowns. And as one tries to study the scope of this ‘untold toll’ in covid times, one is introduced to articles not just of cancer patients but patients wanting to get a dialysis treatment, women struggling to get abortions and a myriad other such cases.    

 In April 2020, a  report by the Wire analysed how Covid-19 had affected the already struggling public health system in India. As a projective report, the article analysed how patients suffering from cardiac issues, kidney diseases, mental health concerns and other non-covid medical health concerns would be affected by the lockdown. The article further explored how already existing high tuberculosis cases within the country were going to be left untreated in a pandemic world, owing to bad medical health infrastructures within the subcontinent. While there is not enough data available to prove the validity of these reports and the extent to which these predictions were proven correct last year, news reports quoted above give us a glimpse of the situation being close to what this report had predicted. With shutting down of  emergency wards, closure of special wards and the conversion of medical centres into quarantine facilities, it is no surprise that the overall health and well-being of non-covid patients underwent a significant blow. 

While it is no surprise that these ‘temporary pauses’ in healthcare impacted non-covid patients significantly and put the larger health of the public at risk, this situation also brought to the fore the crevices in public health systems the world over. It was not just Indian cancer patients who struggled to get treated, the situation in the UK and the US were similar. The question that this situation raises is that if the healthcare system could not absorb non-covid patients along with new covid patients in the past, will it be able to do it this time? A year after the previous covid scare, the cases have significantly spiked again, with a much stronger, mutated strain of the virus resurfacing in the world. 

The response to this second wave of the virus is yet again lockdown impositions, curfews, shutting down of hospitals, conversion of these spaces into temporary covid wards, thereby imposing a halt on other medical services. while the question remains – can we sustain our healthcare systems in periods of crisis? And can we afford to interrupt other ‘essential’ medical services in times of a pandemic like Coronavirus?

Places like Pune’s Yashwantrao Chavan Memorial Hospital has already become a dedicated covid hospital. The emergency wards in several Uttar Pradesh hospitals have already started shutting down, owing to a spike in Covid-19 cases. Similar reports are expected to be coming from different parts of the country. 

Given the data and policy analysis from last year, one is forced to ask whether the response to the current rise in covid-19 cases will result in the same medical conundrum the country and world witnessed in 2020? Or will our past experiences fill the fissures that were made visible by a global health emergency?

Saman Fatima is a third-year History Major at Ashoka University.

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Issue 9

What’s in Your Pocket – Your Office or Your Sanitizer?

“Kaske joota, kaske belt … kandhon pe zimmedari, haath mein file, mann mein dum, meelon meel chalenge hum …” (Wearing shoes and a tight belt … with responsibility on shoulders, with a file in hand and a courageous heart, we will walk miles and miles … the song continues) – was how one’s work life looked like in the pre-COVID era. The imagery produced through these lyrics remain relevant in the post-COVID world, except the song now stops at these four lines because you have reached your workstation – the table beside your bed.

The world of work, with all its stresses and gossips, shifted to homes as lockdowns began to be imposed in several countries with the outbreak of COVID-19, in early 2020. A year which has often been declared “cancelled” in our daily conversations, 2020 has come to be defined as a form of “disruption,” “an imbalance,”  as well as a “pause.” It is you and your socio-economic standing  that decides your position on this ideological spectrum. However, one aspect of our lives that cannot be concretely placed within this spectrum, and moves across it based on its fluctuations, remains ‘the professional.’ One’s economic, political and social behaviours surrounding the professions they were involved in came to be impacted due to such a drastic shift. Restrictions on travel and social contact became sole reasons that hindered work from an office desk and forced professionals to stay indoors and work-from-home.

The purpose of office spaces in the corporate world is social. Remote work has had a significant impact on workplace culture, besides dealing with the spread of the virus. “People find meaning in their daily rituals of getting ready to leave home, commuting, grabbing their cup of coffee, and filling their water bottle before sitting at their desk,” claims Thomas, a partner with the Strategy& Middle East, part of the PwC network. This process of meaning-making has transformed while working from home in a way that people find it convenient to attend office from their beds, without deliberate focus on these necessary rituals. A separate corner for the employee to organize official meetings and conferences is reserved within the four walls of one’s  house, often attended to in half-worn attire and a too-close-to-be-combed hair. The collaborative nature of tech-tools promoting remote work-culture has replaced the in-office coffee-machine gossips and hiccups. With dogs or family members walking in the background, remote work-culture on one hand offers relaxed workplace standards and is being lauded to have added “humanity to us.” On the other hand, a series of boxes and closets earlier criticised by an eminent American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, for preventing democracy and freedom, seems to have returned, though in an avatar enclosed within the four sides of our laptop screens.

This dependency on online mode of work highlights the discrimination that has operated through socio-economic hierarchies, with factors such as class, caste, gender impacting one’s access to certain privileges – be it technological or social. Access to stable internet connection? – a plethora of opportunities waiting for you out there; while a family engaging in unhealthy arguments all the time? – a full stop to important participation on the workscreen. This scenario threatens workplace democracy and freedom by considering one’s ability either to sail or fail – advocating for means that only benefit a specific population of employees. 

Moreover, the boundaries between two spheres crucial to the life of an employee – work and home, got blurred with time. While multiple online sources guide one to a productive and healthy work-life balance during the lockdown, a year into it, conversations are shifting to that of an eager return to the workplace. Opinions on the way “this is the end of the office as we know it” along with changes that could be observed in a post-pandemic world of work have been put forward by many organizations. Emphasis on the need for technological tools such as access to video-conferencing softwares, skills to operate new-age computer programs, a stable internet connectivity etc. to facilitate online work, have increased with time. However seamless and productivity-efficient it may sound, it has pushed employees into the never-ending loop of being “online,” resulting in time confetti. Time confetti, a term coined by Brigid Schulte, “amounts to little bits of seconds and minutes lost to unproductive multitasking.” A constant influx of work-related notifications, messages, emails, etc. from a co-employee or your boss has the possibility of disrupting one’s leisure time and preventing the user from engaging in physical face-to-face interactions even while at home. 

Although online communication between the employee and the employer provides flexibility and a certain degree of control over those interactions, it is often known to result in an autonomy paradox. A work-efficient mobile device is essential for one to ‘connect’ to the office. The term ‘work-efficient’ here would mean being accessible anytime and anywhere, adding to one’s personal autonomy. However, professionals seem to have channelised its usage to working “everywhere/all the time, thus diminishing their autonomy in practice.” An example of this dilemma would be – “if we are trying to be a committed parent while our work email goes off, we can’t help thinking we should be working on our next deadline. This conflict makes us feel like a bad parent and a bad employee.” During the pandemic-enforced remote work-culture, one could find similar scenarios evident of the work-home imbalance, promoting toxic-tasking more than ever. The guilt associated with not working from home and ‘wasting’ time on other unproductive and non-economic ventures, even for a second, overpowers our ability to arise out of this imbalance. 

Moreover, our means of leisure have shifted online – with free webinars, birthdays, weddings, get-togethers, graduations, funerals, all happening over our laptop screens. While some are looking for measures to avoid Zoom fatigue online, the talk about returning to the workplace is on the rise with recent unlocks being witnessed in different parts of the world. Several assumptions about how the workplace would look like in a post-pandemic world are being made – with ideas about AI-operated lifts and doors, segregated desks, increased use of dividers, floor signs, lesser number of employees working from office, assuring employees of their safety in the physical workplace. The world, now understanding the meaning of the phrase, “six-feet-away,” appears to be set to enter the physical workplace. Crucial safety measures being implemented in such spaces involve less coworking spaces, more private and personal spaces, regular sanitization of desks, chairs, common areas, and documentation to provide employees with the necessary information to protect themselves from associated risks. 

However, considering the merits associated with work-from-home narrative, there exists a decent push to create a balance that would allow willing employees to work from home and others from the office. As Rashmi Dhawani, Founder of the Art X Company puts it, these merits revolve around increase in trust and accountability between employees and the employers, fluid leadership possibilities due to new technologies being easily adapted by younger professionals as compared to experienced bosses, in addition to success in what companies were hesitant about earlier, that is, enhancing employee-productivity while at work from their homes. People have also cherished their ability to work in different environments and adapt new skills beneficial for their work. But, with employees connected through their mobile devices to the office while walking their dog in the park, the question, ‘what’s in your pocket – your office or your sanitizer?’ becomes necessary.

Ariba is a student of English and Media Studies at Ashoka University.

Picture Credits: BBC WORKLIFE

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Issue 9

Where Fashion Trends Come From and Why You Should Care

My father, a physicist, once proudly told me that he doesn’t care about fashion. “I don’t think about these unimportant things,” he said. “My focus is on my work.” On most days he wears t-shirts or button downs with neutral tone pants, and he might add a jacket for special occasions. While not the most unusual, he still has a distinct sense of style and it has evolved over the years. I asked him why he didn’t wear the same thing all the time, or just throw on a potato sack and call it a day. He said, “Oh, because I like my clothes. I think they look nice.” Several others like him see fashion as a waste of time, but are involved in the fashion process nonetheless. No matter how far we may try to stay from fashion, due to the nature of the world we live in most of us are forced to make choices regarding clothing everyday. It is simply these choices that make us active participants in the fashion process, knowingly or not. 

Many choose to follow trends in order to fit in and feel a sense of belonging. While some may go out of their way to dress in un-trendy ways, and distance themselves from those they see as ‘imitators’, philosopher Georg Simmel saw these people as engaging in an inverse form of imitation, ultimately becoming part of a group of others like them. Then there are people like my dad, who don’t see themselves as part of the fashion world at all. Unfortunately for him, as a modern consumer he is just as affected by fashion trends as anyone else. Since all clothes retailers are influenced by the fashion world, when he buys their clothes he is adopting their interpretation of any given trend. 

As a multibillion dollar industry, fashion phenomena have attracted attention from sociologists, philosophers and market scientists. However, there is still no formalized theory of fashion, both due to a lack of research as well as the sheer volume of data and variables. After all, everyone wears clothes. Runway shows put on by designers provide an excellent jumping off point for learning about fashion, as the themes espoused by top brands both reflect and inform the choices of the larger fashion industry. 

September and February are usually the months where brands and fashion houses host fashion shows portraying their spring/summer and autumn/winter collections respectively, for the upcoming seasons. These shows take place in various “fashion weeks” around the world (one week per city), with London, Milan, Paris, and New York attracting the most attention. However, like everything else since last March, the Autumn/Winter 2021 shows were different this time. Most designers showcased their collections virtually, while some chose not to show at all. 

While discussing their Menswear Autumn/Winter 21 collection, Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons of Prada insisted that they wanted the collection to feel like an emotional response to everything the world has been through in the past year. Each look was built off the foundation of a bodysuit, to represent the body and symbolize vulnerability and a need for intimacy. Fashion has often been seen as a response to the events shaping society and the world outside. This ‘response’ attitude was evident in many of the fall/winter collections shown in February as well as the spring/summer shows from last September, when the mood was perhaps even more subdued. On the other hand the Prada womenswear collection that came out a month after the menswear show struck a more optimistic note, perhaps reflecting a turning point in the pandemic with the launch of vaccines and the tangible hope in the air. 

Prada and Simons’ descriptions of their collections would fit into the external or exogenous model of the fashion process presented by sociologists, which says that changes in clothing simply reflect changes in the cultural values of society at large. While designers might well be inspired by the world around them as well as their lived experience, this model falls short when discussing the adoption of certain trends by different social groups. Cultural changes might affect the popularity of certain trends, but they cannot explain the different times at which trends are adopted by different groups, thus failing to predict future trends. Internal models can address these questions while looking at the fashion process as a self-contained phenomenon, influenced more by internal changes than external, cultural events. Simmel suggests that changes in clothing styles are the result of a ‘trickle down effect’, with trends being steadily adopted by successive social classes, starting with the upper class. 

According to William Reynolds, a marketing professor from Chicago, trends may be either horizontal or vertical. A horizontal trend is one which spreads far, but does not change much during this time, while vertical trends remain restricted to a small group but change rapidly. Most fashion trends embody both these attributes to some degree. For example, low rise jeans in the 2000s became more popular as the waists got lower. When fashion trends die out or reach a turning point, it could be due to functional or cultural barriers to further movement in the same direction. In the late nineteenth century, hoop-skirts or crinolines were extremely popular and were made wider and wider until movement became virtually impossible. They then gave way to the smaller crinolette or bustle. 

Within a small time period trends also often show a strong resurgence, exemplified by the wild popularity of nineties trends in the past few years. Rachel Green from the nineties show Friends was a cultural icon then and still is to this day, with her style recently becoming the focus of dozens of fashion articles and blogs. Trends may exhibit this cyclical nature due to the same technological and cultural barriers, becoming more and more extreme in one direction, ultimately reaching a peak and moving to the other extreme. For example, the long ‘tunic’ tops that were popular in the late 2000s and the short crop tops that they were replaced by soon after.

Rachel Green from the nineties show, Friends.

In an eighteenth century essay on fashion, philosopher Christian Garve cited the innate human desire for change as one of the reasons for changing fashion trends. In all aspects of life, humans seek novelty and variation, sometimes even if it worsens their position. Whether fashion trends come from influential designers or cultural revolutions, or trickle down from the rich, they feed our desire for change and our craving for aesthetic beauty. Fashion remains an important way for human beings to define and express their identity, and to relate to those around them. 

Rujuta Singh is a student of political science, international relations and media studies at Ashoka University. Some of her other interests are fashion, music and writing. 

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Issue 9

Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge On Zoom?

What was described as a recession-proof industry by Forbes, hasn’t proved to be a pandemic proof industry. The Wedding industry, which was estimated to be worth 50 billion dollars in India, was badly hit by COVID-19 in the past year. According to an estimate by hospitality firm OYO weddingz, the volume of wedding events in 2020 was at 40-50 per cent compared to  the number in the previous year and  guest lists shrunk by 60 per cent due to COVID-19 restrictions. Several brides and grooms who dreamt of a “big fat wedding” had to make peace with the imposed restrictions, while others cancelled their weddings in the hope of things becoming better. India in particular saw the highest cancellation of wedding globally with 23% couples cancelling or postponing the celebration. However, some couples found innovative ways to cope up with the pandemic —Zoom weddings!

“When I decided to tie the knot with my partner, I imagined that at the very least, my family and friends would be able to attend.” Spardha, 29, who got married in the month of October 2020 said as she added “deciding to get married on a Zoom Call wasn’t an easy decision, however, if anything, COVID taught us to expect the unexpected and take charge.” Several couples like them made the decision to broadcast their wedding for the friends and families who couldn’t join. They also participated in several firsts — a wedding without event planners and baraat, no large gatherings or a fancy venue or what Dilli waale would call ‘show-shaa.’ As we mark a year since the lockdown was announced, it becomes pertinent to ask then, will COVID-19 leave a lasting impression on how we plan, attend and celebrate weddings in India? What stands to be the future of the wedding industry?

There is no way to predict the future and whether weddings as we know them will permanently change. However, consumer and behavioural research can offer some insight in this matter. Consumer behaviour is contingent upon several factors such as time, place, location and culture with exposure of a consumer playing a major role. With the onset of pandemic, it is disrupting patterns of how the consumers would traditionally buy or engage in experiences by offering new exposure to those migrating to virtual environments. Behaviour and habit changes have a direct correlation to the extent of exposure to new environments. Research proves that it takes anywhere between 18 to 254 days to form a new habit, while on average it takes about 66 days. As the study by Swiss Re Institute shows consumers are settling into new patterns of behaviour for considerable lengths of time as a response to multiple waves of pandemic. Therefore, it’s quite likely that people will continue relying on technology to facilitate their wedding as the momentum to shift to technology for organising weddings was building up even prior to the pandemic.

The wedding industry also rapidly adapted and transformed to meet the needs of the consumers who were and continue organising online weddings in the light of pandemic. For instance, matrimonial sites have been introducing new features to account for the lack of a physical meet-and-greet. Jeevansaathi.com now has a video profile feature while Shaadi.com launched a special app for video calling purposes called, ShaadiMeet. The company is also organising virtual social get-togethers for its users for the first time. Both Shaadi.com and Bharat Matrimony have also launched their initiatives, ‘Weddings from Home’ and ‘Home Weddings’ respectively to offer end-to-end services to customers to facilitate marriages over videos. What seemed far from truth has become possible as the wedding industry scrambles to adapt to the challenging circumstances. 

Of course, one can’t help but lament what will be lost if  weddings start happening online with an intimate gathering. The sound of loud dhol blasting in your ear, the tangy taste of gol gappas, awkward smiling as the photographer clicks your pictures while eating the messiest foods; the hugging, talking,  and  gossiping, gets missed by the guests attending online. Without these experiences, attending weddings online seems more of an obligation than an experience that one looks forward to. However, considering the social relevance that weddings hold in Indian society, it is unlikely that people will change their consumption pattern as quickly as their other items in the consumption basket. In fact, an ongoing consumer sentiment analysis study by McKinsey and Co. reveals that in China and India, spending is bouncing back beyond grocery and household supplies, and consumers in India might be more willing to spend on certain categories such as festivals and weddings. If it so happens, then once again, it will be reiterated that the big-fat Indian weddings aren’t so easy to do away with, and while pandemic might be a hiccup, it cannot efface the socio-cultural significance of weddings in India. 

Ridhima Manocha is a final year English and Media Studies student at Ashoka University and has authored the book, The Sun and Shadow.

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Issue 9

The Way We Were – Gossip (Or Lack Thereof) In A Pandemic

As I join yet another Zoom call with my college friends, my mind rushes through the events of the day, trying to recollect something, anything important enough to share with them. After the perfunctory “how are you” and the daily mourning ritual for the loss of “the best days of our lives”, we fall into the routine hunt for interesting things to say. While I do enjoy listening to how many times my friend’s neighbour’s dog peed on the staircase, it doesn’t really count as riveting news. Looking back, I realise most of my interactions with people through the pandemic have a key element missing. At the risk of sounding like a nosy aunty from your neighbourhood – Where is the gossip? 

Human beings are social creatures – in most social settings, we require gossip of some sort to sustain us. Popular culture has done its job in stereotyping gossip as the domain of teenage girls or middle-aged women, but in reality, gossip exists in almost every social circle, regardless of age or sex. Most of the toxicity associated with gossip is also largely a construct of popular media. People of all sections of society engage in gossip, and some historians term it as a sign of evolution. Gossip doesn’t just refer to the especially scandalous affairs taken from the rumour mill – it can involve information about places, people or events that people share with each other. Whether it’s new colleagues discussing who was seen flirting with the boss, or classmates bonding over their mutual dislike for a particular professor, or teachers pointing out the different quirks of students to each other – gossip is integral to the human experience.

In the list of things that people missed out on due to the pandemic, gossip definitely ranks high. Cooped up inside our houses for the better part of a year, most of us have witnessed a deficiency in the amount of gossip we get from people. It is not merely the content of gossip that one misses. Admittedly, hearing about the latest new couple around town, or the cops breaking up a party nearby is a sorely missed feeling. What one also misses, however, is the experience of getting gossip itself. Bumping into a fellow student at the campus mess, grabbing a cup of coffee and talking about the highlights of your day – these are all experiences that one took for granted in the pre-pandemic days. These conversations were ringed with an air of spontaneity that one simply cannot replicate through virtual interactions. Even though in the last few years technology has made virtual interactions seamless through texting apps and video calls, there are still certain feelings that one cannot experience online. 

Gossip needs an atmosphere to thrive in. As cliched as the high school movies’ depiction of gossip spreading like wildfire is, it does have some truth to it. Oftentimes, gossip is a result of unprompted discussions, chance encounters and unplanned meetings. Every interaction that happens online has an air of deliberation to it. Although social media has made staying connected through the pandemic much easier, it has also highlighted the difference between online and offline communication. The casual intimacy of impromptu meetings, sitting together in silence, passing a friend in the hallway and stopping to wave at them – the virtual world is unable to recreate these. The experience of sharing gossip during the pandemic, therefore, is restricted to exclamation points, emojis and the occasional high-pitched screaming voice note. Not to mention, considering that the rest of the world has also been restricted to their houses, there is hardly any “gossip-worthy” information. 

For gossip to spread, it first needs to exist. Because of the lockdown, people are no longer going outside to parties or even having a mundane day at the office. The physical isolation has ensured that the only scandalous thing that happens is when someone notices another not wearing a mask. While people have resorted to other forms of entertainment like making dalgona coffee or baking banana bread in quarantine, the void that gossip has left is still felt quite strongly. 

The Coronavirus pandemic has brought about major changes in the lives that we lead, in what is now fondly known as the ‘new normal’. The actual ‘normalcy’ of the new normal remains contested since at every turn we’re faced with new ways to behave, new issues to deal with and new forms of interaction to adapt to. In this milieu of major social as well as political shifts, we often miss the little things the most. The lack of gossip is just one of those shifts in our lives that serve to remind us of the way we used to be. 

By relegating people to their houses and human interactions to phone screens the pandemic has fundamentally changed our relationship with other people. It has set a fear in us against strangers and even against people of our own community due to the virus. When we lament the loss of time with our friends or the monotonous routine that we’re stuck in at home, we’re also lamenting the deeper loss of a sense of connection with people. Gossip is but one of the consequences of a virtual existence that is both connected as well as disconnected. 

Akanksha Mishra is a second-year political science and media studies student at Ashoka University. 

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Issue 9

WhatsApp With India’s Travel Plan?


Share the pain

April 1 2020. Within days of India’s first national lockdown, my WhatsApp pinged an ‘RT Action Group’ invite. 

Soity Banerjee, travel journalist and long term lead at Outlook India’s Responsible Tourism Initiative, quickly brought together a pan-India group of hundred members on Whatsapp.  Most were tour operators, running or selling a multi-terrain niche travel business in India, with some attention to responsible travel. A few other invitees were from sectors travel people work with such as craft, heritage, artist collectives, social media influencers, conservation specialists and rural NGOs. Many were e-meeting each other for the first time. The Whatsapp group call was to, “please share any good ideas being tested to help small travel businesses and individuals: for the protection of communities & for the future (when the travellers come back and they will!).”

 After a pandemic announcement that made human touch life-threateningly infectious, this call tried to put a human touch back into this community – one that was not new to handling delays or crises with a smile. This time though, the travel vehicle had braked the hardest, with an all India STOP sign staring it in the face. 

Posts across April on the group tried to reverse that car in spirit, in two ways. All useful media links that eased our uncertainty were shared immediately. I tuned in, perhaps for the first time, to the immediacy of the business side of travel – stranded visitors were trying to head home through cancelled flights, inter-state borders, airports and trains were shutting overnight, varying quarantine and international travel advisories were being meted out. Whether you were a hotel in a mountain valley or a rural retreat, expenses had been hit hard and a hibernation mode had only just begun.

The group shared information from as far as Costa Rica, on how a particular Responsible Tourism initiative put out timely FAQs, using prepaid reservations to pay staff salaries in the short term and let the travellers who had paid know about it. Without displaying any panic, posts on the group also conveyed the stark scale of human and material resource crunch in their own region, both rural and urban.

Secondly, the group displayed an ‘all hands on deck’ energy to aid the people that travellers and tourists meet, but often forget. Singers, artists, camp hands, drivers, cooks, front desk managers, tour escorts were all people currently out of work. The response of the group was specifically to laud and encourage field effort and support them in their time of financial need. 

In the national capital, alongside several initiatives, the team running the popular Café Lota New Delhi ran a free community kitchen for migrants trying to leave Delhi and Gurgaon. On her Instagram, travel influencers like Lakshmi Sharath forefronted ten calls of help, every day. These initiatives were both spontaneous and coordinated, often which ordinary citizens could contribute to.

Building on the NGO Anahad Foundation’s idea to pay 300 statewide rural folk artists for daily live performances on YouTube, the Rajasthan state government started a similar scheme for artistes to upload phone performances from home and earn a one-time Rs 2500 grant.

Within days, Soity led her team in circulating an RT Covid 19 Action Plan document with immediate relief measures, travel-related initiatives and future plans, including perspectives on what post-Corona travel might look like. By now, hotel chains too had begun sharing CoVid 19 protocols and practices.

India’s Ministry of Tourism, in a reply to a Lok Sabha question, confirmed only in December 2020 that foreign tourist arrivals were down 97% from April to December 2020, compared to 2019. But within the first few days of April, the Responsible Tourism community grasped the toll this absence would take and stepped up to support the vulnerable through April itself. 

Adapt and act?

Could a scramble for survival lay the ground for another model of tourism to thrive?

 By May 1, posts began wondering aloud.  Would a tourist now fearful of human contact choose to detour to uncongested spaces? The viral success of Facebook groups like View from my window was reflecting a worldwide human longing to turn to an uncongested view, if not towards nature itself. Webinar meetups with community members from Ladakh to Lakshadweep spoke honestly of rethinking resilience. Meanwhile, the World Economic Forum Forecast was beeping, ‘it could take 10 months for the industry to recover’.

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation, primed with promoting responsible and sustainable tourism, circulated a document Supporting jobs and economies through Covid 19. A World Bank blog post pointed indirectly to the outer circle of managed nature tourism when it suggested, ‘Restoring degraded forestlands and landscapes could create many jobs over the short term while also generating net benefits worth hundreds of billions of dollars from watershed protection, better crop yields, and forest products. In Ethiopia, for instance, the Humbo Assisted Natural Regeneration Project increased local incomes and helped restore 2,700 hectares of biodiverse native forest, boosting carbon sequestration benefits. More tree cover also reduced local drought vulnerability.’

Despite no ‘industry package’ by the Central Government for the travel sector, by mid-September, this RT Action Group had completed a feedback loop and submitted a recommendation to the Ministry of Tourism on its draft National Tourism Policy 2020. By New Year 2020, there was an uptick in self-driven holiday numbers, and for the first time the all India Stop signal was perhaps now on yellow. But was there any evidence that an Indian tourist, fresh from worry and work from home, had hit pause on older ways of travel?

P.S. It will be a year soon since this WhatsApp group came to be. I now habitually check its notification pings. As a media academic, I marvel at how fake-news-free a WhatsApp group can be. When I think of this year I think of the time when nature’s breathing space for species other than humans became too visible, the ongoing loss of human life became too acute, and the claustrophobia of the home-stuck too real. In these times one is reminded not of luxury travel, but of the fact that travel itself has been an unexamined luxury. And now to travel responsibly – luxury or not?

Tisha Srivastav teaches media studies at Ashoka University.

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Issue 9

Dating From A Distance

“I was going back home for the mid-semester break in March 2020 in our college shuttle and had the usual daydreaming to my playlist planned for the ride. Once the journey started, I noticed the person sitting next to me tapping their feet and lip-syncing to all the songs I was listening to. I couldn’t help but start a conversation. Even though it has been almost a year since we have physically seen each other, we have been together for 8 months.”  

Dating has been one of the ways in which individuals satisfy their need to form personal connections with others. It can usually start with anyone from their seventh-grade desk partner, college classmate or their Bumble match. While the concept of dating began with the ‘gentleman caller’ in the 20th century, with men having to follow proper protocol to pursue the woman they desire, the aim of dating and wanting to establish a long-term relationship, either bound by marriage or other types of commitment, hasn’t transformed as much. 

This human condition of craving connection did not change even when the pandemic struck. Now confined to four walls, physical interactions limited only between family or with oneself, there is no doubt that individuals are experiencing extreme loneliness. How has the world of dating adapted to these circumstances?

1. RIP Meet cutes

One majorly fantasised aspect of dating is the ‘meet-cute’ that represents the start of an attraction between two individuals who later delve into a relationship. Rom-coms have encouraged these heart-throb fantasies of two hands that happen to reach out to the same book in the library or the intense eye-contact between two characters bumping into each other in the corridor. They feel heart-warming because they play on the aspect of ‘fate’ that gets two individuals together for the first time, resulting in a bond. 

With COVID-19, this fantasy surrounding ‘fate’ is crushed, as the only meet-cutes that are acceptable are ‘accidentally’ sliding into someone’s zoom chat. While dating apps were considered the last resort to finding a relationship since they defied the idea of ‘fate’, they have now showcased a massive increase in users during lockdown with individuals hoping to find their potential someone. In fact, these apps were one of the crucial means through which individuals were able to meet new people, in order to deal with the increased loneliness caused by physical isolation.

2. What is even ‘casual’ anymore?

Dating apps were treated as the last resort to find ‘love’ also because they were stereotyped to form superficial connections based on physical attributes hence, those who enrolled on such apps were viewed as aiming to be a part of the ‘hookup culture’. In contradiction to this, a study conducted in Switzerland found that those who swiped right were actually more likely to settle down in stable relationships than those who met by chance. 

Hookup culture implies engaging in casual sex, one-night stands that do not require one to be bound by emotional intimacy and commitment. However, thriving on physical attraction, and many still choosing to avoid meeting, what does it mean to be ‘casual’ in times of lockdown with the fear of catching an infection? 

3. The ‘jaana’ before the ‘dekha

With hookups out of the way, dating apps have now attracted a wider audience that wished for something ‘serious’ bound by commitment. However, if one is aware of the inability to physically meet the individual, why enrol on such apps in the first place?

While the ‘health benefits’ of flirting are a given, it is observed that ‘the physical’ is now kept aside with phrases like “when the pandemic is over” and individuals are strengthening their emotional connections, becoming more vulnerable than usual. With texting being the main source of communication, hiding behind our phones allows us to be more vulnerable easily, especially during times of distress and uncertainty. 

In addition to this, the fear of rejection also seems to have reduced when it comes to ‘shooting your shot’. While making the first move is equally terrifying, since there is pressure to be interesting enough for the individual to reply, public embarrassment of assuming one’s sexuality and availability can be avoided on such apps. We now have the upper hand since a match indicates that there exists a certain level of attraction between the two individuals and establishes compatibility. 

Finally, texting was usually treated as a stepping stone to actually going out on a date with an individual. However, with no such goal visible due to current circumstances, phone calls and Zoom Dates have become the norm, where the ‘physical’ seems to have taken a back seat. 

In contrast to this, pre-COVID, the butterflies for the physical attraction were a prerequisite for strong emotional bonds, and ‘tumhe jo maine dekha’ was before the ‘tumhe toh maine jaana’. Has physical attraction and proximity receded in importance when it comes to relationships? 

4. One-night stands—but make them emotional

Speaking of emotional connections, an interesting concept while not formally addressed was brought to light in conversation with various dating app users from the college-going age group, which is termed as ‘emotional one-night stands’. Here, individuals have begun to match with people only to share their share of struggles and deep insecurities for the night and un-match with them the next morning.

No doubt the pandemic has been a source of immense distress and anxiety, and this is just one of the mechanisms people have adapted to in order to cope since it is often said to be easier to talk to strangers than to peers and family. 

5. The Zoom Date

Previously, the notion of going out on a date didn’t just involve eating out in a restaurant, there were other underlying routines behind it that made it an encompassing experience. You would start with actually having a date, planning logistics, informing friends, deciding outfits and constructing white lies for parents. It’s about being nervous to see them for the first time, awkward pauses, reading their body language, judging and responding to it and just praying you don’t have spinach stuck in your teeth. An important means to reduce nervousness has always been discovering points of commonality, and eating together and sharing the same food that creates a common experience unique to the two individuals, thereby allowing for a starting point in the conversation. Now, the point of commonality has shifted to the pandemic, a common experience for all, with its varying repercussions for many. 

While dating apps have adapted to the technologically dependent world with video calls, does the Zoom date capture the whole experience? 

In conclusion, while the ambiguity of dating cannot be replicated online, it has produced certain new experiences that are different from before, allowing people to be more vulnerable with the other person and going at a slower pace. Exchanging your phone numbers and informing the other that you are “deleting the app” is now the new form of showcasing commitment. 

P.S, you can now always blame your internet connection in case you end up with a bad date. 

 Harshita Bedi is a student at Ashoka University pursuing her Psychology major. In her free time, you would find Harshita catching up on her sleep.


Picture Credits: Verywell / Alison Czinkota


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Issue 9

Encounters with the Black Cloud

The black cloud never fails to rain on my parade. Shrouding and guiding my hesitant, shaky hands and beating chest, it starts to sink deep.  Slowly sinking in, it taunts, “Are you sure you are not making a fool of yourself again?” Usually, it would work to dispel the cloud with some faltering rationale, but the boxes on the screen appear too jarring. I convince myself that everyone is just mocking how inarticulate my stutters are, how wonky my nose is, and how I do not deserve to be here in this call, at all. 

Pressing the tempting red button and exiting the call, I run leaps and bounds inside my head – rehearsing and flagellating what I could have – no, should have said. I could have worded it differently, perhaps used a different inflexion, or maybe just not tried talking at all. I can practically imagine disappointed faces showing up in my brain over and over again. The cloud grows bigger and laughs at the ruminating spiral that encompasses me. Faltering words and a growing pulse, it derives pleasure from my fear of embarrassment.

I take a few breaths to focus on something around me, and my mind starts to gravitate towards the question, “How did I end up here?” 

Everything felt fairly regular before the pandemic – the hesitance and rumination persisted, but they were not persistently spiral. I used to fuss over and stutter about my words, but those around me seemed to give nods of comprehension. Compassion made me fairly more relaxed about self-expression. Quickened heartbeats found ways to soothe themselves, ways to cope, without looming black clouds. Even when I worried about tone, pitch, words, and most of all, embarrassment, the thoughts stuck but got easily replaced. Perhaps it was the pace at which I was dealing with life. 

This pace came to a halt when they announced the lockdown. Initially, it felt like a huge relief for a person like me who was avoidant of social interaction. Having to not interact with others and feel the every-day pangs of overthinking that came with this interaction felt freeing. However, shifting to online modes of communication – some that I thought I could handle due to the possibility of engineering replies and responses carefully, actually became a cause for more concern. 

Text messaging fails to convey tone, and so, an “ok” seems scarier than an “okay”, and a full-stop feels like you are on a battlefield, being attacked by passive-aggressive weapons. I would spend hours agonizing over whether my friends actually did feel upset with me or that I was worrying once again. Extremely concerned, I would shoot them a, “Hey, are you upset with me?” daily, and then progressively feel more worried whether asking them over and over again annoyed them further.  It felt like I was stuck in a loop. Worry about friends being annoyed, then try to message them, worry about annoying friends with messages to ask them if they were annoyed, and restlessly repeat!

The slumber that the world was in also projects this idea that you must be ever-available to reply every second throughout the day. This expectation often makes conversations more pressure-filled. It becomes energy-reducing to reply and guilt-inducing to not. Even having conversations with people on video calls was hard. Where there existed tone, there existed near to no non-verbal cues that could signal to me whether or not what I said made any sense. Zoom made me feel more seen than I wanted to, hyper-aware of what I looked like on-screen, and ever on guard to not end up doing anything embarrassing. In a lecture filled with a hundred people or so, it felt daunting to even speak up in class. I could picture professors thinking about how incompetent I was in my scrambled answers. The few times I did, the black cloud refused to leave me alone, insisting that I continued to embody embarrassment. Everything slowly became more and more draining, furthering alienation. 

In such a  circumstance, I wonder, am I the only one? It certainly does seem so when everyone else is seemingly coping fine. The promise of the world opening up again feels even more daunting now. Nagging me, yet again, the cloud says, “Haven’t you forgotten how to interact socially altogether? If everything opens up, you’ll just embarrass yourself further.” 

The fear of going back into the world again, with my frazzled and anxious self feels very real. I wonder if being in the middle of a classroom with a hundred distracted kids would help me realize that no one is focusing on me, or if it would get too overwhelming to feel eyes on me. One is already scary, over-complicating what physical conversation takes for granted, but the other holds within its grasp the overwhelming nature of unpredictability and in-person embarrassment. 

Oh, decisions, decisions.

Deeksha Puri is a first-year prospective psychology major at Ashoka University.

Picture Credits: Artwork on “Depression” by Ajgiel

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 9

Under the Precipice Rolls the Sea

A writer tries to write. The wind rages and waves ring out. ‘Under the Precipice Rolls the Sea’ is my first foray into filmmaking, and it was a long winding path that brought me here.

This short was my film school, made with the help of the internet, and a lot of helpful people on the internet— all of whom are really a saving grace when shooting as a two person crew! I had pretty much never touched a camera before, and ended up working with a lot of makeshift equipment I put together at home. Shuttling between work and endless articles, swallowing some Chaucer and Putnam and squeezing in the twentieth video on exposure and lighting: it’s a project during which I’ve learnt a lot about what I can do, and what I can’t (and when it’s okay to ask for help).

At times it can get daunting, especially when you’re walking the tightrope with one too many hats on and everything around seems ready to crumble at the slightest threat of a wind. ‘Under the Precipice’ came about as a project I started fleshing out for an anthology called “Refractions”. It was put together by a couple of us who met on online film communities and decided to create something in the midst of the pandemic when everything was a stagnating mess. In part, a commitment to this was what kept me going through all the little and big problems, not least of which were sudden re-impositions of the lockdown in my city and covid scares which brought production to a halt more times than my sanity could handle.

When you’re working with a zero budget project, you have to rely on a lot of things outside of your control to capture a frame that tells the story you want it to tell, how you want it to. It’s certainly challenging, but rather than being constraints, they draw the line for what options you have at your disposal and narrow down the things you have to focus on. Having a simple plot without dialogue or a moving camera was logistically helpful but it also enabled me to come up with something that was minimal but made narrative sense. The silences and still frames became a means to organically channel the feeling of isolation. It’s a style of working that has suited me well as I’m trying to chart out my future projects taking one strand of a narrative and tracing its meandering ways to weave together something of my own.  

It’s funny because film was, you could say, the last medium of art I got acquainted with. Of course, I grew up watching all the Khans and Kapoors and the 2010 Christopher Nolan film Inception— but I engaged with whatever I consumed merely as a manner of routine, like dropping by the grocery store on the weekend to buy a packet of soup. Going to the theatre mostly meant getting to eat the very best cheap cheese popcorn (in the days when there was no INOX, that is), or celebrating the end of a round of exams. These multitudes of odysseys and dramas were all just there, something dispensable and detachable. The world of films was distant, populated with stars whose names I never could remember, woods with roots reaching out to our towns, shooting up like hot springs in sparse screens. I didn’t feel any significant connection to anything I watched—until my high school years where I encountered new kinds of films which opened up a way of experience I hadn’t quite known before. Thinking through them, talking about them, I have been centered and sent whirling in a hundred different directions, till my head spins with the sights I’ve seen and I regurgitate a ten thousand frames to catch the light.

I have always liked working with my hands, but growing up came at the cost of time and there’s  less space for picking something up and making it your own. The dancing, the singing, the painting, it all stops as math and science tutoring stand sentinel upon the hours of day…and suddenly you’re too old to pick it up again. But I read by night, gorging upon every word till I could wield their power enough to write. And it was writing that ultimately brought me closer to film, bringing it down to the earth so I could move about in these worlds and theorize existence through them, warming up to newer, more expansive forms. As an impressionable teenager, after I watched my first Bergman, I didn’t know how to breathe, wobbly-legged thoughts swum around and collapsed in my head— I now have three pieces on that film.

A still from the film

It was a step closer but there’s more to go. Beyond the glitter of Bollywood and the sterility of Hollywood, the likes of Chantal Akerman and Cecilia Condit opened up for me what a woman could do with a camera, how static frames could twist one’s heart and digital media could morph into something beautiful, something horrifying and something palpable. They grounded filmmaking for me. For the longest time I’d thought that filmmakers could only be those who grow up with a camera, as I did with books, or those who could spare a small fortune to go to film school. The experimental, the avant garde, whatever you call it, laid out a path from fathoming to creating, finding the ability to show another what I see.

The world of big budget productions is alienating, one of constant power tussles and clashing egos. The kindness of others (most of them strangers) helped realize my vision, not the vain chasing down of copyright licenses from companies for whom we fall through the cracks down the bylanes of institutional apathy. In the meantime, while everyone’s busy arguing over whether Marvel is “cinema” and coming up with new ways of gatekeeping accessibility to art, I hope independent creators can find a place to thrive and create expansively.  

When she is not busy crocheting to radio broadcasts from the quaint little town of Night Vale, Tanisha A is writing about films and playing the local recluse.

Picture Credits: Poster of the film designed by artist Ameya Menon

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Issue 9

On Building A Virtual Therapeutic Relationship

Students training to be therapists often wonder how to translate psychotherapy training from one cultural context to another. I find there are two key elements that help a therapist with this process. First, creating a framework for the work of psychotherapy, or in other words, establishing the boundaries and expectations of therapeutic work. Second, developing a relationship with the client. 

These two elements also helped me when I first began working with clients online almost three years ago. My decision to see clients in therapy online was guided by two reasons. One, I was able to offer therapeutic services to those living in parts of India without access to psychotherapy. Two, online work allowed me to continue to work with clients who were likely to face challenges in connecting with another therapist while I was in the process of moving cities. Of course, with the advent of the pandemic, many (if not all) therapists in India have found themselves working across a screen. My colleagues and I conducted a recent survey on a nationwide sample of therapists in India and found that most therapists reported transitioning to video sessions as a result of the pandemic. Well, in the web of all the relationships the world is now negotiating online, where does the psychotherapy relationship fit in? 

It is often more clear to see what we lose through online relationships. There is data to support the presence of zoom fatigue, lack of motivation, challenges in terms of negotiating space during the lockdown, and the difficulty faced by women, especially mothers, in managing family and work-related online spaces. The field of therapy is not free of these issues. Still, one has to acknowledge that online therapeutic work seems here to stay. It offers an important way to tackle the barriers faced by many in India to access mental health care. In efforts to determine how to make online therapy effective, I believe therapists need to consider what they are able to discern through these online experiences. 

Psychotherapy has always been about entering the client’s world. In the traditional face-to-face model, the therapist utilizes the presence of the client in their room to learn about the client’s life. Through online work, the therapist quite literally enters the client’s world and joins the client in a space that is often the very source of their distress. Creating a framework for therapy now includes helping the client virtually enter and exit the therapeutic space, without the physical presence of a therapist’s room. This endeavour becomes a clinically meaningful goal in itself, and it also offers ways for the therapist to understand the client more deeply. In my online work, I have worked with clients who meet with me from the same corner of their homes week after week, highlighting their ability to carve out a consistent safe space even in the midst of chaos. I have others who move from one form of data to the other, one device to the next, and room to room, communicating perhaps the motivation, difficulty and despair to establish a connection with another. What I have learned through these experiences is the need to tend to these issues as meaningful information about clients, and use this to work with the client on creating the boundaries and expectations of our therapeutic work online. 

In psychotherapy literature, the relationship formed between the therapist and client is recognized to be paramount in contributing to favourable therapeutic outcomes. Different forms and models of therapy emphasize different aspects of the therapeutic relationship. I have especially been drawn to the real relationship, one such element of the therapeutic relationship, in my online work with clients. The real relationship captures the extent to which the therapist and client are genuine with each other and are able to perceive each other for who they really are. It makes sense to consider the ways in which one’s authenticity is bound to emerge during the pandemic, not just through online work, but also through the conditions of lockdown. Not only does the therapist see the client in their living environment, the client too gets to engage with the therapist in theirs! At some points during my sessions through the lockdown, my clients have heard my rambunctious toddler on the other side of my study door (despite my best efforts to schedule sessions during nap time). During a session with a young mother, the moment of hearing my toddler laugh was marked by a shared smile and understanding of our identities as mothers, undoubtedly strengthening the real relationship between us. 

However, another client expressed feeling angry as she heard my toddler laugh. She wondered if I could even understand her reports on the struggles she was facing with her children. These reactions too become significant aspects of therapeutic work, often highlighting the client’s patterns and conflicts in close relationships. In this case, the client’s reaction to me was similar to how she was feeling towards others in her life, misunderstood and angry. In psychotherapy literature, these reactions are termed transference and are believed to be an unconscious carryover of how one experiences others onto their relationship with the therapist. I have appreciated the way online work allows therapists to tend to these interpersonal patterns. For example, a therapist might consider if the client feels comfortable with online work because it gives the client the emotional and physical distance they are used to in their other relationships. In another situation, a client’s frustration with connecting with the therapist via video might also be mirrored in their sense of wanting more in relationships outside of therapy. 

Online therapeutic work is challenging and most would agree it does not replace an in-person therapeutic encounter. In my opinion, the more relevant question is not one that pits in-person and online therapy against each other, but rather the one that addresses how we can use online therapy effectively. A step in this direction seems to entail recognizing the privilege of being able to learn more about, and show more to, our clients as therapists. My experiences with online work have made me value the opportunities one has as a therapist to continue to work and connect with others, through these changing and challenging times in the world. 

Avantika Bhatia is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Ashoka University. Her research focuses on the process and outcome of psychotherapy. She is also drawn to the study of mental health concerns in college students and mothers, and women’s career development in India. As a therapist, she follows a psychodynamic approach and works with college student concerns, trauma, maternal mental health and interpersonal concerns. 

Picture Credits: Paige Stampatori for The Washington Post

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).