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Lockdown Throws Open Doors to Hobbies, Skills

Manu Shrivastava | Mumbai

In a cosy two-bedroom apartment of a plush South Mumbai housing society, 19-year-old travel writer Monika Shetty is nervously pacing the breadth of her sea-facing balcony. The restlessness clearly visible on her face as she purses her lips and looks around fidgetingly. As she struts about, breaking the still air of a muggy summer afternoon in Mumbai, Maggie, her six-month old indie pup takes a quick nap, tired of counting the oscillations. Monika knew she had to put her mind to “some use”, even if it meant “listening to her mother’s advice and digging out her grandmother’s traditional knitting kit.”

The anxiety that came with sitting idle at home during the lockdown has been ‘nothing short of a pandemic’ as an increasing number of individuals complained of panic attacks and insomnia during the period. The trend was particularly common in individuals staying alone, away from their families.

Turning a hobby into a vocation

“Picking up a hobby, even if it’s not so fashionable seemed like the best way out to keep my sanity intact. So, I just took the leap,” confesses Monika who had hated knitting since childhood being “an outdoor girl…always”. With her parents stranded in Dubai, even the comfort of her home and the company of a dog could not help her endure the restrictions that came with the lockdown and she gave in to her mother’s advice within a week.

“It had become almost impossible for me to stay indoors, even for a day. The uncertainty over when I’d be able to step out of the house, run on the beach or take Maggie out for a walk without fear or paranoia was getting to me. Surprisingly, knitting kept me calm and preoccupied. I must confess, I found myself being pretty good at it.

“I am also diversifying from what grandma would knit into items of utility. Who knows, maybe I will start selling them through an online store too,” says Monika about her newly-found talent.

India’s fight to battle the deadly COVID-19 outbreak doesn’t look like slowing down anytime in the near future. Despite multiple video conferences and cabinet meetings between and within states, the debate and confusion over ‘restarting’ the economic machinery in the country remains in limbo. People are craving for the simplest of things - a cup of coffee in one’s favourite cafeteria, a stroll in the park, a long drive, a late night out with friends.

The lockdown, two-months old and going strong, has tweaked the ‘normal’ for millions of Indians. Cornered and quarantined, people have taken to new hobbies and skills to stay occupied, re-invent themselves, build their skillset even distract themselves from the associated stress.

Never too late to learn 

With abundant free time at hand, in the absence of a legitimate reason to step out of the house or the hassle of a stressful commute, the self-isolation period has emboldened people to take up activities and hobbies they thought they could never embark upon.

Learning new languages, exploring culinary skills, setting fitness goals, getting hands dirty in kitchen gardening, learning new crafts, exploring photography, blogging, learning to do make-up and hair-styling, participating in online dance classes, delving into the spiritual zone through yoga and meditation, etc., and more were now within reach. Some even discovered a knack for things they didn’t even know they possessed.

Gurugram-based freelance motorcycle trainer Suparna Sarkar was at her in-laws’ place in Lucknow, when the lockdown was announced. During the lockdown, she decided to fine-tune her cooking skills “under expert supervision”.

Suparna Sarkar works on her culinary skills
“I have never really cooked a proper meal because of paucity of time owing to my professional commitments. I didn’t know to cook many dishes.” Now, with all the time at hand, Suparna has been learning to cook “exotic dishes including chole bhature, pav bhaji, even desserts such as gulab jamun, etc., from her mother-in-law.” She maintains, “The lockdown has been a boon in disguise as it has introduced me to exemplary cooking.”

Building professional skillset 

An increasing number of people are also using this time to enhance their professional, academic, and soft skills by registering for online courses and programmes. According to Coursera’s Chief Product Officer Shravan Goli, the world-wide online learning platform has witnessed an “eight-fold increase in enrolments for social science, personal development, humanities and arts courses since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.” Additionally, millions of users the world over are signing up for free and paid courses in an area of interest.

Hyderabad-based physics teacher Savitha M was always interested in tribal cultures. “Because of family pressure, I had to opt for science in high school and then settle for a career in the same field. Now, finally, I am getting a chance and time to pursue my hidden desire to learn and understand anthropology,” exclaims Savitha after registering for month-long free courses offered by online educational platforms.

Like Savitha, millions of students are enrolling for online courses, webinars and seminars to create appendage profiles that will improve their career prospects. “This is just the perfect time to polish my CV as it’s really difficult to make time for other courses during an academic session,” says Mumbai-based law student Alpa Raut who is undertaking an international human rights course online. “I wish to work for an international organisation such as the UNDP or UNHCR and these courses along with my degree in law will really strengthen my profile.”

Discovering hidden talents

Meanwhile, in Dehradun, a town nestled in the foothills of the Shivalik Range, GST Officer Mamta Rana has discovered a new side to her personality. At work, Mamta never got a chance to explore her ‘creative’ side as she dealt with numbers and statistics all her life. In her case, it was almost like peer pressure that led her to discover her hidden talent.

Mamta Rana starting doodling for the first time during the lockdown
“Sitting idle, I was obsessively surfing Instagram and saw a lot of people took to sketching, doodling, and painting during the lockdown. I thought, let me also try something.” And, that’s how Mamta started doodling even surprised herself with the result.

“I never thought I had the artistic gene in me. I am enjoying it so much that I have been doodling every day without fail,” she says with joy as she poses with her new-found tools: colour pencils, pigment pen and a sketchbook.

Most people undertaking new hobbies have been making ample use of the internet, particularly YouTube that has come in handy through the millions of ‘Do It Yourself’ or ‘DIY’ video tutorials explaining the most interesting and creative things you can do ‘on your own’. “If there is something you can think of doing, there will be a video of it on YouTube already,” says Kolkata-based school teacher Yogita Deb. “I wanted my three-year-old daughter to develop an interest in building blocks or something more productive to prevent her from using the mobile the whole day. I found a million ways to engage toddlers on the internet,” says Yogita as she gleams with pride. “It’s unfortunate that children are confined indoors and as a parent my new hobby during the lockdown is to scout for engaging and healthy indoor activities for children.”

Exploring the spiritual self

The demand for online classes has also increased during the lockdown. Flavia Cardozo, a bank executive, had been attending yoga classes for the past two years. “I would rush home from work, grab a bite, slog through traffic to reach class before rushing back home to cook and eat dinner and prepare for the next day at work. It was really taxing. The purpose of the entire exercise was defeated. I would be so stressed and tired by the end of it.”

Flavia Cardozo practising meditation at home through online classes
When the lockdown was imposed, Flavia switched to online classes for yoga and meditation and “couldn’t be happier as the results of two months of doing yoga at home completely offset the previous experience.” She explains, “With online classes, I don’t have to worry about the traffic or parking. I can peacefully practise yoga and meditation in the comfort of my house, without any disturbance or distractions…I can be with myself completely and enjoy the experience to the fullest. Even after the lockdown, I will continue yoga through online classes.”

The film fraternity couldn’t be far behind. With the productions on halt, sets being pulled down, members of the industry are evolving with the situation too. Fans have all the time in the world, literally, to ‘follow’ their favourite star. The challenge rests on the celebrities to keep their fans engaged with little or nothing to do during the lockdown.

So, Bhumi Pednekar has found love in soil-less gardening or hydroponic farming. Taking lessons from her mother, the actor has even built a small garden growing her own vegetables. Juhi Chawla is also utilising the quarantine time to do kitchen gardening growing coriander, tomatoes for the first time. Twinkle Khanna, on the other hand, is going green by “planting love for gardening in the hearts of her children” as she harvests Ceylon Palak (spinach) in her garden. Deepika Padukone is exploring her musical talent by learning to play the piano even as Katrina Kaif practises strumming a guitar. A few, like Richa Chadha, are ‘investing’ in a ‘professional’ hobby. She has taken to writing and is in the process of completing her first script, a comedy.

The lockdown has driven people to reintroduce old hobbies to the newer self or acquire new ones. It’s no secret that spending time productively with oneself, in isolation, is not only a privilege but an essential for good living. It effuses positivity and optimism in life and keeps the insidious by-product of modern living at bay. Who would have imagined humans needed a deadly viral pandemic to learn the simplest life lesson!

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