After getting off the call with a college friend who I abruptly had to part with, I looked up from my phone to find the dulled walls staring at me for days on end now. The lockdown in lieu of the pandemic COVID-19 had confined most lives within the four walls of a house.
The hostels were being vacated for quarantining people; our hangout spots were now sites of danger and spread. All of us were made to rush back to our hometowns in the middle of our last semester. My daily routine of attending college with my friends and living a normal college life had turned topsy turvy and the question of hippie travels with my pals was thrown completely out of the window. A feeling of danger and uncertainty had started brewing in the air which the iffy face masks could not stop from seeping into my lungs.
Most of my college time was spent with a loose flock of friends looking out for each other since day one. “Stay in touch, and keep calling,” was all that we could pass to each other standing at a distance without advancing for the last goodbye hug.
COVID-19 had certainly booked a seat for what can be called as one of the hardest times of this era. Sociologists claim that when times get harder humans try harder to protect each other. I was gripped with the desire of keeping my closed ones close but from a distance. To protect my bonds of friendship from a distance turned out to be one of the most valuable lessons of my life. The only and best gear I possessed for this mission was my mobile phone.
I had been skeptical of maintaining friendships digitally. Strict about my screen time, extended phone calls were devoted to friends in another state or country and relentless texting was not much of an option. With people I had the chance to see face to face, I always did because of the comfort these interactions brought.
Once you move to college you accept the reality that you and your childhood friends will meet once a year. You understand the limited options to stay in touch. Friends you see for breakfast every day, whom you call only to ask about where to meet. Suddenly fitting these friends behind a screen did seem unusual to think of. But as unusual as it was, speaking with them offered a sense of the warmth of normalcy and familiarity.
If COVID-19 was forcing me to change the way I interact with the world around me then, it was time to probably adopt methods that will prove more efficient here. I started checking my phone more than I sanitized my hands. And I sanitize my hands a lot. I began conversing via texts and became available online. My phone had started buzzing a lot more than earlier. The risk of sounding desperate would have caught my mind if my friends hadn’t been reciprocating so actively. I realized that COVID-19 apart from locking us down in our houses had made the yearning for warmth and human connectedness more visible than ever. Another problem in the way was how do you move things forward with your friends when the rest of the world has come to standstill.
I borrowed some long-distance relationship hacks and put them to use here. Video calls with my friends became more frequent. Houseparty and Google Meet replaced Chai addas and cafes. The key here was to not sound like a list of updates. Recalling a good or funny memory of someone on an extended video call had become a new ritual. But watching a sniff or a cough from someone on the call left me worried. I guess the hysteria spread and affected faster than the virus.
Recommendation and acceptance of each other’s taste of art and entertainment are finding more room. Netflix Party had turned into a theatre without boundaries. To my surprise, instead of rummaging through my brain to find topics, I found myself branching out further than our shared common interest. I credit it to the abundance of time or the yearning to connect more, that nudged me and perhaps them too, to draw attention to each other’s unique interest and talk more about the kathak workshop I never finished.
Even though facetime doesn’t come close to a face to face conversation, it still suffices. The firmness of handshake and affection of a hug is difficult to come through via a GIF But I don’t want to face the dual crisis of battling a pandemic as well losing touch with those who have been a family away from family.
Staying inside my home would feel like solitary confinement without my phone and the faces that moonlight on its screen. Gradually I am embracing my increased screen time and holding the beads of friendship together through wires of telecom. Psychologists have described a phenomenon called a cognitive closure as the need to feel a sense of security, like a strong desire to see the light at the end of the tunnel during hard times. To see the light keeps us hopeful of what’s to come. It gives us a chance to steer a part of the problem in a positive direction. I think I have found mine. With efforts, a friendship can stand any test of time and distance. The lockdown taught me to put effort into cherishing friendship against the circumstances.
About the Author:
Ayushi Mishra: She is a final year bachelor’s student at Manipal University and will soon begin her two-year fellowship with Teach for India. She has briefly worked with News Laundry earlier and conceptualized and organized a massive fundraiser for a tribal school that helped the school survive.