Unfamiliar territory: Navigating the lockdown

Cilla Khatry

Cilla Khatry

Unfamiliar territory: Navigating the lockdown

There is comfort in the familiar. For many people, especially older men, routines instill a sense of discipline and purpose. The lockdown has thrown all of that out of whack

It’s 5 am. After a steaming cup of ginger-infused tea (made by his wife only on his lucky days), he will leave home. He will have a small cup of milk tea at the Patan Durbar Square chowk, chatting with other early risers whose mornings, like his, are incomplete without a walk, and then pick up some fresh greens on his way back. It’s been a ritual for as long as he can remember.

Only now, he will have to settle for a quick stroll around the neighborhood. The mask fogs his glasses and makes it hard for him to see. He doesn’t meet anyone and there aren’t any local vendors selling vegetables in the area. The medical doctor in his late 60s says it’s a huge deviation from his earlier relaxing routine. It’s annoying. It’s upsetting. And it doesn’t set the right mood for the day.

Many people ApEx spoke to confessed feeling ill at ease as their daily routines have been thrown out of whack. They know it’s necessary to stay at home. But being thus confined brings about a sense of helplessness, one that’s difficult to shake off.

“I miss my daily vegetable run,” says Lok Raj Pant, 63, who has always woken up at the break of dawn and gone on a walk. Like the doctor, he too enjoyed buying vegetables during his daily morning excursions. It might seem like a small thing, he says, but its implication on his life was immense. It gave him a sense of purpose and kept him disciplined. A good life is, after all, the cumulative effect of little things, he adds.

Lok Raj pant
Lok Raj Pant
For those like Pant who have led active lives since their 20s, to suddenly find themselves without much to do has been a difficult terrain to navigate. Pant was involved in the hotel industry for nearly 40 years before he retired to work on his own projects. He was doing what he loved and living the life he wanted till the pandemic forced him to readjust. And he doesn’t like it, not one bit.

“I miss my routine and my social life. I feel trapped. It’s discomfiting,” says Pant.

Madhab Lal Maharjan, 70, owner of Mandala Book Point in Kantipath, Kathmandu, says it’s been a hard time for all but more so for people his age. They have had a certain lifestyle for so long that readjusting to the ‘new normal’ hasn’t been easy. But Maharjan believes in looking at the brighter side of things. He is grateful that his family is safe and that he gets to spend lockdown in the company of his grandchildren, who he never got to see as much before.

Technology, he believes, has made it easier to cope. If the pandemic had struck say 30 years ago when there were no cellphones it would have been almost impossible to stay sane. Just the fact that he can talk to his loved ones and even see their faces whenever he feels like it has made it possible to stay upbeat.

Maharjan’s daily routine included meeting a lot of different people, from various fields—mostly those who used to regularly gather at his bookstore in the evenings. They have, over time, become his friends. He misses not being able to talk face-to-face about current issues, books, and life in general. But they still keep in touch with regular phone calls and zoom sessions and that, Maharjan finds, calms his nerves and fills him with hope.

“Cribbing and complaining about what could have been will only make things worse. The focus should be on keeping yourself occupied and trying to enjoy your time at home,” he says.

 That is exactly what Jayendra Rimal, chief operating officer, Leadership Academy Nepal and adjunct faculty for management, has been doing. The pandemic has brought about a drastic change in his lifestyle. He has had to forgo his morning walks and table tennis sessions. The shift to online teaching has also been a bit jarring. Rimal, who is nearing 60, prefers interacting with his students in an actual classroom.

Jayendra Rimal
Jayendra Rimal
“There’s a lot you can tell about your students from their expressions and body language. You know when they are bored and it’s time to crack a joke. This kind of laidback approach to teaching isn’t possible when you are conducting online classes and I really miss that,” he says.

It’s very easy to get caught in the trap of wishing for things you don’t have at the moment, he says. He says boredom, loneliness, and confinement have also brought about a cognitive deficit of sorts. To keep his morale up in these scary times, he has been reading more than ever before, listening to podcasts, and meditating. Also, the weekly online-guided meditation program he takes part in helps bring clarity and peace of mind.

Pant argues that for those who don’t read or have specific things to do, it can be a little tricky to pass time and that can often lead to a tense environment at home. Pant tries to read and his daughter is always recommending books. He takes long naps. But he finds that just messes up his sleep cycle.

Pratima Tamrakar, psychotherapist, advises picking up a hobby and being involved in chores. The problem in our society, she says, especially where the older generation is concerned, is that men have never helped out at home. Chores are considered a woman’s job. It’s time to change that and involve men in housework, she says.  

She suggests having one proper meal together as a family to instill a semblance of normalcy in life. In many families, she says, people are eating alone, at their own preferred timings and that is creating a distance among them. This is further fueling a sense of unease on a subconscious level.

Rimal agrees that the need of the hour is to respect one another’s sense of space while also being able to come together as a family. It also helps if you realize and accept that life will invariably bring a lot of surprises and not all of them will be pleasant.

Pant says the shift from normal routine is just something all of us have to deal with, one way or the other—if not for ourselves then for the sake of our loved ones. The sooner we make peace with it the better, he says. And, as Maharjan puts it, whining isn’t going to change a thing so you might as well make the most of it.