Look beyond the lockdown blues
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“We’re all capable of living in a forced or unforced confinement and we realise our steely resolve and the inner strength only when we come out of a confinement, look back and wonder how we lived and survived to welcome a new dawn”, says Idris Elba in the movie, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)

Emerging out of the virtual house-arrest for more than a brace of months is a boon and bane in an equal manner. Boon in the sense that we all can heave a sigh of relief after getting confined to four walls for so long and bane from the perspective of losing one’s marbles after getting forced to keep looking at four walls and the ceiling and counting the blades of the fan umpteenth times!

Jokes aside, a forced confinement often disturbs the mental equilibrium of a person. That’s the reason, Human Rights Commission and judiciaries across the globe don’t approve of a solitary confinement because it debilitates the mental health of an individual or a convict. Unless one’s the great Dr Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in a prison at Robben Island, chances are that a lockdown, house arrest or forced confinement may render people temporarily destabilized and the after effects or ripple effects linger on till the cows come home.

Now the question is, how to tide over this confinement syndrome. Without getting into rigmarole of psychological glossary, it’s interesting to observe how some greats, mortals and lesser mortals overcame the virtual jailed existence in their lives.

Who hasn’t heard of the great raconteur and short-story specialist O’ Henry? The writer of the stories like The Last Leaf and The Gift of the Maggi was a veritable gaol-bird. The man had a criminal record! Yes, the great writer was jailed for a number of times (nine, to be precise!) for petty crimes and thefts. Initially, he would do nothing in the prison and after some days, out of sheer frustration, he would hurl choicest abuses at the jailor and cops! Not a very abnormal behaviour as most of us emulated him on this count in the recent lock-down by abusing and getting abused!

O. Henry, American short story writer
O. Henry, American short story writer
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One day, an experienced jailer advised O’ Henry that instead of cursing cops and jailer and banging his head against the wall of the prison, why doesn’t he try to write something worthwhile because that jailer got an inkling of O’ Henry’s command of language and his ability to weave faux stories! That worked. O’ Henry started scribbling in a diary given to him by that considerate jailer and as they say, the rest is history.

Agreed, most of us can’t be like him, but writing or even scribbling has been found to have a tranquil effect on one’s frayed nerves esp. when one’s confined to four walls. And this must continue even after the confinement.

The notorious Charles Shobhraj spent his time in various jails all over the world and has been so frequent a prisoner that Interpol gave him a rather complimentary sobriquet of a ‘Prison-tourist’! This prison-tourist never lost his mental equanimity because he kept planning it out how he would dupe his next customer once he came out of the stockade!

One needn’t be a Charles Shobhraj to plan out how to hoodwink a gullible soul after coming out of a prison or a confinement. The point is: Retention of sanity and a hopeful approach to life and future.

Charles Shobhraj, serial killer
Charles Shobhraj, serial killer
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Just the way in Birbal ki khichdi, the poor farmer kept himself alive submerged in the icy waters of river Yamuna by looking at a lamp far away, one can hope of a better future ahead because there’s nothing so bad that there’s not some good in it. Believe that the post lock-down period will prove to be far better than the pre lock-down days!

Manu Sharma, the just released ‘reformed’ killer of Jessica Lal murder case, came out of the jail with sanity intact and looking cheerful. When a journalist asked him, whether he felt bitter languishing in the clink, Sharma said, the hope of a better tomorrow under the blue sky gave him an impetus to live.

Yes. This is an incentive to live meaningfully when one’s hopeful of a better tomorrow lurking somewhere close. Moreover, once the human mind gets used to a particular state, even though that may be undesirable, a sense of acceptance (mind you, not resignation) descends.

It’s like, ‘Pessimism, when you get used to it, is just as agreeable as optimism.’ Or in the words of Urdu poet Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, ‘Ranj ke khoogar hua insaan toh ghat jaata hai ranj/ Mushkilein itni padeen mujhpe ke aasaan ho gayeen’ (Once inured to pains and sufferings, the intensity gets mitigated/I faced so many troubles that they don’t look menacing any longer). Only with this attitude and approach, we can all bid adieu to the blues of post-confinement.

To add an aside, literary world’s finest creations emerged only after long spells of confinement. Readers may be aware that the Great Britain, a country of poets, playwrights and philosophers, produced three great masterpieces in its frequent and interminable lockdowns during the time of Bubonic plague.

John Dryden, English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright
John Dryden, English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright
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William Shakespeare’s Hamlet came after one such ‘excruciating’ confinement. John Dryden’s Annus Mirabilis was written in 1667 when Bubonic plague forced people to stay indoors. Dryden wrote this magnificent poem the moment he stirred out of his house after a confinement of 73 days and English philosopher John Locke gave the metaphysical concept of Tabula Rasa to the world of philosophy. In fact, Latin term Tabula Rasa (clean slate in English) describes the decluttered mind following a period of rigorous introspection under a forced house-arrest!

Lastly, to quote Robert Frost: Once you get out of the prison/And look back at your incarcerated self/That the most lonesome battle you've won/Despite having power and pelf.

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