Reaching Out – A Viewpoint By Shyamola Khanna

I believe that the pandemic made me a better person.

I was very agitated last year when friends stopped calling and texting me. These were people with whom I  had spent most of my social life- we went to clubs, had meals together, travelled on holidays together.

We were all without our kids, most of them being out of the country or in another city. My husband passed away  10 years ago, so yes I was, comparatively speaking, more emotionally dependant on my friends. We looked after each other when either was not well. We celebrated wedding anniversaries and birthdays. We were meeting very often and we enjoyed ourselves.

Then two of the couples decided to move out from the colony where we lived. That was the beginning of the break, I guess. The silence just got deeper and longer.  

Inside me

Mind you I have cultivated hobbies that have stood me in good stead. I am a freelance writer, photographer, journalist and I have been a teacher forever. But since I have never truly been on the payroll of any organization, I have had no regular job.

I have found satisfaction in writing my travel stories with my photographs. But a strange restlessness overcame me – I could not focus on anything. Of course, the fact that the channels for my writings also dried up and did not really help.

And then I connected with two older friends, in their 80s who had been knitting small caps and sweaters for charity. I used to knit many years ago but when my kids outgrew my knitting, I gave up – besides who needs woollens in  Mumbai or Bangalore?

My friend Pimi Mukherjee helped me get back to my craft. I learnt this thing from her that with a knitting or stitching project in hand, one can never have time to brood or feel sorry for one self.

Then, with her guidance, another friend Virta Behal and I started making cloth masks and distributed them, initially on our own to various small-time shopkeepers and later (150 each week) through the Robin Hood Army(RHA). That kept us involved for the next many months.  Slowly the pain of rejection started ebbing.

Reaching out to others

I found the older women were happy to see me. They had been housebound and had no visitors. The love of kids and grandkids was relegated to the tiny mobile phone. So I began to visit them, at least once a week. The smile on their faces was a great reward for my bruised ego.

One of the ladies was looking forward to celebrating her 86th birthday with her kids and grandkids, but then Covid caused all plans to be cancelled. She was disturbed but I loved her spirit. “I guess I will just have to play some more bridge online and watch some more TV to fill the day.”

With a very brave smile, she told me,“ I cannot afford to fall sick or let myself go. My kids will have a tough time on their hands.”

On the other hand, my young neighbour is going through a tough time looking after her ailing mother. I send her some jasmine from my garden. Once a week I do touch base with her. We chat across the wall.

Another neighbour, also a widow living alone,  across the road is just recovering from COVID-19. I call her almost every day. We are actually looking out for each other. I called her the other day and told her, “You better show me your face. Okay, a phone call will do, but every day, otherwise, I will be worried that you are off  to visit your favourite people, the doctors!” She had a good laugh. She does have other medical issues but keeps herself positive through pranayams, prayers and reading.

My younger friends also need someone to talk to – someone who can just listen to their woes, their angst and help them calm down. Out of the blue, I connected with Joyce,  my ever-smiling cheerful Joyce who made all my travels so comfortable. She was so paranoid, distressed and restless as if her whole world had collapsed. Her fears, fanned by WhatsApp and morbid news, were playing havoc with her mind.

We spoke at length and after a while, I could feel her getting back to as near normal as possible. We have promised to speak again.

What is it we Human beings need?

 A sane voice to share your thoughts with is my answer. In the bargain, if you have shared someone’s anxiety and lent your time to make one person feel better, then you are helping yourself.

When I finally stopped feeling rejected by my friends for many years, I found myself reaching out to others who needed me. I think I have actually helped myself a whole lot. I no longer need validation from others. I have found my strengths.

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Shyamola Khanna

A free soul, teacher, freelancing journalist, writer, published author and a storyteller and oh, what not! Shyamola has authored two books: The COW in Kargyll, published in 2016 and The Lahore Connection(2019), a collection of women-centric short stories. Listen to her stories and you won't know how a whole life would pass by.

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