In this time, I feel building a sense of community is imperative, even if it’s just in the form of WhatsApp chats and zoom meetings. So I thought of starting a thread and asking what my colleagues were feeling about the second lockdown that we are facing and how they are coping with it. We delved into the literature they turn to or are reminded of, when faced with the pandemic.
Literature is for everyone, and I think it has shown a way in the dark to all of us at some point of our lives. For English teachers, however, it’s a necessary potion that they spend hours wrestling with and then converting their research into lectures. In all this time, their very soul gets mixed with the language they read. This can be in the form of sheer hard work or passionate engagement. In any case, the English teacher starts to think in terms of language and literature, there is perhaps no other way.
In the current times, Komal Waqar is reminded of The Glass Hotel by Emily St. Mandel as it is eerily reminiscent of our predicament. “It also features a
pandemic but literature is still seen as a refuge by many…I think it’s a book that compels you to hope despite unimaginable circumstances,” she explains. She is also taken by Antilamentation by Dorianne Loux – “The poem is anti-regret and thus a perfect antidote to my feeling guilty about not being productive during a
Let’s turn to the poem itself to understand better what she means:
“Regret none of it, not one of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,
when the lights from the carnival rides were the only stars you believed in, loving them for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.” – Dorianne Loux
On the technical front, Komal feels that till the vaccine is made, these
lockdowns are expected. She was even anticipating it this time, so was
prepared. Talking about the English classroom she said: “I think this affects the English (classroom) both positively and negatively: I can use technology but it’s harder to build connections and encourage the quieter students to speak up.”
For Sarah Usman, Manga artist Junji Ito’s one-shot called Army of one comes to mind as a reflection of the situation we find ourselves in. Sarah related that she “strongly resonated with the world depicted in the one-shot because it deals with themes of social isolation and hysteria, especially during the first few weeks of the lockdown.”
Speaking candidly about the initial reaction of her students to the zoom class, she mentioned, “a couple of students… said that they prefer the online
medium because they have more windows for participation open to them
during class (literally) such as participation through the zoom chat box. They like how they don’t have to wait for the teacher to call on them to contribute to the discussion and they say it has increased their contribution compared to a regular class.”
Maria Hassan finds the situation opening new avenues, as she remarked that this was the first time she was teaching writing in the lockdown and was looking at new writing techniques and online writing journals such as Penzu. Babur Khan Suri had a stark approach as he frankly put it: “I think the effect has been adverse from the beginning and is getting worse since both the teachers and students will soon be just going through the motions instead of actually learning. We can’t be too technology-centered as teachers since teaching has a performative aspect to it. Passionate teaching requires, in my opinion, a physical presence which is gone.”
In Literature he was reminded of dystopian works such as the science fiction of Philip K. Dick and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. T.S. Eliot’s Hollow Men also strikes him as relevant as he feels that is what is to become of us “if all we do is sit in front of the screen.”
Something definitely haunting about these lines from Hollow Men:
“This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”
Zunaira Nadeem somewhat shares Babur’s presentiment and expresses
how the second lockdown has affected students and herself:
“English class is all about reading and writing – responding to matters that
perhaps we cannot discuss elsewhere. But now a heaviness weighs in on
everyone. We talk of temporality, life, and even beauty but we all revisit times when we saw them on the horizon, to realize we are not so sure anymore. Students talk less. It is almost as if they have forgotten what it was like to simply declare, align themselves with an idea or a phrase, and put it out to others. One student said, ‘I don’t remember what I used to talk about’. I feel the same heaviness, but as a teacher, I know I must help them engage again, even if it is through the virtual blackness of devices and headsets. Helping them, helping myself.”
In Literature, however, Zunaira found more hope. She turned to W.H. Auden’s The Fall of Rome and No Time and felt safe reading The Possessed by Dostoyevsky, The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai and The Plague by Camus.
“All of these together brought to me the sense of meaning that the lockdown
had temporarily stripped. That life goes on, that we continue to navigate our experiences, and share them for others,” she explained.