Day 222. 222 days ago, I came home after our college decided to “temporarily” shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am pretty sure I never thought it would go on for this long – maybe a few weeks at best. But here we are now. It’s the month of October and it’s even doubtful whether we will be able to return to college even for the next semester. I see my fellow friends, classmates, seniors and juniors frustrated at this lockdown – it is almost impossible to find someone who has something good to tell about this lockdown. Any conversation begins with a barrage of curses for the year, laments on how our college experience is ruined and endless swearing against the Chinese man who ate a bat. I listen to them, nod in agreement and even pitch in to this routine but heart of hearts I really don’t mind the lockdown. In fact I might go out on a limb here and say that even after such a long duration and having not stepped out of the house, I am rather happy and pretty content with the current affair of things. An interesting observation was that this wasn’t a singular perspective – all the introverts I have known in my life seem to be doing fine, no scratch that thriving, in this lockdown. What is the secret sauce which is actually helping introverts and ambiverts cope much better in these trying times? The answer based on general observation, discussions and opinions is not something simple rather is the amalgamation of multiple reasons coming together. One important point which I cannot stress enough over here is this – it’s not that introverts don’t want to go outside, rather we are just indifferent to the same.
Now a couple of disclaimers before I begin. Yes, I totally miss college and if given the opportunity, I would go back this instance. Yes, I have longed to go out but multiple reasons have urged me to stay right at home ranging from thinking about the safety of parents and the constant fear of this deadly disease to generally upholding the guidelines laid down by established institutions but above everything – basic common sense. The final disclaimer is that these views and general observations maybe relevant to a few – definitely not all.
The day the lockdown started I was reminded of a story by Anton P. Chekov – “The Bet”. To those of you who haven’t read the story I strongly urge you to read it. It’s a brilliant story by an extraordinary writer. Those of you who don’t have the time or patience here is a quick summary – A banker and one of his guests at a party have a disagreement on the topic of capital punishment. The banker bets the guest that he wouldn’t spend 15 years in solitary confinement without an attempt to escape with a 2 million stake. The guest agrees and the confinement begins – initially the guest suffers a lot. He cries, he sleeps, he talks to himself. Soon however the guest begins to adapt. He finds books related to the sciences, history, geography, literature and religion. He learns to play instruments, write and sing. As the 15 years draw to an end, the banker is worried. He is no longer as financially sound as he once was and is certain that the 2 million which he will have to pay the guest will surely crush him. He plans on killing the guest late at night. As he enters the confinement, he observes the guest with a note in his hand claiming that after these 15 years of learning and self realization, the coveted 2 million has lost all its value and that he no longer desires it. He goes on to say that he will break out of his confinement right before the 15 years expire thus freeing the banker of paying him the required amount. True to his word, the guest escapes shortly before the expiration of 15 years. The reason I brought this up was to quote a line from the note which the prisoner wrote –
“For fifteen years I have been intently studying earthly life. It is true I have not seen the earth nor men, but in your books I have drunk fragrant wine, I have sung songs, I have hunted stags and wild boars in the forests, have loved women … Beauties as ethereal as clouds, created by the magic of your poets and geniuses, have visited me at night, and have whispered in my ears wonderful tales that have set my brain in a whirl. In your books I have climbed to the peaks of Elburz and Mont Blanc, and from there I have seen the sun rise and have watched it at evening flood the sky, the ocean, and the mountain-tops with gold and crimson. I have watched from there the lightning flashing over my head and cleaving the storm-clouds. I have seen green forests, fields, rivers, lakes, towns. I have heard the singing of the sirens, and the strains of the shepherds’ pipes; I have touched the wings of comely devils who flew down to converse with me of God … In your books I have flung myself into the bottomless pit, performed miracles, slain, burned towns, preached new religions, conquered whole kingdoms“
In the story the prisoner is allowed merely books to read and instruments to play. We on the other hand have access to far more. Technology has enabled us to stay in touch, learn, read, watch shows and sports, play games. While it would be a stretch to speak so eloquently of the various benefits books provide as seen in the paragraph above, the same is easily achieved by means of technology. A key point to note here is that although every single person I know indulges in all these activities today due to COVID-19, this has been the bread, butter and jam for us as introverts from time immemorial. To put things into perspective – if you declared an extended vacation with no boundaries whatsoever, introverts would tend to do the exact same thing as what they are doing right now. Extroverts on the other hand, on account of all these constraints are unable to exercise their freedom which is causing frustration.
With regard to friends, acquaintances and other members of the social circle, I tend to prefer a virtual medium of communication over in person with respect to most individuals. For one it removes the entire hassle of not getting the point across as well as possible, gives you control over when and if to reply. This lockdown has made us completely rely on these virtual mediums of communication that appear more as a blessing in disguise rather than a bane. Many people hold the belief that it is practically impossible to develop a strong, meaningful friendship through an online platform. My experience over the past few months is testimony to the fact that this is not true. A person who I had barely spoken more than a couple of words to prior to this lockdown now happens to be one of my closest friends with discussions, disagreements and even thoughts exchanged on an everyday basis. In my opinion distance or medium doesn’t matter as long as the general intention and base purpose of establishing the communication is clear.
Last, but definitely not the least, college work – both academic and extracurricular. One of the most amazing quotes I have ever stumbled across has been “The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more.” by Jonas Salk. Yeah, we all understand these are trying times which are painful to bear and undergo but understanding we have little control over what is going on is all it takes to come to the obvious yet highly overlooked fact that the best way to get through this is to distract ourselves. There are indeed multiple ways to do this but doing something productive seems to be the obvious great choice. The insanely high amount of work which each and every single one of us is subject to can become one of the finest weapons to fight boredom while also improving ourselves. And as stated by Salk, as work gets completed, more work takes its place. This endless loop is indeed taxing, time consuming and occasionally frustrating but it seems to be the best solution to combat the various issues we face.
There is one more point which I must bring up which unlike the previous points aren’t exactly good. One may even view it as slightly evil. What I have observed time and again is that although introverts and in some cases even ambiverts enjoy what they are doing in their own cocoon of solitude – there is a strong fear of missing out. Seeing others enjoy and spend time doing all those activities which are labelled as “conventional” fun makes them wonder if what they are doing and how they are currently leading their life may cause some form of regret in the future. The lockdown and impact of COVID-19 completely neutralizes this feeling. We now live in a world where introverts do exactly what they always do and have grown to love without worrying about missing out simply because no one can indulge in the same in the first place. This quasi sadistic pleasure comes with an odd feeling of peace and calm ensuring greater focus and tranquility in doing what we do.
None of us know for certain when this epidemic will truly pass. As I write this article, Karnataka has decided to open colleges tentatively by around November 17th so the day is not far when we will follow suit. That being said, given the sheer uncertainty of all that is around us it would make sense to not complain about how we are missing some of the best days of our life or reminiscence the lost golden days of freedom and fun in college. Accepting that we have no control and trying to adapt to what is going on around us seems the best possible solution. Who thought trying to have the perspective of an introvert would one day be useful?