Beating the pandemic blues – Part 1 | Sunday Observer

Beating the pandemic blues – Part 1

24 October, 2021

The pandemic has created havoc worldwide, completely uprooting our normal day-to-day lives. Gone is the normal 9 to 5 office routine, to be replaced by a “work from anywhere” or “work from home” culture. Most people have been confined to their homes for well over one year, testing their willpower to the maximum. While the lockdowns have been relaxed in many countries, many restrictions that curtail our freedoms remain, adding to these worries. However, it must be borne in mind that the restrictions have been imposed for the greatest good of the greatest number, so one cannot really complain about the loss of certain liberties.

There is no point blaming the authorities or even the virus itself for this state of affairs. The public response to pandemics has barely changed in a century – much the same interventions were practised during the Spanish Flu of 1918-19. The only difference now is the widespread availability of highly effective vaccines and much better healthcare standards.

However, one piece of advice still holds true – avoid going out as much as possible. The best course of action, therefore, is to stay put as much as you can. But this is very challenging, especially if you are an ‘outdoors’ type seeking an opportunity to go out every time. But what can you do to avoid boredom? The best alternative is to seek and do something you like with all your heart (and time).

Great outdoors

If you love the great outdoors, why not bring the outside inside, both physically and mentally? One of the best ways of doing this is to ‘cultivate’ an interest in planting. There are many plants that you can grow in pots indoors, which will give you a physical link to the outside world. There are many other benefits of having such houseplants.

One 2015 study in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology found that interacting with indoor plants can reduce both physiological and psychological stress. When you introduce plants into your life, it has a positive impact on your mental health. They give the ability to calm your anxiety and refocus energy into something more productive. Plus, adding some green plants helps purify the air in your home by filtering out everyday pollutants. All houseplants help in Improving your mood; Reducing fatigue; Lowering stress and anxiety; Improving performance and focus; Boosting healing and tolerance; Easing dry skin and respiratory ailments due to dry air.

It is not difficult to grow plants indoors with a little bit of Tender Loving Care – just search the Internet for tips on growing these indoor wonders. You can visit the nearest plant nursery and seek their advice on the best plants for the indoors.

You can also bring the outdoors in – to your heart – by another method. If you like travelling, there are many books on travel by well-known authors. These books will take you on a journey of discovery to exotic destinations around the world and you do not even have to leave your armchair. Remember, journeys of and in the mind can be far more rewarding than physical journeys.

If you cannot or do not want to travel to a bookshop, the Internet is (again) a great place to hunt for travel books. Alternatively, if you own a Kindle or similar e-book reader, you can just download books to the device itself. Remember, some books can even be downloaded free of charge.

To help you get started, here are 10 classic travel books that you can easily find online: Venice by Jan Morris; Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy de Lisle; Full Tilt- Ireland to India with a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy; The Crossway by Guy Stagg; Stranger on a Train: Daydreaming and Smoking around America with Interruptions by Jenny Diski; Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town by Paul Theroux; Around the World in 80 Trains: A 45,000-mile Adventure by Monisha Rajesh; A Short Walk In The Hindu Kush Eric Newby; Down Under by Bill Bryson; In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin; Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck and Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson. If you would rather stick with ancient writers, you can choose from a range of authors from Marco Polo to Fa Hsien. If you would rather ‘travel’ only within Sri Lanka, there are plenty of books by both local and foreign writers.

Travel fiction

Also give a chance to travel fiction, where the authors travel even through time and space. These can literally take your mind out of this world, into the realms of space and distant galaxies. But for travel of another kind, look no further than authors who have migrated from their home countries, yet have a sense of belonging back home. Khaled Hosseini’s haunting novels on Afghanistan (And the Mountains Echoed, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns) are worth reading in the current context of that country.

Another such diasporic writer you can discover is this year’s Nobel Prize Winner for Literature, the Zanzibar-born UK novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah. The award is presented “For his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the Gulf between cultures and continents,” the Swedish Academy announced. Gurnah has written 10 novels, including 1994’s Paradise, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

It tells the story of a boy, Yusuf, who’s been pawned off by his father to a merchant to settle old debts. As Yusuf is taken through different parts of Africa, Gurnah’s writing pushes back against previous Western takes on the continent. As NPR’s book critic Alan Cheuse noted at the time, “No Heart of Darkness in these pages. Gurnah gives us a more realistic mix of light and dark, of beautiful forests, dangerous vines and snakes, and a patchwork of warring fiefdoms and wily traders right out of the Middle Ages.”

You can also check out books by Michael Ondaatje, many of whose books are based on his experiences in Sri Lanka; Ru Freeman; Shyam Selvadurai; Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie, among others for writers looking at their home countries from afar. This is an ideal way to pass your time and provide food for thought during this once in a century pandemic. Next week, we will look at more ways of keeping yourself occupied in the midst of pandemic worries.