Indian Youth during the nation-wide lockdown
The Corona virus pandemic, thanks to globalisation, has spared no one; the economy and the workforce are among the most affected and widely discussed. However, we found that one section of the affected demographic – the youth - has not had a chance to express the whirlwind their generation had been thrown into. Particularly interesting was their response to the pandemic which was an onslaught of new memes and trends. So far 2020, for the youths, has been first, a year of political unrest with news of protests and riots ravaging the country and secondly, of academic tension with the sudden postponement of exams, the massive shift to online classes and their future coming to hold. To understand how the youth have reflected on the upheaval in their lives, we decided to invite interested participants for a cup of chai over Zoom, a virtual conferencing platform. We had a few apprehensions about whether we would be able to create a virtual atmosphere between strangers, comfortable enough to engage in deep conversation. After all, when you put youths between the ages of 17 and 22, together on video call for the first time, one does not really know what to expect. We certainly did not expect the topics of conversation to range from banana preservation to existential crisis; but that is precisely what Generation Z is about: answering the absurdity of their lives with a little more absurdity.
The idea of us bringing these people from different parts of the country together was to try and understand how they had dealt with the uncertainty of the times. What made the conversation even more interesting was the fact that we had people at different stages of their career-building years. Manan had just given his 12th boards, Aastha, Haavani and Charu were in their final year and Chirutha and Dhairya had recently graduated.
Manan had not taken admission into a college yet, so he had a lot of time on his hands, which he found frustrating: “I can't spend a lot of time doing nothing. I don't know; I just can't survive it.” With this context, he then listed out the multitude of things that he had done to while his time: learning Ancient Greek, working on a short film, an online course in stocks, writing a play and learning the craft of making jewellery from his father, inventing an automatic sanitiser dispenser for his home and reading the works of philosophers like Nietzsche and Carl Jung.
His response naturally caused an uproar of protests and waves of jealousy from the rest of the college-hustlers and job-hunters! It was fascinating to note the immense creativity that came with having time on your hands. At this point though, everybody had experienced it all, thanks to their summer holidays being spent in lockdown. Dhairya had picked up the guitar and begun to write songs, Aastha mastered video editing and Charu wrote poetry for her blog - all of which they claimed was something they had always wanted to do but had never gotten the time for.
Chirutha, a recent graduate, however, could not say the same. Lockdown had trampled on her plans to start her Masters abroad that year, so she was frantically juggling a paid job in academic writing, an internship and a part-time job assisting in her father’s business. Her perspective was naturally different.
Particularly notable was how easily everyone had become comfortable in talking about their stress and their coping mechanisms over a video call. Such personal conversations no longer needed to be face-to-face over a cup of coffee. One and a half hours on a virtual platform were enough to become acquainted with each other. Had there not been a time limit, I am positive the conversation would have continued for another hour. I believe the comfort no longer stemmed from physical presence but from mutual understanding; a mutual feeling of missing paani-puris or the cheese toast of college canteens or regret over not socialising enough. There was also a mutual acknowledgement of the relationship building that they had come to rely on virtual platforms for, be it catching up with old friends via social media or playing online games with family.
Charu, who had never attended a zoom call before, had initially said that she “didn’t believe in this virtual communication” and that, “You cannot really connect emotionally with people when you are on a virtual platform.” Her final remarks, however, were that she truly had been able to bond with everyone because of their mutual acknowledgement of the same struggles and was willing to experiment more with virtual interactions, even if they were with strangers. I think that aptly summarises the kind of youth that will possibly come out of lockdown – a people able to put aside their beliefs and habits to adapt to their circumstances and open to pushing themselves outside their comfort zone to explore their capabilities. The interaction all in all, also hinted towards a people who would emerge with the ability to respond to crises through healthy coping mechanisms and with an ingrained understanding of the worth and need for human relationships.