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  • Writer's pictureOindrila Ghosh

Staying Home Amidst a Pandemic: A Luxury?

Updated: Nov 20, 2022

The Coronavirus global pandemic hit the world at the start of the year 2020. I was in my second year of PhD and after the one year of rigorous classes and research, I could not help but appreciate the idea of the university shutting down for a while and all for a noble cause; to keep the virus away. The idea of being able to work from the comfort of my home meant pure joy for an introverted soul like me. (I am aware that the idea of me being an introvert is debatable. But, the degree of introverted-ness is quite subjective and depends on the viewer's perspective. So, let's not get into that now.) The first few months, I went into a high of balancing my work and exploring my 'hobbies' (a term I am skeptical to use for the passion I have for the many other things I love doing).

I was working on two major projects. The first one involved developing a specific kind of device for sampling hydrophobic organic contaminants (HOCs) (organic chemicals like Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) that were banned in the USA in the late 1970s for their carcinogenic properties but persisted in the environment because of their very stable structure). The second project involved modeling the diffusive uptake of PCB molecules into a sheet of polymer (Polyethylene or PE). I had been struggling to set up the MATLAB code for this model for several months before that. But, I was unable to distribute my time between working at the lab and sitting down to understand the mathematics of the diffusion equations and work on my beginner level skills in MATLAB coding to implement the same. But, being home just meant, I would have all the time in the world to do the latter finally without getting distracted with the chores in the laboratory and losing time in travelling to and from the lab and settling down in between to get work done. So, by the first few months, I was getting comfortable with MATLAB and was beginning to work around with the basic code to achieve my objectives for the project. By the end of September, I was almost ready to write a paper on the work done and the aims of the project getting partially answered.

Meanwhile I had been distributing the rest of my day into cooking, painting and learning to play the ukulele (I had no idea that the four stringed turquoise little thing could challenge the agility of my fingers so very much!). By September, I had generated almost 20 original pieces of art (I use the word 'generated' because I was literally working like a machine churning motivation on the paper from the food I ate!). It was hard to stop me.

By the end of October, when the first wave of the pandemic in the US was subsiding, Aniruddha and I were tired with the mice infestation in our old apartment and moved into a new house with two other roommates. The new house had a terrace opening into the little forested plot of land behind and overlooking a creek. It was a perfect place to start fresh. As days passed, we were settling in little by little. However, I was never feeling quite satisfied with the setup I had. Since I was working from home it was very necessary to have a comfortable place to work in. The first break in my peace of mind came with the surge of the first wave in India when my parents tested COVID positive. And then my grandmother, a woman in her mid 80s, broke her chin and hurt her hip. She had suffered several major and minor heart attacks before this and now she barely has much control on her limbs and other body functioning processes. My parents got busier than usual with their own health, my grandmother and their day jobs. I barely got to talk to them for weeks which only got me paranoid about their health and more homesick by the day.

Aniruddha and I struggled to find a balance between the need for privacy and feeling lonely while working or sitting at the desk for hours together. After several months of stressful arguments followed by a week of taking a break from each other to find ourselves, we decided on some workspace agreements. I bought some furniture and personalized my half of the space to help me feel more at home. He, being the minimalist that he is, kept his side more empty. We placed our monitors facing each other's so that no one could pry on the other one's screen and pass judgements on what the other person was up to. I couldn't watch sitcoms during my breaks and have my noisy laughs, while he would have to make the effort to make a conversation with me while he was taking a break. By April, we were finally beginning to find ways to tolerate each other for an entire day, week and eventually a couple of weeks at a stretch.

When I finally started to regain my focus on the lab work in late April I realized, everything was in a mess. The device we built was not functioning properly. The shelves where I stacked the resources for the projects I was working on, were highly disorganized. My first reaction was frustration and feeling hopeless and lost in the middle of all the work left to be done. With time I have let things settle inside me for some days now. I have started taking things slow. I think with almost a year worth of drop in the regular lab-work hours which varied from 3-6 hours everyday, to 3-6 hours a week, it would take a lot of time to recover the regular pace of work and make some substantial progress.

But maybe, it is still not as bad as it could have been. Surely, I have had several emotional breakdowns for varied reasons and and my creative cells have been in a state of limbo for several months now. But at least I have the luxury to be safe inside my home, where everyone is physically healthy, in a nation where the government has been able to provide vaccinations to most of the country's population. I worry for my parents in India though. I long to see them and be with them soon.

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