August 20, 21 and 22, 2021: In preparation

August 20, 21 and 22, 2021: In preparation. There is a sense of anticipation and a nervousness about the future. Masked and ready. In a neighboring University there are already clusters of students being identified with the disease. Mild and thus are being set apart from the others. A frantic email from a student in the class starting on Monday about concessions for Covid. “I do not want to expose others” the email says. The college spectrum is wide. In the session on Friday the youngsters came enthusiastic. All masked, all eager. Some others seem nervous, doubtful. Talking for 30 minutes through a mask, projecting my voice through the cloth, I realized that this will be tricky. I use the disposable surgical masks. Usually worn by medical professionals who do not have to lecture for 90 minutes. These were designed for silence. The OT is not usually a place for lectures. Now the mask has a different application. There is confusion as well. The city has mandated something, and we may have to follow the mandate, or not? The days blended into each other interrupted by a brief outing. Going off to a neighboring small town. The quintessential South. The vintage cars and the juicy burgers. A sense of carnival. Outside. Thus safe. The restaurants were crowded and unmasked. Life quickly struggling back to normal. In the evening the porch comes alive with the music of impending autumn – the crickets that sing to the tune of the fireflies that seem to rise up from the lawn. The deaths in the city are fewer, the imminent festivals – just a little more than a month away – promises a release from what we have experienced. As the pandemic disappears from the public narrative Other, normal personal anxieties are back. A bondhu struggles with illness in the family. The demands are different now, as they were before the pandemic hit. The restlessness is not because of the pandemic but things that already were there, the anxieties that were always there, somewhat cloaked by the interruption, but now back again. A colleague said it was like coming back to a new job. As if the interruption was an elongated moment of suspension of the normal but returning to the normal is itself abnormal. The students came to our home. Samosas and snacks. Planning for the semester, things we will do, constantly normalizing the narrative. The Covid dashboard shows the number infected, on campus, now. The number is small enough to be ignored. Of course, there will be people infected, that is expected. What then is the trigger for panic? Who decides if we must pivot again? How prepared should I be? Do I have any control on anything? In some cases, we know we do not have control. When a doctor says that all treatment will be withdrawn and the next step is keeping the patient calm and painless, do we resign ourselves then? Everything comes together on Monday – tomorrow – when armed with mask I walk into classrooms – spaces that seem foreign and the plain walls remind us of the times we were not there. The touch of chalk on hand, the duster that flies out occasionally, all new. The familiar comfort of a tablet and a pen, the bright screen, and the endless pages of handwritten notes on the tablet to accompany the “straight into the camera” instruction now returns to the ancient method. I am torn because some students are torn. But we must return because we have no choice. We must accept the narrative of normality or else we will be punished. Either the virus will get you down or non-conformity will get you down. Let’s wait and watch. In the meantime, we are “between a rock and a hard place” as well said by the Rolling Stones.

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