Even lockdown can be meaningful, when the mind is kept active
Publish- April 26, 2020, 09:34 AM
Muhammad Syfullah - UNB Staff Writer
Update- April 26, 2020, 09:44 AM
UNB File Photo
As many countries have been under lockdown, people have learned to adapt to the new reality and many are wondering how some changes in their lives brought about by the pandemic can be retained, once it is all over!
UNB spoke to three eminent personalities -- venerable urban planner Prof Nazrul Islam, leading economist Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya and celebrated writer Prof Syed Manzoorul Islam -- for their insights on how to make the most of these unusual times.
They each show that when the mind can be kept active, lockdown and social distancing need hardly feel restrictive.
Prof Nazrul Islam
Prof Nazrul Islam passes his days writing and reading books, helping around the household, and perhaps most profoundly: spending time with his two grandsons - aged 3 and 1-and-a-half years respectively -who along with their mother are currently staying with him and his wife Prof Rowshan Ara Begum at their Dhanmondi-27 residence.
Prof Islam, who turned 82 just days ago (April 16), said he rather focuses on leading a ‘meaningful’ life; being at home or not is secondary.
“I remain busy even at home. I’m not at all bored! I do grow extremely anxious, but not upset, over the coronavirus outbreak. We must be courageous to face a pandemic,” he said.
The ex-chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC) of Bangladesh starts his day with a cup of tea and slight breakfast, often preparing his own. Then he reads newspapers, watches television, mostly the latest coronavirus news, interspersed with some good old-fashioned entertainment programmes.
Prof Islam, the founder chair of the Centre for Urban Studies (CUS), Dhaka, loves spending time with his two grandkids - the two sons of his younger daughter, who herself teaches at North South University - as their mother remains busy taking online classes during the day.
He often assists his wife Rowshan Ara Begum, herself a retired professor of Bengali, in household chores. Their part-time domestic help is on indefinite leave (paid) for the lockdown.
He is now reading several books at a time. They include ‘Dhakay Guerrilla Juddha’ (Guerrilla Warfare in Dhaka) jointly edited by Prof AKM Golam Rabbani and Dr Delwar Hossain, Ek Police-er Diary’ (Diary of a Policeman) by former DIG Shafiqullah, and re-reading the Maxim Gorky novel ‘Mother’ after 51 years.
Prof Islam, who retired as Professor of Geography and Environment at Dhaka University, said he now keeps himself engaged in his writings as well, including giving final touches to at least three of his upcoming books titled ‘Collection of Public Lectures,, ‘Geography of Bangladesh’ and ‘Autobiographical Essays.’
Intriguingly, while having his morning tea, he writes ‘the diary of his three grandsons’ –- the two mentioned earlier and another aged eight-and-a-half, by way of their elder daughter.
“I used to write the diary of our daughters in the past, and now write the one of our grandsons,” he said.
Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya
Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said working from home has increased his workload, but he too has been caught under the spell of family life. “All of a sudden, I’m presently rediscovering marital life, and even family life,” he said.
He passes his days working online with his local and foreign colleagues and partners, talking to the media and civil society, and most fulfillingly it would seem: enquiring of the locals at his ancestral home or desh at Elenga in Tangail, with a view to assisting them as best he can.
“I spend 5-6 hours on Skype every day,” said Dr Debapriya, one of the country’s leading economists and also a public policy analyst.
He enters ‘chats’ with his Bangladeshi associates in the morning, before moving on to his colleagues in Europe, particularly Geneva, Paris, Brussels and London, where many of the leading international bodies across a number of fields are located, often headquartered.
Dr Debapriya had a stint in 2007-8 as Bangladesh’s permanent representative at the World Trade Organization in Geneva.
The renowned macroeconomist does make time for his colleagues in New York or some of the Latin American think-tanks as evening falls in Bangladesh, and the day just starts in that part of the world.
“Since all the international events have been cancelled, we have to make it up through web-based seminars and discussions,” he said. Planning for the “post-Covid-19 future” is a prominent part of this networking.
Many people in Elenga have fallen into financial hardship due to the crisis, as there is no social protection or social security for them, Dr Debapriya said. In extending his hand to assist them, he has chiefly been utilising bKash.
Moving to lighter pursuits, Dr Debapriya said he is also experimenting with cooking, while “learning the value of local spices”.
Syed Manzoorul Islam
Syed Manzoorul Islam, a former professor of English at Dhaka University, said his days are spent taking online classes, writing, watching television and online news, and doing light physical exercise at home.
“Since I’m a teacher, I take online classes. The attendance of students is also good and they also send their queries through messages,” said Prof Manzoorul, who now teaches at BRAC University.
Although Prof Manzoorul does not panic, he does still get anxious during the pandemic, particularly worrying about the less-fortunate in society.
“I used to write for pleasure, but now it’s as if the work is for its own sake. It’s hard to focus as one should,” Prof Manzoorul said, adding that his days do not maintain a particular order.
Prof Manzoorul’s conscience is troubled by the number of people who will be pushed below the poverty line in the coming days. “The political criminalisation in society has to be eradicated (to ensure the welfare of the have-nots),” he said.