It is useful, as an intellectual exercise, to gauge the effectiveness of methods and processes you are employing while you are doing Anthropology. This is something supervisors constantly encourage their students to undertake while they are in the field and while they are writing up. This helps to understand the strengths and weaknesses of one’s methods and the potential innovations that one can bring into play. But Covid19 has brought forth another dimension of this evaluative process; now one also needs to estimate the disruptions to the whole process of doing Anthropology. I have been affected, like my cohorts in Anthropology at ANU, by these disruptions.
On a fine day, we received an email from the ANU encouraging all staff and students to take a teaching pause for a week and the teaching was to be moved online by that time. But there was no clear instruction as to what would happen with PhD candidates; we did not have any teaching component as part of our research. So, we stood comfortably in our chairs in our offices and peered into the desktops worrying about the events unfolding in front of our eyes. Then in the next week, ANU decided to terminate all the research activities on campus and everyone was directed to work from home.
ANU was rather quick to recognise the disruptions that would hit PhD candidates and in an extraordinary move of empathy, ANU decided to extend our program from 3 years to 3.5 years and one can also avail 6 months extension. So now, instead of 1.5 years, I have two years to write up my thesis. ANU also suggested that PhD students can take their office chairs and desktops to work from home if they needed. They have also offered to reimburse the extra costs that one may incur in terms of electricity and internet costs. It all really felt good, initially at least, to put it very simply. But I am realising that our disruptions could not be resolved simply by such acts of magnanimity.
I live, like most other PhD candidates, in a shared house. It is a two-bedroom apartment and we have a common bathroom, kitchen-cum-living area. The other room is occupied by a Nepali family who have a three year-old girl. I usually leave the apartment by 8.30 in the morning for ANU and return by 7.30 or 8 o’clock in the evening. So, I spend most of my waking hours at the office. So, the disruptions I face now are multifarious; it affects the order of the day, the organisation of the space and the logistical arrangements.
First of all, I don’t have a home; we have rooms in an apartment or shared house which are occupied by people coming from different socio-cultural backgrounds. We all work with different schedules and arrangements, but now everyone has a single routine. Everyone wakes up in the morning, eats, gazes at their phones or TV and just pushes their time. Since we are not a single family, we do not work with a single logic, the logic of the family, which is love and recognition. So, it is not simply about replacing my workplace from ANU to my ‘home’.
Secondly, I have considered my room so far as a place of rest. That is, as soon as I return from my office in ANU after a tiresome day of intellectual exhaustion, my room accepts me stretching both its hands and I just lie down on the bed for a while. After a few minutes of rest, I venture out to kitchen to make my dinner and possibly to chat with the housemates. As soon as my dinner is finished, I return to my room and steps into the digital world. I eagerly wait for a call from my wife and son while scrolling through Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and all other time-killing avenues. We talk for a while and share our own cherished space. Then I sleep. So, my room is a resting place.
Thirdly, I can no longer organise my time according to the logic of the space. Usually, I venture out of my room early in the morning and I reach the office around 9.30 am. The majority of my wakeful hours are spent in front of my adjustable table and enormous desktop screen. Occasionally I step out to the common kitchen a few paces away where one can concoct tea, coffee or anything in between according to one’s taste for free. But, there’s a limit to the free cups one can gulp, of course 😀. I return to my room in the evening. The spatial difference between the room and the office also makes a distinction in mental mapping. It’s like I leave everything academic at the office as soon as I step out, and I enter my personal space with peace of mind. Such a spatial distinction has gone for a toss now. I no longer know where my academic and personal spaces are and how to demarcate them separately. A disorientation of the mental order is the norm.
Fourthly, the logistical arrangements at the office cannot be replicated in our tiny rooms which are often only suitable for rest. We do not have a separate space in our shared houses which we can turn into our own exclusive offices. Moreover, our office desktops are directly connected to printers, and with a single click, you can have anything printed for free. Personally, I cannot read on my laptop screen; I mainly use my desktop or laptop for writing. Your honour, we cannot therefore ‘work from home.’
We somehow adjust to the new norms, even at a personal cost. I don’t pressure myself to work now; I find it hard to do. Anxiety has become the new normal and I had to even consult a doctor who attributed the pressure I feel in my throat to the anxiety. The doctor said ‘you relax; that’s the only medicine for it.’ I hope this too shall pass.
Last week, I received the news that my scholarships and program have been extended for another six months. Compared to other universities, ANU seems to be more considerate and supportive in these strange times. They have also announced a staged return to campus now and I wish the stipulated date of 27th July for the complete re-opening of the university could be pulled towards a closer date, maybe for tomorrow with a magic wand. And if the anxiety and the pressure in my throat could just vanish into thin air!
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